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

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"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
Format7-inch single
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

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], number 1 on the Cash Box Top 100 charts, number 2 in Canada, and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.[2]

Lyrics[edit]

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 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[edit]

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]

Technical background[edit]

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 60Hz 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-side[edit]

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.[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 three minutes flat."[8]

Airplay[edit]

The song charted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts on August 13[9], number 1 on the Cash Box Top 100 charts on July 30, number 2 in Canada, and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.[10]

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.[11] 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 number 87 but stalled at number 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.[12]

Chart history[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[13] 40
Canada RPM Top Singles[14] 2
UK [15] 4
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 [16] 3
U.S. Cash Box Top 100[17] 1

Sequels[edit]

"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.)

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.[18]

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."[19]

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.[20]

The recording appeared on disk releases by Dr. Demento in 1975 as part of Dr. Demento's Delights,[21][22] then in subsequent Dr. Demento LP records released in 1985, 1988 and 1991.

Cover versions[edit]

Kim Fowley released a cover of the song as his second single, after "The Trip".[23][24]

In the UK a cover version was also released in November 1966 by the humorous pop group The Barron Knights where it was included on the B-side of their single "Under New Management".[25]

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".[26]

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".

Biz Markie also covers this song on Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz, but he changes most of the lyrics.

Jello Biafra covered this song with his band Lard on their album The Last Temptation of Reid in 1990.

In 1998, Amanda Lear included this song in her compilation Made in Blood & Honey.

The song is referenced in the lyrics of the Mudvayne song "Internal Primates Forever" on L.D. 50.

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.

Swedish death industrialists Brighter Death Now included a version of the song on their 2005 recording Kamikaze Kabaret.

German industrial/EBM act Neuroticfish covered the song on Gelb in 2005.

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".

The russian psytrance artist Psykovsky sampled parts of the song on his piece "Badinerie Dreaming", released on his album "Na Ve Ka" from 2011.

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.

The 2018 Kanye West and Kid Cudi collaboration "Fire," released under their collaboration name Kids See Ghosts, samples the percussion intro of the recording.

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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Publications, 1983.
  2. ^ 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. ^ Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Publications, 1983.
  10. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  11. ^ "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! Napoleon XIV". Songfacts.com. Songfacts. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  12. ^ Ace Collins (1998). Disco Duck and Other Adventures in Novelty Music. Berkley Boulevard Books. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-425-16358-0.
  13. ^ Go-Set National Top 40, 5 October 1966
  14. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1966-08-15. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  15. ^ "Official Charts Company". Officialcharts.com. 1966-08-10. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  16. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  17. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, July 30, 1966
  18. ^ "M-Audio Fast Track MKII USB Audio Interface". Guitar Center. 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  19. ^ "Emperor Hudson". Kfxm.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  20. ^ "Door Slam Sound Effects, Door Slam Sounds, Door Slam Sound Effect, Door Slam Sound Clips". Sfxsource.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  21. ^ "Billboard's Recommended LPs". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (15 November 1975). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 72–. ISSN 0006-2510.
  22. ^ Newsweek. Newsweek, Incorporated. October 1975. p. 86.
  23. ^ Colin Larkin (27 May 2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Omnibus Press. pp. 2178–. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  24. ^ "International news reports". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (20 August 1966). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 55–. ISSN 0006-2510.
  25. ^ "The Barron-Knights – Under New Management". 45cat. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  26. ^ "Napoleon Puppy – Discography". Discogs. Retrieved 17 May 2018.