1973 Jerry Samuels – Writings and Recordings
Jerry Samuels began working in the music industry as an engineer. He also wrote songs that other artists recorded and had hits with.
Jerry’s first big success came when soul singer Adam Wade released the single As If I Didn’t Know in 1961. Adam reached the top ten on the Hot 100 three times beginning in 1960, and Jerry’s song was the last time Adam even got into the top forty.
In 1964, Sammy Davis, Jr., recorded another song Jerry wrote. The single Shelter Of Your Arms reached #17 on the Hot 100. The record did better on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it peaked at #6. Sammy later reached the top of both charts in 1972 with The Candy Man.
Times got a little more difficult for Jerry after those two releases, and in 1966 he tried something different. He recorded a song with no music! He chanted and almost rapped over a looping ten-second drum beat and some tambourine smacking and a little thigh-slapping. Not wanting to work any harder than he had to, he created the flip side of the record by simply playing the tape backward.
Red Buttons recorded Strange Things Are Happening in 1953, and the single reached the top ten. The record was also subtitled Ho Ho, Hee Hee, Ha Ha thanks to a call and answer at the start of the record. Jerry may or may not have been influenced by that hit since the lyrics to his single included the identical line, “Ho Ho, Hee Hee, Ha Ha.”
Jerry ended up with a novelty record that instantly became controversial: They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha Haaa. Jerry chose to use the name Napoleon XIV on the label to hide his identity, and that only worked until Cousin Brucie revealed his name on WABC radio in New York City.
The song is…unusual. It’s also very politically incorrect, and, as a result, gets very little airplay now.
When they released the single in 1966, it shot up to number three and then fell completely off the Hot 100, all in the space of only six weeks. Some listeners (and the ASPCA) attacked radio stations that played the song because of its treatment of mental illness, and that helped get the song off the air quickly. It didn’t stop the record from selling a million copies.
Jerry quickly recorded an album that included nothing but mental illness songs, including the answer song, I’m Glad They Took You Away by Josephine. I’m fairly certain I have a copy of the album in a box in the garage, but I can’t think of a reason to search for it. I do, however, remember playing the album enough to still be able to sing at least the titles or choruses of some of the songs. I make no apologies; I was still a young teenager at the time.
That might have been the end of the record, were it not for Barry Hansen. Barry worked as a disk jockey in Los Angeles in the early seventies. Thanks to a surprisingly active response from listeners, Barry began playing mostly novelty records on his show. The single Transfusion by Nervous Norvus reached the top ten of the Hot 100 in 1956. When Barry played the record on the air, another disk jockey (“The Obscene” Steven Clean) insisted that Barry had to be demented to play that song.
Lightning struck! Barry began presenting himself as Dr. Demento. His show quickly became syndicated, and many of the songs he played on his show recovered public awareness of many lost and forgotten novelty records. They’re Coming To Take Me Away was re-issued and gained enough sales and airplay to reach #87 on the Hot 100 in 1973. The song even appeared regularly on Dr. Demento’s albums.
Jerry did not go on to a successful musical career after that. Instead, for a few years, he mostly made a living selling marijuana roach clips to head shops. When that played out, he switched to playing piano and singing at nursing homes and senior facilities in the Philadelphia area.
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