They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha!
November 20, 2015 2:51 PM   Subscribe

In 1966, a recording engineer named Jerry Samuels dubbed himself Napoleon XIV and recorded a little ditty called "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!". It was based on the rhythm of a Scottish tune called "The Campbells are Coming".

Its B-side? Why, it was "!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT". What else?

It earned a response from Napoleon's girlfriend, Josephine XV: "I'm Happy They Took You Away, Ha Ha!", as well as Napoleon's brother, The Emperor (Bob Hudson), proclaiming "I'm Normal". Later, Napoleon would warn people that "they're coming to get me again, ha ha!"

There were German and Italian covers, as well as translations into Latin.

Some fun covers: Biz Markie, Lard, Amanda Lear, Cyril Trotts, Kim Fowley, and a techno remix. Plus this, which is either very sad or well-done parody, I haven't quite figured out which.
posted by WCityMike (76 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
There was also "Split level head", a sequel in stereo.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:56 PM on November 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I always thought this was from an old Looney Tunes cartoon or something. Although possibly only because it sounds exactly like Pink Elephants On Parade.
posted by dng at 2:59 PM on November 20, 2015


Another cover by Lard (aka Ministry + Jello Biafra off the fantastic album The Last Temptation Of Reid)
posted by the bird at the bottom of the tree at 3:04 PM on November 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh my god. My best friend growing up had this on cassette tape of novelty hits from the '60s and we listened to it over and over and over and over again. I don't remember any other songs from that tape but this one. And I am weirded the fuck out by this video.
posted by witchen at 3:05 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sometime in the early-mid 1970's, when I would have been about seven or eight years old, I heard this on the radio, when my mom wasn't home. The house was empty, and it was starting to get dark.

It scared the unholy bejabbers out of me.

I will never like this song, and the man who made it is not a nice man.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


This song was a staple of Dr. Demento's show.
posted by dersins at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2015 [46 favorites]


There was also "Split level head ", a sequel in stereo.

One of the few instances where the sequel is every bit as good as its predecessor.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:09 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


My father liked to sing this song when I was growing up. I'm guessing yours did, too.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:10 PM on November 20, 2015 [28 favorites]


And now, coming in at #2 on the Funny Five is...
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


My dad was always getting those cassettes of novelty music from his youth when I was growing up. This song always freaked me the hell out--especially the line about twiddling their thumbs and toes--and listening now I think it's even more twisted than I remember!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2015


I now believe in weird co-incidences!!

I was singing this very tune to myself just this morning.
Another one I was thinking of from around the same time was:
On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese.
posted by Burn_IT at 3:14 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was the best friend of the college radio station when I was in college because not only did I have all the latest punk & new wave, I also had a few "oldies" like this one. On vinyl, bien sur.
posted by janey47 at 3:15 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would have appreciated a trigger warning.
posted by wats at 3:16 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sadly, this is another song from the 1960s that is fun on the surface, but doesn't hold up well to (current) close listens. I've listened to it a lot recently, thanks to a knock-off "Halloween music" CD (mediocre covers of hit songs).

Remember when you ran away and I got on my knees and begged you not to
leave because I'd go berserk?? Well...
You left me anyhow and then the days got worse and worse and now you see
I've gone completely out of my mind.
...
I cooked your food, I cleaned your house, and this is how you pay me back
for all my kind unselfish loving deeds.. Huh??
Well you just wait, they'll find you yet and when they do they'll put you
in the ASPCA, you mangy mutt!!! And...


It sounds like an abusive relationship, but then I like to think he's upset about an actual dog who doesn't show enough affection, because then it's back to being silly.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:20 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


This song was a staple of Dr. Demento's show.

So many Saturday nights....I'm surprised they never came to take ME away ha-ha, ho-ho,hee-hee!
posted by briank at 3:22 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


You missed this robotty version by Mr Maxted
posted by aubilenon at 3:22 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, anything with "the Funny Farm" since "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is going to be skating on thin ice, offensiveness-wise.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:23 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Doctor Demento is still doing his show; the FAQ says 35 years of it.

Streaming from here
posted by bukvich at 3:29 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Was listening earlier* to a version of 'Delta MKII' by The Orb that they did for a Peel Session and it samples 'The're Coming etc' at the end (and DJ John Peel talks a bit about it in his link that became part of the track)

*earlier = anytime in the last couple of days, but still a bit of a spooky coincidence
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:33 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The Campbells are Coming"? No, "The Rabbits are Coming"! (hooray, hooray.)
posted by benito.strauss at 3:37 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not to go off on a tangent, but I love that style of rudimental drumming that they're using in the Scottish video. Those 7-stroke and 15-stroke rolls have that great, slightly dragged-tempo feel to them that I feel like I only see in more traditional ensembles. That style reminds me of the way drummers like John Wooton play their rolls for this kind of thing.

That said, I've never played in a drumline, so for all I know this is still a totally standard way to play. Does anyone know what I'm talking about here?
posted by teponaztli at 3:51 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I somehow discovered this when I was about twelve and for a whole summer it was my jam. The 45 of it I had was actually backed with something else on the b-side - something called "Photogenic Schizophrenic You".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on November 20, 2015


another song from the 1960s that is fun on the surface, but doesn't hold up well to (current) close listens [...] It sounds like an abusive relationship

isn't that the point?
posted by andrewcooke at 4:03 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I tend to think about Napoleon XIV about twelve times a year. This is because the only way I can remember how many days each month has — and I am being absolutely serious here — is by thinking "Thirty days hath septober, April, June, and No Wonder, all the rest have peanut butter, except for my dear old grandmother. She has a little red tricycle."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:09 PM on November 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


My mother and father only seemed to recite the single line, “They’re coming to take me away, he–hee, ha–haa.” I did not know that it was a song. It sounded like a throwaway line from Spike Milligan, if anything, that they just picked up as random cultural trash.

I shall now file it away with “Hoots Mon” as a naff record based on a traditional Scottish tune. A small, but important, category I feel.
posted by Emma May Smith at 4:10 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is my favourite mashup.
posted by asra at 4:17 PM on November 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Anybody know anything about the first video? I can't imagine it dates from as far back as the 60s.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:24 PM on November 20, 2015


Wait, that wasn't by Tom Lehrer?
posted by monotreme at 4:24 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are you serious? Lehrer is always just a single piano, and has extremely clever lyrics, no matter how strange or silly he may get.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:27 PM on November 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I tend to think about Napoleon XIV about twelve times a year. This is because the only way I can remember how many days each month has — and I am being absolutely serious here — is by thinking "Thirty days hath septober, April, June, and No Wonder, all the rest have peanut butter, except for my dear old grandmother. She has a little red tricycle."

Brains are weird.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:29 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sing or Swim, the song has always terrified me to my marrow, too, and one of the biggest mistakes of my childhood was letting my sister know that fact. She used to torment me with it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:41 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is so cool. I actually have this album, in the original vinyl. My friends and I used to listen to this while on various chemicals. It made me the little red tricycle that I peanut butter today.
posted by Splunge at 4:46 PM on November 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


> the song has always terrified me to my marrow, and one of the biggest mistakes of my childhood was letting my sister know that fact. She used to torment me with it.
That's actually the earliest experience I can remember of somebody who was supposed to care about me deliberately putting me in distress for their own amusement. I don't think I'll ever forget it.


Although tormenting your siblings with this song may seem like harmless fun and games, introducing new stressors into a sibling's environment can cause long-term negative health impacts, up to and including heart attacks. No matter how much fun it may seem, never leave a Napoleon XIV track behind your siblings while they're eating.

One hypothesis for why siblings react this way to Napoleon XIV is that they momentarily mistake the song for a snake.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:01 PM on November 20, 2015 [28 favorites]


This sounds familiar. (nicely done though)
posted by jonmc at 5:11 PM on November 20, 2015


jonmc, it's just one more reason it's a shame WFMU totally shut down and deleted its blog...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:16 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I always thought the siren in the background was a nice touch.
posted by freakazoid at 5:18 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am so glad I wasn't the only person who was scared to death by this song. 8 year old me was pretty damn terrified, and even now thinking about the lyrics really upsets me . . . It's not a good song!
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:55 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the theme of funny songs, does anyone have a working link to 'Diary of an unborn duck'?
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:06 PM on November 20, 2015


I had this 45 when I was like, 5, 6 -- no idea how or who it actually belonged to -- and loved playing the b-side manually, backward, with my finger on my little suitcase player, cuz it made it even weirder and it was so cool.

I was a bit young to suss the lyrics, I just liked the weird 45.
posted by wallabear at 6:13 PM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oddly, I thought this song was basically the most hilarious thing ever when I first heard it at age 10 or so, and I played it incessantly. I didn't hear it again for 30-some years, and when I listened to it a couple of years ago as a 40-something adult, it scared the living shit out of me. Maybe I'm aging upside down or something.
posted by holborne at 6:14 PM on November 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


'They're Coming To Take Me Away!' was the subject of a radio ban in California. It was my first taste of PC really. The mental health professionals felt this song was pretty bad for the mentally ill.
It was censorship too though.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:23 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


"We will keep every single post up here for all of eternity"

You had me worried there about WFMU
posted by destro at 6:37 PM on November 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


And suddenly I'm pissed because Warner Bros reversed everything on the b-side label except their damn logo.

I should watch the soothing video again to calm down a bit. It's been 50 years, let it go.
posted by wallabear at 6:43 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there an "only sold on TV" ad for a tape collection that included this and other Demento-like songs in the 80s?
posted by destro at 6:46 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


> ... and loved playing the b-side manually, backward, with my finger on my little suitcase player, cuz it made it even weirder and it was so cool.

Have you seen this?
posted by benito.strauss at 7:04 PM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, I was just playing this for my co-workers today. (the ones who also had never heard Paradise by the Dashboard Light.)

For real fun, play it right above the audible threshold. They'll think they're hearing things...heehee hoho haha...
posted by notsnot at 7:32 PM on November 20, 2015


So glad you posted the Neuroticfish remix! RIP!
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 8:19 PM on November 20, 2015


This song emotionally teleports me into early childhood, thanks to a bright and creative older brother who had poor judgement.
posted by latkes at 9:10 PM on November 20, 2015


It sounds like an abusive relationship, but then I like to think he's upset about an actual dog who doesn't show enough affection, because then it's back to being silly.

He was singing about a dog running away. (See item #3 on the list.)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:05 PM on November 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


...and we listened to it over and over and over again.

As did we who are old enough to remember it when it came out. Back when there was only top 40 radio. Novelty songs grew old fast. But then they stuck around way way too long. And when there were so few choices as to radio or TV stations on the dial, that was so not a good thing.
posted by y2karl at 10:07 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a few Dr. Demento tapes as a kid -- I think my uncle just taped the show off the radio -- and this song was always one of my favorites. I enjoyed it even more once I realized it was about someone whose dog ran away.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:29 PM on November 20, 2015


I remember a substitute teacher who taught us "Thirty days hath November" -- the serious, correct one -- when I was about 12. I always wondered why he added the nonsensical "...except for my grandmother, who rides a tricycle" at the end, and I always mentally added it myself afterward. Now I finally know why. Thanks for clearing up a 25-year-old mystery, Metafilter!
posted by tracicle at 11:42 PM on November 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure my entire Boy Scout troop (when I was a kid) could sing this. As a parent, I have such sympathy for the scout master and the other dads.
posted by plinth at 4:46 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't hear this song without thinking of Instant Insanity. That puzzle game wantonly advertised itself to me for what felt like forever.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 5:36 AM on November 21, 2015


Sinister Purpose, thank you. I knew it had been used in an advert in the 80s but couldn't remember which one.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:21 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Add me to the list of people freaked out by it. My mother's second husband had found a cache of his childhood 45s and started playing that one when he found it. I got about a verse into it before walking over to the stereo and shutting it off. That was one of the few times my opinion was respected, since I don't remember hearing it again after that.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:33 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was 12 or so. They used to play it on the radio. My younger brother and I thought it hilarious.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:51 AM on November 21, 2015


When I was a child I had a subscription to Mad Magazine (I was a cool child, actually I had a cool mom who bought me the subscription). One issue came with a floppy vinyl "record" in the middle, and it was this song.

It terrified me.

I'm not sure why, but I still can't listen to the whole thing. The rhythm is fun but I think it's all the wailing sounds in the background, it just creeps me the hell out.
posted by Groovymomma at 7:28 AM on November 21, 2015


The novelty song was kind of a beautiful thing in that it represented a way in which an average loudmouth could semi-realistically hope to find some chariot of radio fame and wealth swinging low to pick him up, if only for a few weeks. I guess we have Youtube for that now, though.
posted by thelonius at 8:34 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


For the interested, I'm In Live With A Little Red Tricycle
posted by maryr at 8:45 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Now do 99 Dead Baboons.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:51 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now do 99 Dead Baboons.

Enjoy!

Oh, you mean a FPP?
posted by SisterHavana at 10:21 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess we have YouTube for that.

But the experience of what novelty songs were, back in the day, could only be reproduced if there were only 40 videos on YouTube which were shown according to their current popularity at the moment with the most popular played the most often with you having no choice in what you see next.

Unless you paid a monthly premium.

Now there's a revenue model.
posted by y2karl at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sadly, this is another song from the 1960s that is fun on the surface, but doesn't hold up well to (current) close listens.

Oh I dunno. I am the third consecutive generation in my father's line to suffer from a mental illness that has required significant medical intervention. We've all found it pretty funny. It's too silly to feel like it reflects any judgement of what it's actually like to live with a mental health condition.
posted by howfar at 10:58 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Give it up, y2karl. I don't think you can convey what it really felt like to live in that meager media environment anymore than we can understand what it was like to live without electrical lighting.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:00 PM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


My clan, I believe, claims that it was composed by our clan piper on the occasion of the slaughter of the Colquhoun (pronounced "ko-hoon") clan by a combined MacGregor (us) and Campbell force.
posted by alasdair at 12:25 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: "Sadly, this is another song from the 1960s that is fun on the surface, but doesn't hold up well to (current) close listens."

That's a problem with the current close listens, though. It is a song about someone's dog leaving them.
It's kinda like being unable to hear an old song with the word "gay" in it without interpreting it as being about homosexuality.
posted by Bugbread at 2:07 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a vague recollection of there being a Dutch version of this, and this posting made me look for it, and yes! Found it!
Videoclip from 1966. Groovy. And scary.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:11 PM on November 21, 2015


Destro: Wasn't there an "only sold on TV" ad for a tape collection that included this and other Demento-like songs in the 80s?

I recall Ray Stevens being featured prominently; was this the same collection?
posted by dr_dank at 4:34 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love the beat on this. I know it's a march basically, but the interplay between the vocals and beat are just really fun to listen to, especially as the vocals become more unhinged, but the beat is as steady as she goes, a counterpoint to the descending madness.

When I was a kid getting into The Monkees, I'd already heard this tune on Dr. Demento, so to hear Davy ad lib it at the end of Gonna Buy Me a Dog endeared them to me even more.
posted by droplet at 4:56 PM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read an interview with Samuels once. He knew exactly how he wanted the chorus to sound, his voice gradually rising in pitch while the tempo stays the same. A computer can do this easily, but in the 60s it was technically darn near impossible.

As for the mental illness part, he said he knew it could be controversial. That's why he threw in the verse about the dog because people would say that's ok then. Of course he points out the protagonist is STILL ill, whether it was a woman or a dog that did it to him.
posted by evilcolonel at 5:31 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I remember when this was new. Get off my lawn, now.
posted by Goofyy at 3:55 AM on November 22, 2015


Like others have said, my dad also sang this song for years. And for whatever reason, it's inextricably linked to this song too…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxzg_iM-T4E

I think it's just how college kids in the 60s got their kicks. lol
posted by readyfreddy at 8:52 PM on November 22, 2015


Wasn't there an "only sold on TV" ad for a tape collection that included this and other Demento-like songs in the 80s?

That really rings a bell for me. It was my only exposure to this song up to now. I seem to remember that commercial airing on the local independent network after the "Eight O'clock Movie" during the time slot when the responsible stations were airing the news. Diff'rent Strokes or Mama's Family or F-Troop probably.
posted by The Potate at 2:47 AM on November 23, 2015


I think it's just how college kids in the 60s got their kicks.

My dad and his dormmates used to gather to watch Batman on TV on the first floor of their dorm when it was being broadcast, always at the same Bat time, on the same Bat channel.
posted by maryr at 10:17 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


...anymore than we can understand what it was like to live without electrical lighting.

Well, for a fact, my mother grew up on a farm in Kansas before the rural electrification. And when I realized that, I asked her, Well, golly gee, what'd ya do in the winter when it got dark so early ?

Mom: Slept alot.

I remember playing Hawaiian 78s on my grandmother's wind up Victrola when we went out to visit.

Now there is a media experience beyond my comprehension.
posted by y2karl at 12:17 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


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