Ok, so now I had a radio I could carry around, but this was Portland, Oregon in 1959. If you are young, you probably think Portland is a place on the cutting edge, full of hipsters, restaurants, naked bike rides and legal marijuana. Forget all that. In 1959, Portland was solidly, boringly, dead. There was no radio station to hear music that was new. But in 1959, radio station KISN began broadcasting and even listing the top 50 songs every week. Unlike people in big cities, we had no choice of stations, nor were we able to pick up signals from other cities, since they were hundreds or thousands of miles away. So everyone under 20 listened to KISN.
And what were we listening to in 1959? Well, one of my best friend’s and my favorites was the “Flying Purple People Eater.” Its redeeming quality? There was none. But it was certainly fun to sing at inappropriate times such as when our mother asked “Who did that?” We could respond, “It must have been that one eyed one horned flying purple people eater.” Then when she remained unconvinced, we could single out any available sibling. (As a side note, one of the terrible things about having kids leave home is that there is no longer anyone to blame for things!)
“Purple People Eater” was just one of many terrific “novelty songs” of the 1950’s. Another that comes to mind was “Splish Splash.” Though Bobby Darin’s real hit was “Mack the Knife.” Amusingly enough, my grandson loved the song about Mack the knife when he was four years old. He liked to shout out “look out old Mack is back!” At one point both my daughter and I realized that it was really quite a gruesome song. We had overlooked that basic fact and had to stop encouraging him. I would have been safer teaching him “Purple People Eater,” but that would have driven me nuts. And maybe given him nightmares.