Jerry Samuels, who as “Napoleon XIV” wrote and recorded one of pop music’s most unusual hit singles, 1966’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” died today (March 10, 2023). Samuels, 84, had operated a Philadelphia-based talent agency for the past four decades. News of his passing was shared by his wife, Bobbie Samuels, on her Facebook page. “My friends,” she wrote, “Jerry died early this morning. He was my rock and the greatest love of my life. He taught me to be strong.”
Samuels, born May 3, 1938, was a recording engineer in New York City. He came up with an idea: a song about a poor guy who’s so distraught over his girlfriend leaving him that he’s driven to madness. He took on the name Napoleon XIV, credited his composition to N. Bonaparte and somehow got Warner Bros. Records to agree to release it in July 1966. With only a snare drum and a tambourine as accompaniment, Samuels recites—never sings—his tale of woe.
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” was, by any measure, one of the most bizarre records to come out in any year. It took off like, well, like crazy, reaching #3 in the U.S. and #4 in the U.K.
The single’s B-side was “!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT ot gnimoC er’yehT,” the same recording played backwards.
As Napoleon XIV, Samuels was a one-hit wonder, though his 1966 single lived on largely via airplay from novelty record aficionado Dr. Demento, who included it on many compilation albums. There was actually a Napoleon XIV album, which did not chart (it included an answer song, “I’m Happy They Took You Away, Ha-Haaa!” by “Josephine XV”), numerous cover versions and, in 1988, a sequel by Samuels, “They’re Coming To Get Me Again, Ha Haaa!”