They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-haaa

Album: They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-haaa (1966)
Charted: 4 3


  • Napoleon is Jerry Samuels, a recording engineer from New York. When this became a hit, the record company sent other people to perform it at live appearances.
  • This is a novelty song that became a surprise hit. In a Songfacts interview, Samuels explained: "I was a recording engineer in New York at one of the hottest demo studios in town - Associated Recording Studios. I'd worked for them for quite a few years and we had started to do creative things together before that."

    "We opened our own publishing company which I owned in conjunction with the owners of the studio and I'd written a hit song for Sammy Davis, a song called 'The Shelter Of Your Arms' and we published it."

    "We were doing some work for some advertising agencies - I think one of them was BBDO - we were doing 60 second spots - actually a 60 second spot is really 59 seconds. The spot had to come in at exactly 59 seconds, so if it was recorded and it came in a little slow or a little fast, we used a device called a VFO. The VFO was a Variable Frequency Oscillator. It connected directly to the hysteresis motor of the machine. That is the motor that controls the speed of the capstan. We're talking about a 15 IPS (inches per second) analog tape. A hysteresis motor works on 60 hertz. If you want to change the speed, you can't change the wattage because it will stop; you have to change the hertz, and the only way you can do that is with a VFO. The VFO is connected to that hysteresis motor, and then if you move it from 60 to 59 to 58 to 57, it slows down, and if you move it up it speeds up. They had the VFO rigged only to the mono machines, but I saw something. I realized that if you hooked it up to the multi-track machine - and we only had 4 tracks at the time, we had a Scully 1/2 inch 4-track - if you hooked it up to the 4-track, you could do things that weren't done before. I would be able to raise or lower the pitch of a voice without changing the tempo by hooking it up to that 4-track machine."

    "Based on that, I came up with the idea of 'They're Coming To Take Me Away.' I was sitting in a nice easy-chair one night. It had a little vibrator on it 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.'"

    "I didn't know the title, but I'll tell you who did - my friend Barry Hansen. He's Dr. Demento; we've known each other for many, many years. I hummed it to him and he said, 'Yeah, that's The Cambpell's Are Coming,' and I thought, 'da da dat dat da dat da da da da da... they're coming to take me away, ha ha.' There it was, and by understanding what I could do with that piece of equipment, I wrote this thing."

    "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."
  • Samuels: "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. So I said, 'This is no good, I'll put it away.' Three months later it was still running through my head; I pulled it out again and wrote the second verse and it was an even sicker joke. Finally about 6 months after that I decided I was going to finish it, and I was going to do something in that last verse that would throw things off a little bit, so I referred to the object - 'They're coming to take me away because of what YOU did - I referred to YOU as a dog. The dog ran away. By doing that I felt I was lightening the sickness of the joke, and I probably was and it probably did some good for me, but that was the reason I went for that afterthought."
  • Samuels: "The first thing we did was lay down a drum and tambourine track. I brought a friend of mine into the studio - I had the studio at night every night. After everybody else went home I would stay there and sleep in the waiting room on the bench. I brought my friend in, and he wasn't the greatest drummer in the world. He went on to become a multi-millionaire in another business, but he couldn't play the drums. We had to record a 7-second loop. He was able to do it on time for 7-seconds, so we recorded a loop, and then we copied it. That's why this thing is so perfect in rhythm, because what you're hearing is a drum loop. We didn't have the machines that we have these days that sound so real. We had to use a drummer."
  • Samuels explained the recording process to Songfacts: "I needed hand clappers, and I wanted a whole bunch of hand clappers, so I invited a bunch of my friends down to the studio at 2 O'clock in the morning, and only three of us showed up. I said, 'Look, there's only three of us, that's not enough hand clappers. What I want us to do, instead of clapping our hands, I want us to sit in a semi-circle and I'll drop my Neumann microphone down in front of us, and we'll slap our thighs. If we slap our thighs, we'll have the sound of two claps rather than one. However, you cannot slap your clothes because the clothes muffle it - you have to slap your skin. What I want us to do is sit in a semi-circle and drop our pants and do it.'

    They wouldn't do it, so what we had to do was overdub. We bounced from track to track three times, so we wound up with nine hand clappers, but we also wound up with some noise because we were copying the noise level. There is an inherent noise level when you record analog, and the signal to noise ratio decreases as you overdub, but that's what we lived with.

    The next thing was the siren, and that had to be overdubbed also because we rented a hand-crank siren for $5. When you first hear it, you only hear one siren, then you hear three, then you hear six - it's all overdubbed. Finally, what we wound up with was a total drum track, a total hand clap track and a total siren track. Next we have the fourth and final track. The other tracks are in perfect rhythm at 15 IPS. I go into the studio, my partner is in the control room, and I record the vocal. The only track recording is the vocal track; the other tracks are just playing back in my earphones. As we get to the chorus, he begins to take that VFO one notch at a time, and turn it down, so I'm hearing 'Chunka, Chunka, Chuunka, Chuuunka, Chuuuuuunka, Chuuuuuuuuuunka...' and I'm going, 'They're coming to take me away, ha ha. They're coming to take me away, ho ho, hee hee, ha ha. To the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time.'

    And right there I run out of breath. We rewind the tape and punch in just before 'time,' and I continue and finish the line. When you play that back at 15 IPS, the only thing that happens is the voice raises in pitch. It's in perfect rhythm because I'm listening to the track. That's how we did it."
  • Once a song is released, it falls into the realm of compulsory licensing, which means anyone can record it if they pay the statutory royalty rate. (This is a very complicated issue - you can learn all about it in the book This Business Of Music). Since this has no melody, they were able to copyright it as a lecture intended for oral delivery instead of as a song. This meant other record companies couldn't copy it without permission.
  • 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. I've had people approach me to do versions of the song with obscenities, but I've said no, I don't care how much money is involved."

    The July 30, 1966 issue of Billboard magazine contains an interesting bit about the uproar this song caused.
  • Samuels used the drum loop again on his LP cut "Where the Nuts Hunt The Squirrels."
  • The B-side of the single was the same song... recorded backward. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for above 2
  • Samuels: "I made some records back then that I couldn't get released they were so bizzare. There's an album out now called Napoleon XIV The Second Coming, it's on Rhino. I also had an underground hit with a song called "I Owe A Lot To Iowa Pond," but the best recording I ever made was something called 'The Explorer.' It's 2 minutes and 4 seconds, and it is a gem." (Thanks to Jerry for speaking with us about this song. He runs a successful talent agency, where he has worked for over 20 years. Check it out at
  • A group called Josephine XV was created to record an answer song to this called "I'm Happy They Took You Away, Ha-Haaa!" Another answer song was Teddy And Daniel's "They took you away, I'm glad, I'm glad." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brandon - Seattle, WA
  • The comic rapper Biz Markie recorded his own version of this song in 1986.

Comments: 38

  • George from Vancouver, CanadaClassic!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 15th 1817, the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason opened in Philadelphia; it was America's first private mental health hospital...
    Later the name was changed to the Frankford Asylum and today it goes by the name of Friends Hospital...
    And just over 149 years later on July 17th, 1966 Napoleon the XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #50...
    {See next post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 17th 1966, "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!" by Napoleon XIV entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #50; and on August 7th, 1966 it peaked at #3 (for 1 week) and spent only 6 weeks on the Top 100...
    Its 6 week run on the Top 100 started at #50, #11, #5, #3, #5, and #37 then the following week it was completely off the chart...
    It re-entered the Top 100 seven years later on August 26th, 1973 at position #94, it stayed on the Top 100 for 4 weeks, peaking at #87...
    In 1966 during its week at #3, the #1 record was "Summer In The City" by the Lovin' Spoonful and at #2 was "Lil' Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs...
    Jerry Samuels, aka Napoleon XIV, celebrated his 76th birthday two months ago on May 3rd, 2014.
  • Matthew from Toronto, OnThis was actually a much bigger hit than the 1966 record charts reflected. Billboard has it at #3, and Cashbox at #1, but with the extremely short chart run (only 6 weeks total on Billboard), it failed to place on any year-end summary charts. But that was because of diminished airplay--someone panicked & had pulled it from playlists as being offensive--not sales, which were in keeping with the big hits of the year. A crime: it was surely one of the 30 biggest hits of the year, but doesn't get the credit it deserved. A weird song, sure, but a lot of fun.
  • Aj from Chucktown, ScI love this song and quote it often. Thanx for the backstory!

    I also love 'Gonna Buy Me a Dog.' But - it was NOT Mike Nesmith singing. It was Mickey Dolenz. It was a perfect 'inside joke'; listen when Mickey sings 'but I can teach a dog to do that... I'm gonna buy me a dog' ... and bursts into laughter when Davey comments 'You couldn't teach a dog to do that. You can only train elephants'. This naturally cracks Mickey up, because in the late 50s, when he was an adorable little blonde kid named 'Corky' starring in a tv show called 'Circus Boy' he worked with (and rode on) elephants. (If you look it up on imDb, he went by the name 'Mickey Braddock.')
  • Fred from Laurel, MdAnnabelle/EugeneOR & Jim/BillericaMA -- Yes, Annabelle, they did, and, Jim, it was actually even simpler than you guessed. On reel-to-reel tape recorders (R2RTR's), even way back in the 40's/50's, when they were all monaural (1-track!, in each direction, anyway), most of the machines had more than one tape speed, and some of them had a 'reverse gear,' which I'm sure they must've had in recording studios -- all the latest and greatest, you know. So you could just play the tape in reverse, without having to re-thread it. That's the simple way to do it -- now for the more complicated way. **** By the time my dad bought one of the early consumer-market R2RTR's, a Sony, in 1960, which used 1/4-inch-wide tape, you could record in stereo in both directions on the same tape by reversing the reels, in effect giving the tape 2 'sides.' To do this, the recording heads were arranged to record on the 1st and 3rd quarters of the tape width. When the tape was turned over to record on the 'other side,' the 2nd and 4th quarters of the tape width got recorded, because they were now in the positions of the 3rd and 1st quarters, respectively. With monaural recorders, which still existed in the 60's, the single channel got recorded on the 1st HALF of the tape width. So if you recorded something on only one side of a blank tape with a stereo recorder, and reversed the reel to play it back on a mono player, only the right channel would come out, and in reverse. The left channel wouldn't come through on playback, because it would be on the wrong half of the tape. In either case (with a mono or stereo machine), if you simply recorded onto a blank tape in one direction, leaving the reverse direction blank, and turned the reels over on the same machine to reverse the direction of play of the tape, you would get, not backwards-playback, but only silence.
  • Julie from Oakland, OrRemember "Hey Mr. Custer, I don't wanna go?" Another funny song...
  • Madi from Abbotsford, BcThe band Neuroticfish did a cover of this song, but their version has more of a rythym to it.
  • Jordan from Los Angeles, CaAlso, it was unclear whether Jerry Samuels sued the Monkees for using the song "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha HA" without his permission or approval.
  • Jordan from Los Angeles, CaThe Monkee's song "Gonna Buy Me a Dog", from 1966, which is sung by Michael Nesmith, is being teased by Davy Jones during the fade out of the song, by saying "THEY'RE COMING TO TAKE IT AWAY, HA HA", twice.

    Also, Dave Hall, the disc jockey, dud a parody of the song, entitled "I'm Normal", featuring a similar drum beat, and featuring such lines as "I eat my peas with a tuning fork".
  • Emily from Around Chicago, Ilwe have this song on a halloween soundtrack cd.
    it creeps me out (shudders)
  • Pippin from Rhye, CaThis song is darned hilarious! Most of my friends like it (even one who generally hates songs of this variety). Technically, it is the only rap song I even tolerate (well, you could stretch it to say it's rap!). I once wrote a song called "They're Coming to Take Me Away"...except this was before I knew this one even existed. I love it. It seems to describe my own form of madness...
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiIn the backwards version of this song (Aaah-Ah, Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Er'yeht), at 0:24 and 1:36, I'm hearing "Worst of all, you sleep with another man."
  • Billy from Brockton, MaFirst let me say I like the song. However the drum beat sounds very familiar. Earlier in 1966 Bob Dylan's Rainy Day Women had an identical drum beat. Is this a sample of that? Did both artist sample something common? Stoners think alike?
  • James from Gettysburg, Paooh, this song STILL gives me the creeps
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiThis song is even scarier sounding played backwards. When the chorus starts with the "Ha-haaaa!" part played backwards, it comes across as a horribly agonized-sounding scream.
  • Doreen from Middletown, CtThis song was about a dog?! I find the details on the making of this song just as amusing as the song itself. After 41 years we're still singing and enjoying it.
  • John from Chicago, IlI was one of the original hand-clappers / thigh slappers on the song. Our group "THE HERD" was recording a demo in studio B of Associated Recording Studios on 6th Avenue. I remember being called into Studio A where Jerry Samuels was recording this silly thing. I do remember slapping my thighs after clapping hands, but that was 40 years ago.
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaAnnabelle, From eugene, To get the A side to play backward, I would imagine all they did was to take the master tape, thread it into the machine backwards (the end ofthe tape, or the tail) into the empty real and play it forwards.
  • Dan from Clermont, FlI would want to ask Jerry a question about the hand claps, and bringing friends over to make the recording. Were your friends male or female?

    Clermont, FL.
  • Dan from Clermont, FlI knew this had to do with something more than just an imagination. I still find it to be rather interesting, but I find the backwards version to be my favorite because it was the first time I heard a song backwards, and I found to be hilarious. I had a kiddie record player with a neutral speed setting, and I would play some f my records backwards until my parents told me to stop it; I found out that "Hey Jude" played backwards in the beginning you hear "You Used Me."
  • Harlin from Atlanta, GaThis one was really funny when Sean Hannity played it on his show for Alec Baldwin (who really is a nutcase).
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThis song is so funny!! I've heard it sometimes on Oldies stations. I bet it'd be funnier hearing the bacikwards recording.
  • Mike from Germantown, MdI read that the B-side to this song was palyed on a jukebox and cleared the restaraunt of 40 patrons in two minutes flat.
  • Hayley from Worcester, MaThe bit about "you laughed" could still refer to a dog if you want to interpret it as a dog, because he gets rather hysterical about having heard whoever he's addressing laugh at him. It might be an extension of the stuff about being insane, because he thinks his dog laughed at him. It could be talking to a dog or a person. But, then again, the guy who recorded it just says it's a joke. He means it either way- it could be to an exasperating dog or an exasperating human, but it began with a human being in mind and then he changed it so it could be either way.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrHow did they record the B-side of the single? Did they have machines in those days that could record and play music backwards?
  • Dale from Memphis, TnI bought the 45 shortly after it was released in
    the summer of '66. Side B not only is the same tune played backwards, but the entire label is pressed onto the vinyl backwards, including the Warner Brothers logo! Wish I still had that
    original, but I have the song on a Dr. Dimento collection so that will have to do. I had no idea the amount of effort poured into the production, and I appreciate it deeply!
  • Richard from Blackpool, EnglandProbably it was Warner Brothers who thought of the dog explanation but never bothered explaining how a dog could laugh!
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesThe B-52's "Quiche Lorraine" is a takeoff/ tribute to this masterpiece. The dead giveaway is at the end as Schneider snaps "You mangy mutt!"
  • Andrew from Foothill Ranch, CaAlso, the song Samuels refers to in the above recollections is not "I Owe a Lot to Iowa Pond" -- it's "I Owe a Lot to Iowa Pot". Another great Dr. Demento hit.
  • Andrew from Foothill Ranch, CaI still have the 45 of this masterpiece and remember that it was included inside my Mad Magazine (which my older brother subscribed to) back in 1966. I was ten years old and all my friends memorized the lyrics and would drive our parents crazy reciting them over and over and over. (ha ha!)
  • Ydur from Knoxville, TnThe dog interpretation may be based on the cover artwork. It shows Napolean holding a stiff, unoccupied dog leash. Perhaps the dog is invisible. I have an invisible dog... her name is Maris.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InThis was a classic staple on the Dr. Demento show which I listened to on Sunday nights while growing up. Gotta enjoy these types of crazy tunes.
  • Zeb from Cologne, GermanyThe definite version of this song was created by Lard, the genius collaboration of Dead Kennedy´s Jello Biafra and Ministry-members.It increases the madness from "sick joke" to "no more sickness possible"...
    great nightmarish ride!
    check it out!
  • Krystle from Valpo, InI like this song only because it's funny. It was on a halloween CD my mom got last year and my cousin and I always laugh over that song because we both agree it sort of describes our coookiness (I have no clue how to spell that.)
  • Ira from Milford, CtI've always taken the 'I cooked your food, I cleaned your house' etc. as a person talking to a runaway dog. I've been known to utter similar lines of exasperation when I come home and have to clean up after a dog...
    And a mangy mutt, c'mon, of course it's his dog.
  • Keith from Slc, UtAre you SURE it's about a dog? Dogs don't laugh (as described in the song). The reference to "you mangy mutt" repeats a common insult of the time. The lyrics seem to indicate that it was a person who left.
  • Fred from Summit, NeJerry Samuels, as already stated, did it as a tribute to a lost dog. However, it all began nearly ten years earlier when Jerry recorded a song, as Jerry Samuels, called "Puppy Love" for Vik Records.
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