Back when AM Radio ruled the airwaves, before the onset of polarization, you could hear everything from rock and pop, to soul and jazz, to country and folk all on your favorite local station. Frequently sandwiched in with the hits were novelty tunes, like “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” by Napoleon XIV, which reached #3 on the Billboard Top 100:
Napoleon XIV didn’t really exist. The record was the brainchild of one Jerry Samuels, a recording engineer who used a Variable-Frequency Oscillator to create the vocal effects and manipulated the tape speeds to get his desired results. Samuels didn’t exactly sing the ditty as much as use a poetic cadence, which makes him a pioneer of early rap music!
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” plummeted down the charts as quickly as it rose. A controversy had ensued regarding the song making fun of the mentally ill, and the record wound up banned in many cities, disappearing as fast as it emerged. Samuels made several unsuccessful attempts to recapture his one-hit glory, but lightning never struck twice for him. The record remains a favorite among afficianodos of bizarre obscurities, and has been a staple of the Dr. Demento radio program over the decades.