Trigger Tracks: INSANITY

Even though it was written as a novelty, Jerry Samuels’s 1966 single “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” (written under the pseudonym Napoleon XIV) has a way of planting itself deep within your brain, taking root, and then burgeoning forth in mindless recitation without warning or consent.  Now if that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is. Fittingly, the lyrics tell the tale of a man who goes insane after his dog has left him.  (However, the lyrics can also be easily interpreted as a girlfriend or wife leaving him, rather than a dog, which would paint a much darker picture.)  For starters, it is all eerily told in the first-person and aimed squarely at the dog, wherever it is.  We’re just along for the ride.

The full force of this insanity is reached through some pretty advanced sound effects for the time.  The lyrics are kept in strict cadence, set to a hypnotic snare and tambourine march (incessantly looped and layered atop itself, for the added echo).  Meanwhile, the climatic horror of the chorus is achieved by introducing a siren sound, which gradually crescendos alongside Samuels’s voice in controlled disharmony.  His voice also increases in pitch, which is purportedly an early example of altering the recording speed without the side-effect of tempo variation.  The result: pure insanity.

Napoleon XIV: 'They're coming to take me away'

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