I don’t know if the people who made these tunes really thought of them as novelty songs. (Well, one of them definitely is.) Maybe they were dead serious. In any event, each of them was some level of hit, exactly zero of them are “Witch Doctor” by the Chipmunks or “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Next time maybe.
–This brief story has an interesting factoid. (Or two.) In 1971, a South African singer-songwriter named John Kongos did a song called “He’s Gonna Step On You Again.” Not quite sure what it’s about exactly but the words go something like this:
Hey rainmaker, come away from that man
You know he’s gonna take away your promised land
Hey good lady, he just want what you got
You know he’ll never stop until he’s taken the lot
According to the blogger’s best friend, Wikipedia: The song was cited in the Guinness Book of Records as being the first song to have used a sample. However, it is actually a tape loop of African drumming and tape loops and instruments using pre-recorded samples were well established by this time. The song was produced by the late Gus Dudgeon who worked a fair amount with Sir John of Elton.
Factoid #1. Kongos’ sons have a band named Kongos and forty years later had a minor hit with the song “Come With Me Now.” Factoid #2: The song was re-recorded by the Manchester band Happy Mondays as “Step On.”
–The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is a band that formed in the Sixties, had one hit and is apparently STILL GOING. Brown used to wear a metal helmet that which caught fire one day (methanol-soaked colander) and then it became a thing.
The album was produced by The Who’s manager Kit Lambert with an assist from Pete Townshend. Townshend had actually discovered the band as a sort of talent scout for Lambert’s Track Records label. According to Brown, Townshend was quite instrumental in putting together the album as by then he had a fair amount of studio experience.
The song “Fire” was a massive worldwide hit. I used to, for some reason, love it but that’s all sort of worn off. You can see the “God of Hellfire” at work below in the video from Top of the Pops. Somebody in the comment section said this and it tickled my funny bone:
“I’ll never forget how this song scared the living daylights out of me many years ago (when the song was on the charts): I was still living at home, and had to get up at 6:00 in the morning to go to work. I had forgotten that I had turned the volume way up on my clock radio the night before, so the first thing I heard at FULL BLAST at 6 AM was “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE!!”
My bedroom nearly had a skylight that morning, as I jumped so high out of the bed, my heart POUNDING! Normally, I love this song, but I sure didn’t love it that morning! LOL”
–And now we come to the “masterpiece,” which is none other than Napoleon XIV, aka songwriter/producer Jerry Samuels. He explains to Songfacts how the song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!” came about:
We were doing 60-second spots for some advertising agencies using a device called a variable frequency oscillator. I realized that if you hooked it up to the 4-track, you could do things that weren’t done before. I would be able to raise or lower the pitch of a voice without changing the tempo by hooking it up to that 4-track machine.”
“Based on that, I came up with the idea for ‘They’re Coming To Take Me Away.’ I was sitting in a nice easy-chair one night. It had a little vibrator on it and I was stoned because I loved to smoke grass. What popped into my head was the old Scottish tune, ‘The Campbells Are Coming.’
“It took me nine months to finish it. I wrote one verse and the chorus, and immediately I realized I was writing a sick joke. So I said, ‘This is no good, I’ll put it away.’ Three months later it was still running through my head; I pulled it out again and wrote the second verse and it was an even sicker joke.
Finally about 6 months after that I decided I was going to finish it, and I was going to do something in that last verse that would throw things off a little bit, so I referred to the object – ‘They’re coming to take me away because of what YOU did – I referred to YOU as a dog. The dog ran away. By doing that I felt I was lightening the sickness of the joke, and I probably was and it probably did some good for me, but that was the reason I went for that afterthought.”
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away” was released in 1966 and was actually, believe it or not, a hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard 100. Of the song, no less a personage than Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh has said it was the, “…most obnoxious song ever to appear in a jukebox,” claiming the recording once “cleared out a diner of forty patrons in three minutes flat.” High praise indeed:
My wife used to work at a company where the salespeople would come in and ask for the impossible. She and her co-workers would sing this song and to this day she knows all the lyrics. I could hardly be prouder.
Note that the flip side of the single was called “!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT” and it consists entirely of the song in reverse. The song had been a hit for a while when, alas, it was eventually banned by radio stations who felt it was insensitive. I dunno, that seems crazy to me.