Distinctly Warped Voice of a 1960s Novelty Songwriter Is Silenced in King of Prussia

Jerry Samuels
Image via Jason Samuels at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jerry Samuels and granddaughter Marie Neveaux-Samuels.

Jerry Samuels, whose novelty tune took off in 1966, has passed away in a King of Prussia assisted living facility. Nate File reported the 84-year-old’s loss in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Samuels, from New York City, played piano by age three and wrote marketable songs by 15.

He eventually moved to Northeast Philadelphia as a record producer and songwriter. Clients included Carole King, Dionne Warwick, and Sammy Davis, Jr.

His claim to fame was the oddball single, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” Samuels released it under the pseudonym Napoleon XIV.

Told in a first-person rhythmic speaking voice over a simple drumbeat, the tune chronicled a man having a bad-breakup breakdown.

A technical innovation (for the time) altered Samuel’s voice to fit the off-kilter tone. He engineered a way to speed up the lyrics’ recitation without altering pitch.

The twisted tune reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

But almost as fast, it faded, perhaps sunk by an underlying sense that it was insensitive to those with psychiatric or emotional problems.

The remainder of Samuels’ career was spent touring, first in bars, then in senior homes.

He succumbed to complications of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

More on the briefly weird recording career of Jerry Samuels is at The Philadelphia Inquirer.


Perhaps offensive today, Jerry Samuels’ hit was popular in 1966.

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