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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One of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' Gloves Can Be Yours (For the Right Price)
Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

Three things usually come to mind when people recall Michael Jackson's stratospheric fame in the 1980s: His music videos were events unto themselves; he toted around a chimp named Bubbles (who once bit Quincy Jones's daughter Rashida); and Jackson was often seen wearing a single white sequined glove.

There's no official count on how many gloves Jackson owned and wore during his career, but one performance-used mitt is now up for sale via GWS Auctions and their Legends of Hollywood & Music Auction. Used by Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour, the Swarovski crystal-covered glove is unique in that Jackson had it made for his left hand, as he wanted to keep the wedding ring—courtesy of his marriage to nurse Debbie Rowe—visible on his right. (Though wedding rings are traditionally worn on the left hand, Jackson was known to wear his on the right.)

A white glove worn by Michael Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour
GWS Auctions

According to Jackson associate John Kehe, Jackson allegedly got the idea for the glove in 1980, when he was touring a production company and saw a film editor at a control panel wearing a white cotton glove. Jackson himself wrote in his autobiography, Moonwalk, that he had been wearing a single glove since the 1970s. Either way, it was Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" during a television appearance for Motown's 25th anniversary in May 1983 that cemented the accessory in the eyes of the public. That particular glove sold for $350,000 in 2009.

The HIStory glove will be up for auction March 24; pre-bids currently have it in excess of $5000. The Legends of Music and Hollywood Auction is also set to feature a prescription pill bottle once owned by Frank Sinatra and a hairbrush used by Marilyn Monroe.

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The Stories Behind 10 Johnny Cash Songs
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Getty Images

Johnny Cash, who was born on this day in 1932, once wrote, “I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother And God."

That sums the Cash discography up pretty well. He covers at least 20 of those themes in the 10 songs below. Here are the backstories behind some of the Man in Black's most famous songs—and maybe a little insight into why he loved those topics so much.


In the song, Cash explains that he always wears black to performances and public appearances because of social injustices, “just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back.” It’s a great story, but it’s not 100 percent true. In 2002, he told Larry King that black was his signature color simply because he felt most comfortable in it, although he preferred light blue in summer. “You walk into my clothes closet. It’s dark in there,” he said.

Rolling Stone wrote that the inky wardrobe was also helpful when it came to hiding dirt and dust in the early touring days.


Cash didn’t always wear black. In the video above, he’s dressed in bright yellow, accessorized with a powder blue cape.

Sound a little off-brand? It was. In the early ‘80s, Cash felt that Columbia, his record label, was ignoring him and failing to promote his music properly. He decided to record a song so awful that it would force Columbia to cut his contract early. The plan worked, but it came at a price. “He was kind of mocking and dismantling his own legacy,” daughter Rosanne later said. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics, in case the video is too painful to watch: “I put your brain in a chicken last Monday, he’s singing your songs and making lots of money, and I’ve got him signed to a 10-year recording contract.”


Written in just 20 minutes, Cash’s (arguably) greatest hit  was intended as a reminder to himself to stay faithful to his first wife, Vivian, while he was on the road opening for Elvis in the mid-1950s. "It was kind of a prodding to myself to 'Play it straight, Johnny,'" he once said. According to other interviews, that wasn’t the song’s only meaning: He also meant it as an oath to God. Although Sam Phillips from Sun Records said that he wasn’t interested in gospel songs, Johnny was able to sneak “I Walk the Line” past him with the story about being true to his wife.


In 1969, Johnny and June threw a party at their house in Hendersonville. As you might imagine, it was a veritable who’s-who of music: Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and Shel Silverstein. Everyone debuted a new song at the party—Dylan sang “Lay Lady Lay,” Nash did “Marrakkesh Express,” Kristofferson played “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now.” Silverstein, who was a songwriter in addition to an author of children’s books, debuted “A Boy Named Sue.”

When the party was over, June encouraged Johnny to take the lyrics to “Sue” on the plane the next day. They were headed to California to record the famous live At San Quentin album. Johnny wasn’t sure he could learn the lyrics fast enough, but he did—and the inmates went crazy for it. They weren’t the only ones: "A Boy Named Sue" quickly shot to the top of the charts. And not just the country charts—it held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks.

The song was originally inspired by a male friend of Silverstein’s with a somewhat feminine name—Jean Shepherd, the author of A Christmas Story.


The story behind this one depends on who you believe. The Carter-Cash family has always maintained that June and guitar player Merle Kilgore co-wrote the song about June falling in love with Johnny despite being worried about his drug and alcohol problem.

But according to Johnny’s first wife, Vivian, June had nothing to do with “Ring of Fire.” “The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part,” Vivian wrote in her autobiography. She claims he gave June credit for writing the song because he thought she needed the money.

Either way, June’s sister Anita originally recorded the song. After Johnny had a dream that he was singing it with mariachi horns, he recorded it that way. 


“Ring of Fire” isn’t the only time Johnny had a dream that inspired a song. In his later years, Cash had a dream that he walked into Buckingham Palace and encountered Queen Elizabeth just sitting on the floor. When she saw him, the Queen said, “Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind!” Two or three years later, Cash remembered the dream, decided that the reference must be a biblical one, and wrote what he called “my song of the apocalypse”—“The Man Comes Around.”


This one is another early song inspired by Vivian. From the summer of 1951 through the summer of 1954, Cash was deployed in Germany with the Air Force. At the end of three years, he turned down the option to re-enlist, feeling homesick for his girl and his home. On the journey back from Germany, he penned “Hey Porter” about the excitement and relief he felt to finally be coming home.


After seeing Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, Cash was inspired to write a song about it. Too bad that song already existed as “Crescent City Blues,” written by Gordon Jenkins.

Jenkins sued for copyright infringement in 1969 and received $75,000. Cash later admitted that he heard the song when he was in the Air Force, but borrowing the tune and some of the lyrics was subconscious; he never meant to rip Jenkins off. Oh, but the famous “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” line—that was all Johnny.

9. "CRY! CRY! CRY!"

After Cash returned home from the Air Force and signed with Sun Records, he gave Sam Phillips “Hey Porter.” Phillips asked for a ballad for the B-side, so Cash went home and quickly wrote “Cry! Cry! Cry!” literally overnight. It became his first big hit—not bad for an afterthought.


Though “Get Rhythm” eventually became the B-side for “I Walk the Line,” Cash originally wrote it for Elvis. It might have been recorded by Presley, but when he went to RCA, Sam Phillips refused to let him take “Get Rhythm” with him.


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