Musical Misconceptions: The Purple People Eater

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.

Hey there folks! It’s Retro Dee with another edition of Musical Misconceptions!

For this edition, we’ll be talking about one of the strangest, but also one of the most fun songs to come out of the 50’s: “The Purple People Eater”!

This song has been a Halloween favorite for decades… many of us can remember dancing to it as kids at Halloween parties and hearing it at costume-themed events each October. It just wasn’t Halloween without “The Purple People Eater”!

But did you know that “The Purple People Eater” was NOT actually a Halloween song? I didn’t either! Up until just recently, I discovered that it was actually released in May of 1958 and was a big hit that Summer, months before the first fall leaf had even fallen.

“The Purple People Eater” was written and performed by Sheb Wooley. Wooley based the song on a joke he heard from the child of one of his friends. Its composition reportedly took him just under an hour.

As the song climbed the charts in July of 1958, teens everywhere were dancing to the upbeat tune about a creature who wanted to be in a Rock n Roll band. The People Eater’s voice is heard throughout the song in a high-pitched tone similar to The Chipmunks. This effect was created by speeding up the record. At the time, this method was new and unique.

But the fact that “The Purple People Eater” was a Spring and Summer hit (rather than a Fall one) is not the only misconception about this famous song!

From the start, most folks assumed that the People Eater itself was purple– this is due to what seems like a straight forward title, “The Purple People Eater”… but nowhere in the lyrics does it describe the creature as purple. It does, however state that the people it eats are purple. Still, the depictions of the creature have always been of a one-eyed, one- horned purple monster with wings.

Whatever the case, the song, along with the People Eater himself, has long been a Halloween hit. It was also featured on many children’s albums throughout the years.

Despite hearing the song many times, I never really knew what the People Eater was saying in his high-pitched voice. Then one day, I was listening to WCWP’s The Grooveyard when D.J. Alan Seltzer played the song as part of the show that week. I finally listened to all the words and I found myself laughing harder than I ever would have imagined!

So it’s probably safe to say, that for many years to come “The Purple People Eater” will continue to be a Halloween favorite; the song that actually started off as a Summer hit!


An artist’s version of “The Purple People Eater”

Voting continues in the eighth annual Great 88 surveys.  Pick your 10 favorite songs from 1955, 1957 and 1961 here daily.  A full first round schedule and additional information can be found here.   You can also find the results of earlier surveys in the Great 88 section.

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