Jerry Samuels (aka Napoleon XIV) wrote, performed, and produced “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” It was Top 5 hit novelty song in 1966. His previous credits include writing “As If I Didn’t Know” with Larry Kusik, a Top 10 hit for Adam Wade in 1961, and “The Shelter of Your Arms,” a Top 20 hit for Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1964.
Here is Samuels’s own description of the song’s origin: “I was sitting in a nice easy-chair one night and I was stoned because I loved to smoke grass. What popped into my head was the old Scottish tune, ‘The Campbell’s Are Coming.’ Based on that, I came up with the idea of ‘They’re Coming To Take Me Away.””
Samuels was working as a recording engineer for Associated Studios in New York City. “We used a device called a VFO,” says Samuels. “The VFO was a Variable Frequency Oscillator. If you move it from 60 to 59 to 58 to 57, it slows down, and if you move it up it speeds up. You could raise or lower the pitch of a voice without changing the tempo by hooking it up to that 4-track machine.”
He continues: “I asked the owner of the studio, who was my partner in my publishing company, to adapt the VFO to connect to the Scully 4-track. He said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘I can’t explain it, all I can tell you is we’re going to make a record called ‘They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha Ha,’ and that’s the only way to do it.’ He had enough trust in me to say, ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ so he built the necessary adapters and connected it, and he was in the control room when I dubbed the voice in.”
“It took me nine months to finish it. I wrote one verse and the chorus, and immediately I realized I was writing a sick joke.” After putting it aside for six months, he got an idea. In the last verse he would reveal that the one who ran away and put him over the edge was his pet dog. He felt that would lighten up the joke.(?)
The record was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1966 and went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also sold more than one million copies (including one to my own household) and was RIAA Certified Gold. This was some controversial subject matter for 1966, and it eventually got banned on many radio stations. Says Samuels: “It was a hit before it got banned. Once it got banned, it was finished.”
Currently, Samuels works as a singer and agent who books various performers. He works the Delaware Valley area.
Trivia Question — What is on the B-Side?