They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!
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|"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|
|Songwriter(s)||N. Bonaparte (Jerry Samuels)|
|Producer(s)||A Jepalana Production|
|Napoleon XIV singles chronology|
Label of the original 7-inch issue
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 and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
Jerry Samuels was a recording engineer at Associated Recording Studios in New York at the time when the song was written. He had learned a way to alter the pitch of a track using a Potentiometer (a tape speed control). After recording the drum track at the standard speed, he played it back through headphones while recording the voiceover. As he did this, he gradually reduced the tape speed and slowly returned it to normal speed while reciting the lyrics in time with the relative speed of the drum track. This gave him 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. His paranoid thinking makes him believe that he is being pursued by "those nice young men in their clean white coats" (i.e., psychiatric attendants) who are coming to transport him to the funny farm/happy home (i.e., mental hospital), and he welcomes them as an end to his misery. The main character seems to be addressing an ex-girlfriend or wife, and describes his descent into madness after she has left him. However, the last verse of the song finishes: "They'll find you yet and when they do / They'll put you in the ASPCA / You mangy mutt". Some interpret he's all the more insane as this may mean he's gone mad simply because his dog ran away.
The recording is set primarily to a rhythm tapped on a snare drum and tambourine. The performer speaks rhythmically rather than singing the lyric, with the sparse percussion track being supported a siren sounding in and out of the "chorus" and the fading in and out of a tape-based echo created with an Echoplex. 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. In addition, a siren is heard when the voice gets higher, and then, dissipates when it's back to the regular voice.
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, whereas the title is actually spelled backward.
Warner Bros. Records reissued the original single (#7726) in 1973. It entered 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.
In his Book of Rock Lists, rock music critic Dave Marsh calls the recording 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."
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"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" has the distinction of being the song to drop the farthest within the Top 40 in a single week. It charted for six weeks during 1966. In week four, it peaked at #3, scored #5 in week five, and fell to #37 in week six. This was because radio programmers removed the song from their playlists, fearing anger from people who might think it was ridiculing the mentally ill.[not in citation given] 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.[not in citation given]
"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.)
An artist named Josephine (whose real name is unknown) recorded her own response song, called “They Took You Away (I'm Glad, I'm Glad)“ in 1966.
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.
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, 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 bemoans 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 "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.
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" taken from Napoleon XIV's song.
In Argentina Pedro Pelusa Suero (a well known actor, announcer, and voice over) recorded, as "Napoleón Puppy", a cover in Spanish of this song titled "Ellos me quieren llevar".
Jeff Duff, as "Cyril Trotts", covered "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha! Ha!" in 1984 on his To Bogna LP.
Experimental music band Nurse With Wound used some of the lyrics from the song for their limited 7" release "No Hiding from the Blackbird/Burial Of The Sardine".
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.
A new version by Napoleon's Ghost was produced by Les Fradkin in 2006. 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, a drum beat, sirens, and a funny sped-up laugh.
Butcher Babies covered the song on their EP Uncovered in 2014.
Austen Tayshus covered the song on his 1988 album “Whispering Joke” and also as a single. The B-side (a reversed version) was recreated as well.
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