The Quick 10: The Strangest Record to Make the Top 10

In 1966, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, and the artists at Motown were all competing for top spots on the charts. But despite all this formidable competition, an odd little record called "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" climbed to the number 3 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 charts.

Performed by Napoleon XIV (aka Jerry Samuels), the song was also a hit in the U.K., reaching #4 on the U.K. singles charts. Here's a look back at this weird chapter in music history.

1. The Composer

Jerry Samuels, a recording engineer in New York, was also a part-time songwriter, having previously written a hit song for Sammy Davis Jr. called "The Shelter of Your Arms." Far and away his biggest and most famous hit, "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" took him 9 months to complete.

2. The Music

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" was not actually sung; it was "recited" in rhythm, while background "music" was tapped out on a snare drum and a tambourine. (There is also what sounds to be rhythmic hand-clapping all through the song.)

3. The Story

The song deals with a man apparently going insane because of the loss of his wife? Girlfriend? Or, more probably, his dog. The "loss of dog" theory is clearly supported by the record cover art, which features a fire hydrant and "Napoleon" holding an "invisible dog" leash. Additionally, the singer calls his lost love "you mangy mutt" at one point in the rendition, although men have certainly called their lost women this -- and worse!

Samuels himself confirmed the "loss of dog" theory, saying that he knew he was dealing with "serious subject matter," but he felt a man going insane from losing his dog was somehow "less serious" than a guy cracking up after losing his girl.

4. The Radio Bans

The song proved so popular it may have even reached the #1 spot; however, it lost out because many radio programmers omitted the it from their playlists because they were worried about adverse reactions from people who felt the song ridiculed mentally ill people. This occurred most notably in the New York market, where the two N.Y. Top 40 radio stations of the time, WABC and WMCA, both banned broadcasting of the song (though WABC would continue to play it on its local Top 20 list).

Prior to the ban, WABC had played the song back-to-back several times in one afternoon. Disc jockey Dan Ingram played the song a number of times in succession, but each time announced a different song. The offbeat stunt resulted in several complaints registered by one listener (perhaps a mental hospital employee, it was thought).

5. The Loss of Certification

The song is the answer to the trivia question: "What is the only song whose certification license (ASCAP) was withdrawn while it was on the charts?" Without a valid performance license from ASCAP (or another valid licensing organization), a song cannot be legally aired.

6. The B-Side

The B-side of "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is as bizarre as the song itself. Titled "Aaah-Ah Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Er-Yeht," it's simply a version of the song played backwards. The B-side is credited to "VIX Noelopan." (That's right: "Napoleon XIV" spelled backwards.)

7. The Fall Off the Charts

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is the song with the fastest "decrease speed" in chart history. During week 3 on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart, the song hit its peak spot: #3. The following week, it was #5, but by week 5, it had plummeted to #37. (Obviously, the bans and deliberate omissions by so many stations caused this quickly accelerated drop in popularity and sales.)

8. The Live Performances

As if not strange enough already, one other oddity regarding "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!": When the song was a hit, the record company sent other people to perform it at live performances, instead of Jerry Samuels, its actual composer and performer.

9. "The Most Obnoxious Song"

Critic Dave Marsh calls the song "the most obnoxious song ever to appear in a jukebox" in his book, The Book of Rock Lists. Marsh claims the song once "cleared a diner of 40 patrons in 3 minutes flat."

10. The Places to Hear It

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is regularly played on "The Dr. Demento Radio Show," a show devoted to odd records, and can also be enjoyed on YouTube.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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Your Library Has a Free Music Service That You Probably Didn't Know About
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Did you know that you can download free music from your local library? Music that you can keep. That's right: not borrow, keep.

It's all possible thanks to a service called Freegal (a portmanteau of free and legal), which gives patrons of participating libraries access to 15 million songs from 40,000 labels, notably including the Sony Music Entertainment catalog. All you need is a library card.

Here's how it works: You can download a few songs a week, and, in many areas, enjoy several hours of streaming, too (the precise number of songs and hours of streaming varies by library). Once you download MP3 files, they're yours. You're free to put them on iTunes, your iPhone, your tablet, and more. You don't have to return them and they don't expire. The counter resets on Mondays at 12:01 a.m. Central Time, so if you hit your limit, you won't have long to wait before you get more downloads. And Freegal has some great stuff: A quick scan of the front page reveals music from Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Cardi B, Simon & Garfunkel, Childish Gambino, The Avett Brothers, Lykke Li, and Sara Bareilles.

Freegal has been around since 2010 and is offered at libraries worldwide. In the U.S., that includes the New York Public Library, Queens Library, Los Angeles Public Library, West Chicago Public Library, Houston Public Library, and more. In the past few years, libraries have debuted some other amazing free digital services, from classic films streaming on Kanopy to audiobooks and e-books available to borrow on SimplyE and OverDrive. But the thing that's so exciting about Freegal is that you can keep the MP3 files, unlike services that limit you to borrowing.

Freegal's site is easy to navigate: You can browse playlists and make your own, check out the most popular tunes, and save songs to your wishlist for when you get more credits. In the old days, music fans would check out CDs from the library and upload them onto their computers before returning them. But Freegal eliminates the need to go to your local branch, check out an album, and bring it back when you're done.

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Freegal

To find out if your local library has Freegal, go to freegalmusic.com and click login, then search for your area. It's important to note: Your library's contract might not have both streaming and downloading privileges. You can use Freegal on the web or as an app available on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon. Of course, the service doesn't have everything. And sometimes, when it does have an artist, it will only have a few of their most popular albums. But if you frequently buy music on iTunes or elsewhere, checking Freegal first may save you a bit of money.

If you don't yet have a library card, Freegal is just one more reason why you should get one ASAP.

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An Anthology Series Based on Dolly Parton's Songs Is Coming to Netflix
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Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Though she may be best known for her music career, Dolly Parton is a Hollywood powerhouse. In addition to starring in more than a few contemporary classics, from 9 to 5 to Steel Magnolias, she's also been partly responsible for some of your favorite TV series. As part owner of Sandollar Entertainment, a film and television production company, she's been a silent figure behind shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, the queen of country music is preparing to return to the small screen once again—this time on Netflix.

The beloved singer is partnering with Warner Bros. Television to produce an anthology series for Netflix, Engadget reports. Set to debut in 2019, each of the eight episodes will have a theme based on a song by Parton, who will serve as executive producer and singer-songwriter in addition to appearing in the series.

"As a songwriter, I have always enjoyed telling stories through my music," Parton said in a statement. "I am thrilled to be bringing some of my favorite songs to life with Netflix. We hope our show will inspire and entertain families and folks of all generations, and I want to thank the good folks at Netflix and Warner Bros. TV for their incredible support."

The list of songs hasn’t yet been released, but I Will Always Love You, Jolene, and The Bargain Store are among Parton’s greatest hits.

Parton previously worked with Warner Bros. to produce the made-for-television movies Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (2015) and Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (2016). She has also nearly finished the music for the upcoming film Dumplin'—based on a novel by Julie Murphy and starring Jennifer Aniston—and the soundtrack will be released via Dolly Records and Sony Music Nashville, according to Parton’s website.

[h/t Engadget]

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