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

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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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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.


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