These reviews are written and posted to rec.music.dementia as a service to those who do not have the reviewed recordings, as a means to acquaint those readers with the recorded material and the artists. Any quoted lyrics are included solely for enhancement, copyrights remain with the original owners, I make no claims. I am not affiliated with The Dr Demento Show, On The Radio Productions, etc. (except like, I was in the, like, Funny Five or something...uh huh huh huh)
They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!
Warner Bros. Records W/WS1661 (1966)
Rhino Records (reissue 1983)
This is the album that resulted from the huge success of the 45 of the title song in the summer of 1966. Jerry Samuels, a recording engineer, cooked up a mad little "tune" of a fellow going over the brink and being taken away, ha-haaa, to the funny farm, etc etc, and thus was born Napoleon XIV...After runaway success and major airplay which saw the single rise to #3 on the Billboard charts, suddenly womens' groups began threatening boycotts of station advertisers (particularly those of hit-making WABC in New York) as they believed poor Napoleon was ranting to his estranged wife, calling her a "mangy mutt"...the program directors pulled the record to avoid the heat and as quickly as it rose, it fell. But before it did, and before it was revealed that Samuels was in fact referring to a runaway dog, there was time to put together this album, a concept album about insanity! The other tunes on the album were co-written by Bobby Gosh, a songwriter who would find fame in the 1970's as a country-pop crossover songwriter (one of his biggest hits was Dr. Hook's "A Little Bit More").
The LP starts off with innocent little celeste playing a variant of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", and nice little bicycle bell FX. Very evocative of childhood...then Napoleon, in a kiddie voice, intones "Thirty days hath Septober/April June and no wonder/All the rest have peanut butter!/All except my dear grandmother./She had a little red tricycle......I stole it! hahahahahaha" and so begins the story of a man, 43, who likes to ride his little red tricycle, getting stern reminders from his peers to act his age; and at the end he confesses "I didn't really steal the tricycle from my grandmother....it followed me home! hahahaha" and the nice celeste and bells fade to a peaceful but insane close.
"Photogenic Schizophrenic You" appeared as the B-side to the 1970's reissue of the single on Philadelphia's Eric label, a bargain "oldies" reissue label. It's an ode in corny waltz time to his funny farm sweetheart: "Photogenic schizophrenic you/With your 36 IQ/Oh, I will spoon for you thru all my life/Cause they won't let me have a fork or knife/Photogenic schizophrenic you", over the top of which Nap reprises old-time bandleader Ted Lewis's radio announcement: "Is everybody CRAAAAAZY?????"...
"Bedlam" follows the title track in musical components: drums and vocals. A wild march ensues, suggesting a parade of mental patients, complete with extra vocal drum FX in the background, over which Napoleon cries "Knock knock knock!/Come right in!/You're the people from the loony bin!", as if they were in fact coming (to the door) to take him away, ha-haaa. He does escape at the end, however, as the track fades on his frantic heavy breathing.
Believe it or not, "Doin' the Napoleon" was in fact released as the followup single to "Ha-Haaa"! It's as rock 'n' roll as the LP gets, a harpsichord-driven (rocker?) outlining how to do the dance that will "set you free": "Stand real tall and look your best/Place your hand inside your vest/Havin' fun/Doin' the Napoleon", which is followed by more maniacal laughter as the band rocks along.
"Blanket" is the ballad. Heavily echoed theater organ provides the backdrop for Nap suggesting: "Let's cuddle up in my security blanket/And there we'll be safe from the world/What do we care if others conform"...
Not much else to say about the title track - ya know it, ya love it. A remix supervised by the man himself appears on "Dr. Demento's Delights" (1975), in wich the sirens pan wildly between the left and right speakers. Cosmic!
Side two opens with hypnotic reverberated rock drums ridden by bell tree and strummed piano strings for an eerie effect. Then over simple piano triplets, we are told things such as "Bats in my belfry and rain on my roof/Even my teddy bear stays so aloof" and "We'll all take a ride on my new pogo stick/Here comes the night nurse, cover up quick!" followed by real footsteps. It ends "Everyone knows that penguins go formal/So who's there among us to say who is normal???" followed by one more piano triplet figure and a wonderful fade on tape-echo feedback. The vocal effect is similar to that of the title track, each verse starts in his normal voice and ends in the sped-up funny farm voice.
"Dr. Psyche" is a joyful little waltz punctuated by looney-tunes recorder over a rock 'n' roll rhythm section (again, playing in waltz time!). It tells of "a shabby little doctor" who will give you shabby treatment because he never got his Ph.D., and all of his Freud reference volumes are full of trading stamps! You get what you pay for.
"I Live in a Split Level Head" is probably pretty familiar to listeners of the Dr Demento Show. It has been played quite often, and is also featured in The Rhino Brothers Present The World's Worst Records Volume 2. Two voices, over a cowbell and drum beat, extol the virtues of living in a split level head. There's no door to lock and no dog to be fed, there's no civil status, etc. Sounds like a neat place to be.
Nap directly addresses his lineage in "The Nuts On My Family Tree", outlining the contributions of the other Napoleons throughout history to major events, for instance, one of them, riding along with Washington across the Delaware, noticed a leak in the boat and water was getting in, so he drilled a hole to let the water out! But he takes off his hat and bursts with pride about his recollections of the classic bits prepetrated by his ancestors.
The final two tracks evoke the overall feel of the title track, containing drums, handclaps and tambourine, as well as sirens. "The Place There The Nuts Hunt The Squirrels" is to "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" as The Monkees' "Tear Drop City" is to "Last Train To Clarksville", the former is derivative of the latter. Could be the same tune...In the first track Napoleon reveals that he was, after all, ranting to a runaway woman ("You drove me to this and you know that you did/To the place where the nuts hunt the squirrels, ha-haa....And I don't think of girls like you, hoo-hah, I don't think of girls like YOU!") So despite the fact that "Ha-Haaa" referred to a fictional runaway dog, this was also concocted for the LP. All is fine in this place, but the only problem is: "They're trying to drive me sane/ha-haaa/They're trying to drive me sane!/hee-heeeee"
And finally, Josephine XV gets her $.02 in on the last track (courtesy of Samuels), in which she complains about Nap's habits and behavior, and now is happy they took him away, ha-haaa! She even gets her digs in and says he'll get his "for calling me a mutt, you mangy MAN!"
Most definitely PI (politically incorrect!) for these delicate times, you'd think we'd be able to laugh at ourselves a bit more than back then, but we'll get there eventually. Legend has it that Samuels recorded a second album about life in the asylum, but evidently Warner Bros. released him from contract before it could be released. Wonder if we'll ever hear it.
Samuels has for many years since performed as a solo piano/singalong act for nursing homes and adult care centers, and also runs an agency supplying similar acts when he himself is booked. His solo tune "I Owe A Lot to Iowa Pot" was played on Dr Demento in the late 70's/early 80's (not sure if it's been on recently)
The Warner Bros. LP is quite a collector's item, the stereo version in near mint condition going for upwards of $100 in some markets. Two singles were released: "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" b/w [the infamous] "!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT", and "Doin' the Napoleon" (flip side unknown, possibly "Photogenic, Schizophrenic You"). Warner Bros. in England actually released a 4-song EP in a cardboard picture cover. I cried at having to pass this up, but the asking price was the equivalent of well over $60 US, and I had already blown a bunch of sterling on Bonzo Dog Band records. Maybe one of these days I'll track it down. If you get a chance to hear this LP, listen with an open mind and a propensity toward good humor, and LAUGH at the damn thing OK???
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© 1995 Chris Mezzolesta [firstname.lastname@example.org - Comments/questions here also] / Email for permission before reposting, all reposts must be intact and include copyright notice and name of original author. Reviews are archived at: http://dmdb.org/