The Purple People Eater

Album: Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection (1958)
Charted: 12 1

Songfacts®:

  • "The Purple People Eater" is a song written and performed by Sheb Wooley, which is the novelty song to end all novelty songs. It's one of the few rare cases where a pure novelty made it to #1 on the charts, for one thing. It's also unusually long-lived, popping up again and again in cartoons, TV commercials, YouTube videos, and film soundtracks.

    The song is notable for a confused impression people tend to get from it, which may be intentional. The creature's full description is "a one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater," but the lyrics make it clear that this is a creature who eats purple people. Yet whenever anyone is asked to depict the figure, they invariably make the creature itself purple, suggesting that it will eat people of any old color. It's a natural impression to get considering the hail of adjectives. Incidentally, we also know that it isn't a one-eyed creature who eats "one-horned flying purple people," because the lyrics also have the creature "playing rock 'n' roll music through the horn in his head," and also it is the creature, itself, who flies because the lyrics say it "came down to Earth and lit in a tree."
  • The song got its own Disney Channel film in 1988 with Purple People Eater, in which a young boy plays the song and accidentally summons the creature itself, who then befriends him on an adventure. Neil Patrick Harris plays the boy, who later went on to play Doogie Howser M.D..
  • The song was used in the soundtracks for the films Contact (1997), Parents (1989), and Monsters vs Aliens (2009).
  • The same technique used to make the high voices (speeding up the recording - especially successful for The Chipmunks), is also used to produce the tinny sounding saxophone solo at the end.
  • The song shouts out to current novelty hits of the time, such as The Royal Teens' "Short Shorts" and The Champs' "Tequila."

    Apparently, the creature is also a fan of Little Richard, as he sings something resembling "Tutti Frutti" about 1:30 in.
  • This was Sheb Wooley's only Hot 100 hit; however, he also scored a #1 on the country charts with "That's My Pa" and many double-digit charting singles otherwise. His music career lasted about 15 years, and besides that he was also an accomplished actor of both TV and film. He always played in westerns.

Comments: 5

  • Colleencanuck from Vancouver, Bc, CanadaI always thought it was an ear, not a horn! Gotta change my Halloween costume!
  • Randy from TexasAnyone know what the b side of flying purple eater?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 9th 1959, the television western series 'Rawhide' had its premiere on the CBS-TV network...
    The series ran for eight seasons with 217 episodes...
    Sheb Wooley*, who played cowpoke Pete Nolan, appeared in 110 episodes...
    Eight months earlier on May 25th, 1958 Sheb Wooley's "The Purple People Eater" became the Best Selling record in the U.S. according to Billboard Magazine, and remained the best seller for six consecutive weeks...
    As stated above he reached #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart with "That's My Pa"; that was for one week on March 11th, 1962...
    Shelby F. 'Sheb' Wooley passed away on September 16th, 2003 at the age of 82...
    May he R.I.P.
    * He also released records under the name Ben Colder; and in 1962 his "Almost Persuaded No. 2" reached #6 on the Country Singles chart.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 27th 1958, Sheb Wooley performed "The Purple People Eater" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    It peaked at #1 (for 6 weeks) on Billboard's Best Selling in Stores chart on May 25th, 1958, and it was only its second week on the chart...
    And the week it reached #1 there was another novelty song on the Top 10; "Witch Doctor" by David Seville was at #3 on the Best Sellers chart...
    R.I.P. Shelby F. Wooley (1921 - 2003) and David Seville, aka Rostom Sipan 'Ross' Bagdasarian, (1919 - 1972).
  • Zabadak from London, EnglandVal Doonican's version was a big hit in Finland!
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