It was an instant hit when it came out way back in 1958, it’s played on oldies radio the world over, it sold three million copies and inspired a movie. But what is the story behind Sheb Wooley’s classic novelty song about a “Purple People Eater”?
Here are a few fascinating facts about the one eyed purple guy’s genesis:
Writer and performer Sheb Wooley was an interesting guy -- Raised on a farm in
In 1946, he moved to
Sheb was known for his quirky sense of humor and having a flair for parody. By all accounts, he was a fun guy. He married a young lady, Melva Miller, from his home town whose family had take in a cousin, Roger. The same Roger Miller who wrote another major novelty hit, “Dang Me” and the classic “Trailer for
Let’s look at what was happening in music and movies at the time “Purple People Eater” was written. The late 1950’s were a time of over-the-top Sci Fi Films that were almost as much fun as they were scary; movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”, “The Blob”, and “Godzilla” -- Gotta love those titles.
It was the era of rock and roll novelty songs like “Short Shorts”, “Yakety Yak”, “Splish Splash” and “The Witch Doctor”. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were topping the chart with R & B tinged rock and roll with a good time feel.
“Purple People Eater” is the happy combination of all of these elements. Like many popular novelty songs it has a memorable title and a silly premise. Sheb wrote a catchy melody, added a prominent sax solo and a rockin’ beat. He added witty lyrics to parody the popular Sci Fi movies of the day, giving the starring role to a friendly “Purple People Eater” who liked short shorts and rock roll, added some sped up vocals a la the Chipmunks and -- Voila! -- A hit was born.
So is “Purple People Eater” a cleverly crafted pop song incorporating all things 1958? Or was it something else? When asked about it, Sheb said, “A friend of mine told me his son had come home from school with a joke: ‘What has one eye, one horn, flies and eats people? A flying Purple People Eater!’ I wrote the song in a matter of minutes – Just dashed it off as a sort of afterthought.”
Sheb might have been joking with his response. Either way, the song has made a lot of people happy and has tons of long-lasting “kid appeal”. That’s why we’ve included “Purple People Eater” in our Kidsongs catalog. Take a peek at our version from the aptly titled “Very Silly Songs” and rock it out with your little ones.
To see the complete lyrics, click here.
Check back often for more blog articles from this series, “Kidsongs Guide to Children’s Songs”. Learn the history, fun facts and some behind-the-scenes stories about everyone’s favorite songs.