They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!
|"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"|
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|
|Label||Warner Bros. #5831|
|Writer(s)||N. Bonaparte (Jerry Samuels)|
|Producer(s)||A Jepalana Production|
|Napoleon XIV singles chronology|
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is a 1966 novelty record by Jerry Samuels, recorded under the name Napoleon XIV. 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 13 August and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
At the time the song was written, Jerry Samuels was a recording engineer at Associated Recording Studios in New York. Using a device called a variable-frequency oscillator (VFO), he was able to alter the pitch of a recording without changing the tempo - for example, making voices higher or lower. From this came the idea for a song based on the rhythm of the old Scottish tune "The Campbells Are Coming".
The lyrics describe the effect on the mental health of an individual after a break-up. The main character is seemingly addressing an ex-girlfriend, and describes his descent into madness after she has left him. However, the last verse of the song alludes to his dog running away.
- "I cooked your food, I cleaned your house, and this is how you pay me back
- for all my kind unselfish loving deeds.. Huh??
- Well you just wait, they'll find you yet and when they do they'll put you
- in the ASPCA, you mangy mutt!!! And…"
He believes he is being pursued by "men in white coats" (i.e., psychiatric attendants) who are coming to transport him to the mental hospital and welcomes them as an end to his misery.
The recording is set primarily to a rhythm tapped on a snare drum and tambourine. The performer speaks rhythmically rather than singing the lyric, and the sparse, multi-tracked looped percussion track features a siren sounding in and out of the "chorus". According to Samuels, the vocal glissando was achieved by Samuels manipulating tape recording speeds, a variation on the technique used by Ross Bagdasarian in creating the original Chipmunks novelty songs.
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 "!AAAH-AH ،YAWA ƎM ƎʞAT OT ʚИIMOƆ ƎЯ'YƎHT") and the performer billed as "VIX ИOƎ⅃OꟼAИ". 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 (or Rhino Records Co. re-issue), although the title is shown on the front cover, whereas the title is actually spelled backward.
In his Book of Rock Lists, rock music critic Dave Marsh calls "!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT" the "most obnoxious song ever to appear in a jukebox", saying the recording once "cleared out a diner of forty patrons in three minutes flat."
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" has the distinction of being the song to drop the furthest within the Top 40 in a single week. It charted for five weeks during 1966; in week 3 it peaked at #3, it scored #5 in week 4, and fell to #37 in week 5. This was due to radio programmers removing the song from their playlists, fearing an adverse reaction from people who might consider the song as ridiculing the mentally ill. This occurred most notably in the New York market, where both the New York Top 40 music radio stations of the time, WABC and WMCA, banned broadcasting of the song. (WABC continued to include the song on its local Top 20 list despite no longer broadcasting it.)
Opposition to the banning saw teenagers picketing WMCA, carrying such signs as: "We're coming to take WMCA away! Unfair to Napoleon in every way." A plane also flew a banner to protest WMCA's banning the record.
"I'm Happy They Took You Away, Ha-Haaa!" was recorded by a female performer billed as Josephine XV, and was the closing track on Side Two of the 1966 Warner Bros. album. Josephine was the name of a spouse of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, hence the connection.
Also 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".
In 1988, Jerry 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, instead of a "mangy mutt", for his lost dog, Napoleon is bemoaning the loss of his pet monkey. ("I'll swing you by your tail, you hairy ape!!!".) In the song, instead of the "Funny Farm, and the "Happy Home", Napoleon XIV is being taken away to the "Loony Bin" and the "Rubber Room", towards the end of the song, he relapses into the "Funny Farm" and the "Happy Home", until when reality sinks in, he cries out at a fast track double voice with the words: "OH NO!!!", before the beat ends, and a door slam is heard, indicating that he has been "Locked Up" in the insane asylum.
The original single was re-issued by Warner Bros. Records (#7726) in 1973, and scored on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 87. 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.
The recording also appeared on disk releases by Dr. Demento in 1975 as part of Dr. Demento's Delights, then in subsequent Dr. Demento LP records released in 1985, 1988 and 1991.
In another version, after the original song fades out, only heard on "Dr. Demento", the following brief dialogue occurs: A cop asks Napoleon: "Hey, Buddy", in which Napoleon answers: "Yes, officer!!!", in which the cop asks him: "You a head?" (as in, "Are you a drug user?"), to which Napoleon answers him: "No, but I'm catching up, heh heh."
A translation of the song in the Hessian dialect of German was recorded by German beat group The King-Beats, credited on the record label as "Malepartus II", titled "Ich Glaab', Die Hole Mich Ab, Ha-Haaa!".
A cover version was recorded in 1966 by the Italian Beat group "I Balordi" with the title "Vengono a portarci via ah! aah!".
A new version by Napoleon's Ghost was produced by Les Fradkin in 2006. It has enjoyed substantial sales[clarification needed] as an Apple iTunes digital download. The flip or B-side of the single was recreated as well by Napoleon's Ghost "!AaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT".
Ray Stevens covered the song in 2012 for his nine-CD Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music collection, complete with vocal speed changes and a funny sped-up laugh.
In 1998, Amanda Lear included this song in her compilation Made in Blood & Honey. Stone Sour also covered this song on their 2001 demo CD, giving it the name "Death Dance of the Frog Fish", and has also used it as exit music while on tour. The song is also referenced in the lyrics of the Mudvayne song "Internal Primates Forever" on L.D. 50. Swedish death industrialists Brighter Death Now included a version of the song on their 2005 recording Kamikaze Kabaret.
The Monkees' song "Gonna Buy Me a Dog", sung by Micky Dolenz, features Davy Jones teasing Dolenz toward the fade of the song with the words "they're coming to take us away, ha ha" taken from Napoleon XIV's song.
Kim Fowley released a cover of the song as his second single, after "The Trip".
Luis "vivi" Hernandez covered "Napoleon", a similar tune with different lyrics sometime between the 1960s and 1970s.