They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is a 1966 novelty record written and performed by Jerry Samuels (billed as Napoleon XIV), and released on Warner Bros. Records. The song became an instant success in the United States, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 popular music singles chart on August 13,[1] No. 1 on the Cash Box Top 100 charts, No. 2 in Canada, and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.[2]

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"
TheyreComingToTakeMeAway-singlecover.jpg
Cover of the Rhino Records co. re-issue of the WB album
Single by Napoleon XIV
B-side"!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT"
ReleasedJuly 1966
Recorded1966
GenreNovelty, comedy
Length2:10
LabelWarner Bros. #5831
Songwriter(s)N. Bonaparte (Jerry Samuels)
Producer(s)A Jepalana Production
Napoleon XIV singles chronology
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"
(1966)
"I'm in Love with My Little Red Tricycle"
(1966)
B-side
Label of the original 7-inch issue
Label of the original 7-inch issue
Audio
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" on YouTube
"!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT" on YouTube

LyricsEdit

The lyrics appear to describe a man's mental anguish after a break-up with a woman, and his descent into madness leading to his committal to a "funny farm" (slang for a mental hospital). It's finally revealed in the last line of the third verse that he's not being driven insane by the loss of a woman — but by a runaway dog: "They'll find you yet and when they do, they'll put you in the ASPCA, you mangy mutt". According to Samuels, he was concerned the record could be seen as making fun of the mentally ill, and intentionally added that line so "you realize that the person is talking about a dog having left him, not a human". Said Samuels, "I felt it would cause some people to say 'Well, it's alright.' And it did. It worked."[3][4]

Song structure and technical backgroundEdit

The song is driven by a snare drum, tambourine and hand clap rhythm. The vocal is spoken rhythmically rather than sung melodically, while the vocal pitch rises and falls at key points to create an unusual glissando effect, augmented by the sound of wailing sirens.[4][5]

According to Samuels, the vocal glissando was achieved by manipulating the recording speed of his vocal track, a multitrack variation on the technique used by Ross Bagdasarian in creating the original Chipmunks novelty songs.[4] At the time the song was written, Samuels was working as a recording engineer at Associated Recording Studios in New York. Samuels discovered he could use a Variable Frequency Oscillator to alter the 60 Hz frequency of the hysteresis motor of a multitrack tape recording machine in order to raise or lower the pitch of a voice without changing the tempo. This gave him the idea for a song based on the rhythm of the old Scottish tune "The Campbells Are Coming". After recording a percussion track at the standard speed, he played it back through headphones while recording the vocal on another track and gradually adjusting the VFO and the pace of his vocals to produce the desired effect. Some tracks were treated with intermittent tape-based echo effects created by an Echoplex. Samuels also layered in siren effects that gradually rose and fell with the pitch of his vocals.[6][5]

B-sideEdit

Continuing the theme of insanity, the flip or B-side of the single was simply the A-side played in reverse, and given the title "!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT" (or "Ha-Haaa! Away, Me Take to Coming They're") and the performer billed as "XIV NAPOLEON". Most of the label affixed to the B-side was a mirror image of the front label (as opposed to simply being spelled backward), including the letters in the "WB" shield logo. Only the label name, disclaimer, and record and recording master numbers were kept frontward. The reverse version of the song is not included on the original Warner Bros. album, although the title is shown on the front cover, where the title is actually spelled backward.[7]

In his Book of Rock Lists, rock music critic Dave Marsh calls the B-side the "most obnoxious song ever to appear in a jukebox", saying the recording once "cleared out a diner of forty patrons in two minutes flat."[8]

AirplayEdit

The song charted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts on August 13,[1] No. 1 on the Cash Box Top 100 charts on July 30, No. 2 in Canada, and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.[2]

Within weeks of its release, WABC and WMCA stopped playing the song in response to complaints about its content from mental health professionals and organizations.[9] The BBC also refused to play the song.

Warner Bros. Records reissued the original single (#7726) in 1973. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 87 but stalled at No. 101 at the Week Ahead charts which was an addition to the Cash Box Top 100 charts. The reissue featured the "Burbank/palm trees" label. As with the original release, the labels for the reissue's B-side also included mirror-imaged print except for the disclaimer, record catalog, and track master numbers. The "Burbank" motto at the top of the label was also kept frontward as well as the "WB" letters in the shield logo, which had been printed in reverse on the originals.[10]

Chart historyEdit

Chart (1966) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[11] 40
Canada RPM Top Singles[12] 2
UK[13] 4
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[2] 3
U.S. Cash Box Top 100[14] 1

SequelsEdit

"I'm Happy They Took You Away, Ha-Haaa!" was recorded by CBS Radio Mystery Theater cast member Bryna Raeburn, credited as "Josephine XV", and was the closing track on Side Two of the 1966 Warner Bros. album. (Josephine was the name of the spouse of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.)

In 1966, "They Took You Away, I'm Glad, I'm Glad" appeared on These Are the Hits, You Silly Savages by Teddy & Darrel [15]

A variation of "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" was also done by Jerry Samuels, from that same album entitled Where the Nuts hunt the Squirrels, where Samuels, towards the end of the track, repeats the line: "THEY'RE TRYING TO DRIVE ME SANE!!! HA HA," before the song's fade, in a fast-tracked higher voice.[16]

In 1966, KRLA DJ "Emperor Bob" Hudson recorded a similarly styled song titled I'm Normal, including the lines "They came and took my brother away/The men in white picked him up yesterday/But they'll never come take me away, 'cos I'm O.K./I'm normal." Another line in the song was: "I eat my peas with a tuning fork." The record was credited simply to "The Emperor".[17]

In 1988, Samuels wrote and recorded "They're Coming To Get Me Again, Ha Haaa!", a sequel to the original record. It was included on a single two years later on the Collectables label. Recorded with the same beat as the original, and portraying Napoleon XIV relapsing to madness after being released from an insane asylum, it never charted, and was combined with the original 1966 recording on side A. (Both sequels are included on Samuels' 1996 Second Coming album.) In the song, the singer is released from the insane asylum, now deeply resentful of his time in the "loony bin" and "rubber room" and vowing to seek revenge on an ape by swinging it by its tail; he is still not fully cured of his insanity and is paranoid that he will be re-institutionalized. Towards the end of the song, he relapses into the "funny farm" and "happy home"—until when reality sinks in, he cries out at a fast tracked double voice with the words: "OH NO!!!" before the beat ends with a door slam, indicating that he has been locked up in the insane asylum.[18]

The recording appeared on disk releases by Dr. Demento in 1975 as part of Dr. Demento's Delights,[19][20] then in subsequent Dr. Demento LP records released in 1985, 1988 and 1991.

Cover versionsEdit

Many cover versions of the song were recorded following the song's release in 1966. Kim Fowley released a cover of the song as his second single, after "The Trip".[21][22]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Publications, 1983.
  2. ^ a b c Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  3. ^ Richard Crouse (26 April 2000). Big Bang, Baby: Rock Trivia. Dundurn. pp. 91–. ISBN 978-0-88882-219-2.
  4. ^ a b c Richard Crouse (15 March 2012). Who Wrote The Book Of Love?. Doubleday Canada. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-0-385-67442-3.
  5. ^ a b "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-haaa by Napoleon XIV". SongFacts.com. SongFacts. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  6. ^ Walter Everett (9 December 2008). The Foundations of Rock: From "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". Oxford University Press. pp. 485–. ISBN 978-0-19-029497-7.
  7. ^ Paul Simpson (2003). The Rough Guide to Cult Pop. Rough Guides. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-1-84353-229-3.
  8. ^ Marsh, Dave; Stein, Kevin (1981). The Book of Rock Lists. Dell Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-440-57580-1.
  9. ^ "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! Napoleon XIV". Songfacts.com. Songfacts. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  10. ^ Ace Collins (1998). Disco Duck and Other Adventures in Novelty Music. Berkley Boulevard Books. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-425-16358-0.
  11. ^ Go-Set National Top 40, 5 October 1966
  12. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1966-08-15. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  13. ^ "Official Charts Company". Officialcharts.com. 1966-08-10. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  14. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, July 30, 1966
  15. ^ "The Hits of 1966, With a Lisp (MP3s)". wfmu.org. Retrieved 2021-11-03.
  16. ^ "M-Audio Fast Track MKII USB Audio Interface". Guitar Center. 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  17. ^ "Emperor Hudson". Kfxm.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  18. ^ "Door Slam Sound Effects, Door Slam Sounds, Door Slam Sound Effect, Door Slam Sound Clips". Sfxsource.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  19. ^ "Billboard's Recommended LPs". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (15 November 1975). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 72–. ISSN 0006-2510.
  20. ^ Newsweek. Newsweek, Incorporated. October 1975. p. 86.
  21. ^ Colin Larkin (27 May 2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Omnibus Press. pp. 2178–. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  22. ^ "International news reports". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (20 August 1966). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 55–. ISSN 0006-2510.