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"
Released July 1966
Format 7-inch single
Recorded 1966
Genre Novelty, comedy
Length 2:10
Label Warner 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)
"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] and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

Background[edit]

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 device called a variable-frequency oscillator (VFO)—for example, making voices higher or lower. This gave him the idea for a song based on the rhythm of the old Scottish tune "The Campbells Are Coming".

Story[edit]

The lyrics describe the effect on the mental health of an individual after a break-up. The main character seems to be 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 although it could be an allegory for how he sees her.

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.

Record structure[edit]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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."[5]

Airplay[edit]

"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.[citation needed] It charted for six weeks during 1966. In week four, it peaked at #3, it scored #5 in week five, and fell to #37 in week six.[citation needed] This was because radio programmers removed the song from their playlists, fearing anger from people who might think it was ridiculing the mentally ill.[6][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.)[7]

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.[8][not in citation given]

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.[9]

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."[10]

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.[11]

The recording appeared on disk releases by Dr. Demento in 1975 as part of Dr. Demento's Delights,[12][13] 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", to which Napoleon answers: "Yes, officer!" The cop then 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."

Cover versions[edit]

Several cover versions of the song were recorded following the song's release in 1966. A version of the song sung in a 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!".

An Italian language cover version was recorded by "I Balordi" with the title "Vengono a portarci via ah! aah!".

Mexico's Luis Vivi Hernández (of Los Crazy Birds), Los Ovnis and Los Xochimilcas all recorded a Spanish-language cover version of the song with similar lyrics entitled "Soy Napoleon" (I Am Napoleon).

In 1966, Argentine comedian and voice actor Pedro Domingo Suero (also known as Pelusa Suero) recorded "Ellos Me Quieren Llevar" under the name Napoleón Puppy with lyrics somewhat closer to the original than the other Spanish versions. The record is said to have sold 460,000 copies within three months of its release.

A French act called L'Empereur (The Emperor) recorded "Ils finiront par m'enfermer."

Dutch artists Floris VI and Hugo de Groot recorded "Ze nemen me eindelijk mee."

Kim Fowley released a cover of the song as his second single, after "The Trip".[14][15]

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" [16]

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.

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 1994 the Norwegian duo Brothers feat. the eccentric singer Olga Marie Mikalsen released a version of the song as a CD Maxi-Single.

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.

In 2006 Sydney producer, pH, aka Stephan Gyory, covered 'They're Coming to take Me Away' in his track 'White Man's Triangle'. This was released as the b-side of the track 'Amyl Bingo' on Ministry of Sound Australia's sub-label 'Hussle N bussle'.[17]

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".

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.

In 2015, a Latin language version was written, called In Vinculis Iacebunt, Ha-Hae! or, They're going to throw me in chains, ha-haaa!. This version, like the original, is in trochaic metre.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Publications, 1983.
  2. ^ Richard Crouse (15 March 2012). Who Wrote The Book Of Love?. Doubleday Canada. pp. 72–. ISBN 978-0-385-67442-3. 
  3. ^ Paul Simpson (2003). The Rough Guide to Cult Pop. Rough Guides. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-1-84353-229-3. 
  4. ^ Ace Collins (1998). Disco Duck and Other Adventures in Novelty Music. Berkley Boulevard Books. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-425-16358-0. 
  5. ^ Marsh, Dave; Stein, Kevin (1981). The Book of Rock Lists. Dell Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-440-57580-1. 
  6. ^ Richard Crouse (26 April 2000). Big Bang, Baby: Rock Trivia. Dundurn. pp. 91–. ISBN 978-0-88882-219-2. 
  7. ^ "WABC Musicradio Survey for July 26, 1966". Musicradio77.com. 
  8. ^ "New York, NY - Life Changing Christian Radio broadcasts, Programs, Ministries and stations - Listen Online to Christian Teaching and Talk". AM 570 The Mission. 2015-07-29. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  9. ^ "M-Audio Fast Track MKII USB Audio Interface". Guitar Center. 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  10. ^ "Emperor Hudson". Kfxm.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  11. ^ "Door Slam Sound Effects, Door Slam Sounds, Door Slam Sound Effect, Door Slam Sound Clips". Sfxsource.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  12. ^ "Billboard's Recommended LPs". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (15 November 1975). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 72–. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  13. ^ Newsweek. Newsweek, Incorporated. October 1975. p. 86. 
  14. ^ Colin Larkin (27 May 2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Omnibus Press. pp. 2178–. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8. 
  15. ^ "International news reports". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (20 August 1966). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 55–. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  16. ^ "The Barron-Knights – Under New Management". 45cat. Retrieved 5 September 2016. 
  17. ^ "pH - Amyl Bingo (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2006-01-16. Retrieved 2016-09-29.