Novelty songs are sometimes born from strange components. “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” by Napoleon XIV sprang to life due to the following: a new recording technology called a variable frequency oscillator, a massage chair, an old Scottish tune, and copious amounts of marijuana.
Having already discovered a variable frequency oscillator would change the pitch of a song without changing the tempo, recording engineer Jerry Samuels—well stoned in his easy chair one night—came up with the title while that classic 1790s Robert Burns pop sensation “The Campbells Are Coming” ran through his head. After writing the chorus and first verse, Samuels decided it was too weird and put it away. But after three months had passed he couldn’t get the rhythmic words out of his head and so wrote a second verse — and decided it was even weirder and worse than before. Putting it aside again for six more months he finally returned to it, wrote a final verse, and recorded his unique vocal on top of a loop of drums, tambourine, handclaps, and sirens.
A bizarre, chant-like single resulted which hit #3 on the charts in 1966. (Since there’s not a true melody, it had to be copyrighted as a “lecture intended for oral delivery.” ) It rocketed to its top chart position in just three weeks but plummeted in its fourth week due to complaints—primarily from doctors and nurses—about the subject matter. Radio stations bowed to the pressure and removed the single from their playlists. Teens who loved the song actually picketed radio stations in protest of the protest but the damage had been done.
In the kind of twist the pop music gods love, Jerry Samuels had his sure-to-be #1 hit literally taken away by the very same “nice young men in their clean white coats” who figuratively take him away in the song.
Here’s the link to Spotify and below that is a video playing the original 45 followed immediately by the flip side,”!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT” by VIX NoelopaN. Groove to the madness.
Happy birthday to my dad (who still has his original 45).