I don’t think there’s any doubt that “Purple People Eater” is a song that qualifies for our Saluting Silly Songs feature. In case you don’t remember, it was a huge #1 record for singer/songwriter Sheb Wooley in 1958. But it’s also been sort of misunderstood through the years, because the question arose: was the alien creature itself purple, or did it just go after purple people?
It’s actually not much of a mystery, because the lyrics clearly have the alien saying that his main purpose is ‘eating purple people’ — but in spite of that, most of us remember the song as featuring a purple alien. And virtually all of the pictures and drawings – then and now – support that too. (Of course, the absence of real-life purple people might also have something to do with it.)
In any case, it was Wooley’s biggest hit record by far, even though he was a pretty active country singer for someone whose main job was as an actor in Western movies and TV shows. Not surprisingly, his novelty song was initially rejected by the guys at his record company – MGM – because it was ‘not the type of music’ that they wanted to be on their label, but when the demo became a sensation in the company’s offices it won them over.
Although Wooley’s original record was the standard, the song has lived on in other ways — for one thing, it was the subject of a silly movie of the same name in 1988. As for other singers, it hasn’t exactly been a popular choice through the years, but there have been a few. One of the most notable might have been Jimmy Buffett, who performed it on the soundtrack of the 1997 movie, Contact.