Napoleon XIV's 1966 novelty hit, "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!"

NAPOLEON XIV  “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!”  b/w “Photogenic, Schizophrenic You” (Eric Records #195, early-’80’s reissue.  Originally released on Warner Bros. #5831, Summer 1966)

When it comes to artistic integrity, few social groups get maligned as much as the mentally challenged.  Even in this enlightened era of advanced education, when extensive research is being done to comprehend such phenomena as autism, terms like “outsider” still separate the layers of our ability to understand the deeper workings of the human brain.  Probably out of fear.  Fear of discovering that, one way or another, we are all outsiders.

Early rock performers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis clearly understood the minds of the mentally challenged.  They knew that there was a little bit of crazy in all of us, that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that all we had to do was just open up and let it out.  Few later rockers understood this better than The Cramps’ late leader, Lux Interior, whose pure joy in performing for mental patients is chronicled in the stunning Live At Napa State Mental Hospital DVD.  “Finally!” you can imagine the patients thinking as they jump around to the band’s pounding, distorted rockabilly, “Music for ME!  Music that speaks to ME!”

" the funny farm..."

Back in the Summer of ’66, one record ratcheted up the insanity to previously unprecedented levels when 28-year-old New Yorker Jerry Samuels (under the nom-de-straitjacket, Napoleon XIV) recorded a totally batshit spoken-word ode to a misbehaving, runaway pup.  Released on Warner Bros., it sped to the top of the charts thanks to tons of airplay and just plain utter “gotta-hear-it-to-believe-it” ridiculousness.  Behold the psycho-chaotic masterpiece of marching-band drums, helium vocals and ambulance sirens that is, “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!”

Play \”They\’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!\” by Napoleon XIV

Not psychotic enough for ya?  Check out the B-side of the original Warners 45, “!aah-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT” (which is — you guessed it! — the A-side backwards).

yalP \”!aah-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er\’yehT\” yb VIX noelopaN

Great fun on jukeboxes.  Anyway, my early-’80’s Eric Records (the pre-Rhino Rhino) pressing of ” They’re Coming…” is backed with a later Samuels composition, “Photogenic Schizophrenic You.”  Slightly more melodic and ballad-like than the A-side, “Photo-Schizo” once again employs the device of the narrator blaming the cause of his mental illness on that of another, this time a gorgeous, but of course completely multiplexed, blonde (a stone from which modern gag writers still manage to wring blood).

Play \”Photogenic, Schizophrenic You\” by Napoleon XIV

“They’re Coming…” shot to #3 on the Billboard singles chart before insensitivity protests from advocacy groups wiped out the airplay entirely.  Nonplussed, Samuels went on to record two whole albums of nuthouse-inspired novelty tracks for Warners.  These days, like a modern Broadway Danny Rose, he runs the successful Philly-based Jerry Samuels Talent Agency, booking  juggling clowns and one-man-bands into homes for the physically and mentally challenged.  Viva Napoleon!

NEXT WEEK: I’m not a sailor, I’m the captain.