1958 was a year for novelty songs. I think people were happier back then. We had “Witch Doctor” a couple songs ago and now there is “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley.
Sheb Wooley was born in 1920 in Erick, Oklahoma. He grew up on a ranch, but wasn’t interested in that type of work. He wanted to write and sing music. And, so he headed for Nashville and eventually ended up in California where he had a couple hit records and became an actor.
One day, his son came home with a riddle he had heard at school; “What has one eye, flies, has one horn and eats people.” the answer, of course was a “one eyed, one horn, flying people eater.” Sheb thought the riddle would make a fun song. So, he sat down and wrote “The Purple People Eater.” He considered himself a serious performer and wasn’t sure he even wanted to record the song, but one day, he showed it to his producer and they liked it, recorded it and we all know what happened. The part of the purple people eater and his saxophone is done the same way David Seville did the witch doctor in his song, they recorded it as half speed (Sheb sings the part of the people eater) and when they replayed it at normal speed, you get the effect.
Sheb Wooley didn’t have much of a career as a singer. He had a few hits on the country music chart, but “The Purple People Eater” was his only hit on the pop chart. He went on to have a great career as an actor, having a role in the movie Giant which starred Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean. He got together with Clint Eastwood and caught a recurring role in the television show Rawhide which started airing in 1958. Everybody knew Sheb Wooley because he was on the small screen every week.
“The Purple People Eater” only took three weeks to get to number one. It debuted on the Top 40 on June 2, 1958 and spent six weeks at the number one spot.
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