The Nightcrawlers: The Little Black Egg

[Editor's Note: Dear Reader, this was the first post I ever wrote on this blog. I didn't really think too hard about it—I just really liked the song and wanted to write something about it. Since then, a good portion of traffic to my website has been related to this tune. If you're interested in "The Little Black Egg," I strenuously urge you to pick up Big Beat Records' excellent Nightcrawlers' retrospective, which contains that song and much more. Also, if you have any memories of the Nightcrawlers from back in the day, feel free to post them in the comments section below.]

My favorite song in the entire world was written by a band of cryptic Floridians called the Nightcrawlers. Somewhere, information exists about the Nightcrawlers. A quick search through the internets reveals that their one and only album (plus bonus tracks) was reissued by Big Beat Records in 2000, but I don't own it.

Consequently, I don’t know anything about the Nightcrawlers, it doesn’t matter, who cares. I don’t want to know anything about them. All I know is that this lovely song was released in 1965 and eventually became a minor hit. My first exposure to it came via the Lenny Kaye-compiled Nuggets collection, which caused an invisible third eye to open in the center of my forehead.

Starting off with a jangly guitar riff, “Little Black Egg” manages to lurch along for three and a half minutes. It’s propelled by a weirdly precise drummer, who sounds like he just learned how to play. Almost as if he hasn’t yet figured out how hard the drums should be hit—sometimes he sneaks out an arm to hit the crash cymbal, but it’s rare. A close listen reveals that the poor guy’s squeaky kick drum pedal is sorely in need of some WD-40. The squeak cuts through the distinctive “sorry but we could only spare one mic for the drums” drum sound. It sounds really dogged, you know? Like he's just making do with what he has, and it ain't easy, so count your blessings.

The singer, on the other hand, sounds like a drawling lobotomy outpatient with nasal congestion to whom someone handed a tambourine before pushing him in front of a microphone and hitting the record button. It just so happens he’s got some very ineffable psychedelic problems that he’s gonna lay on you.

In a blissful, deadpan voice with occasional deadpan harmony, he informs the listener that:

1.) He's found a little black egg with little white specks
2.) People want to look at it, but he doesn’t want them to
3.) The whole situation is really fucking stressing him out

It’s the most perfectly paranoid psych-pop song ever.

Have you ever been hanging out with a friend who’s cataclysmically stoned and trying to impress something important upon you? Let’s say he's trying to describe how going to the DMV is all fucked up. However, he's really high, so he keeps adding all these details about what it’s like to be there, describing some woman who kept giving him funny looks, and she had a blue Bic ballpoint pen, and one sort of lazy eye, and your friend just keeps repeating himself, and keeps droning on at exactly one speed, and don’t seem to necessarily have any emotions connected to anything he's saying, except the DMV you know, it’s fucked up in this one particular way, and that woman there with the pen is . . . and then he trails off . . . until you say something like "yeah" . . . and he starts over again. If you've ever been stuck in a conversation like that, well, you have a pretty good idea of what this song feels like.

Here are some of the actual words:

I don’t care what they say
I’m gonna keep it anyway
I won’t let them stretch their necks
To see my little black egg with the little white specks

I found it in a tree
Just the other day
Now it’s mine all mine
They won’t take away

Here comes Mary here comes Lee
I’ll bet what they want to see
I won’t let them stretch their necks
To see my little black egg with the little white specks

Yeah, you heard the man. “Stretch their necks.” As if Mary and Lee could see the egg, if only they craned their heads a little, but he’s somehow keeping them from doing that. It’s clearly implied that Mary and Lee may want to steal the egg, which is valuable. To three people, at least.

The Nightcrawlers had twenty or so other songs, but nothing that can really touch this. My questions about the song just keep piling up. Do birds actually lay black eggs? Are the white specks, you know, bird shit? What kind of bird would even hatch? Or is it a turtle egg? A dinosaur egg? Does this guy have to be really careful with the egg? Will it start to smell, or does it already? How could he tell the egg was special in the first place?

The only thing I know is that I’m rooting for the crazy bastard. Hang onto the little black egg, and don't let it go. It's yours.


Inna B said...

reading this, i feel like we're walking along Kiraly while you're telling us this in your unassumingly urgent manner - like you're really trying to impress it upon us that this is really the best f*&^)king song in the world, and if we ever dug our heads out of this balkano-klezmo-gypsy multiethnophony and listen to some real music, for god's sake, we would maybe possibly understand rather deeply and fatally, that the egg, that egg is really really important.... ok, now i want to hear the song!

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael said...

Covers of Little Black Egg include:

Tarnation (album: Mirador)
Lemonheads (album: "Into Your Arms single)

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a history of the Soviet Union, and I'm in the middle of the part about World War Two. The authors of this particular book blame the huge casualties suffered by the Soviets on Stalin's diplomatic and military incompetence. After reading your blog the other day, I had a dream that Stalin was trying to blame Soviet losses in the first months of the war on the Little Black Egg.

Anonymous said...

I went to Daytona Beach (then Junior College) with the Nightcrawlers in 1965. They were just a regular bunch of guys.We did what all the guys did in those days. Hung out on the beach, drank beer and chased girls.

Anonymous said...

My mom was friends with The Nightcrawlers and spent the summer of 1969 with them on a farm in Kentucky, that winter, she moved with them to Daytona Beach. All I really know is the lead singer was also a guru who taught them how to meditate.

Anonymous said...

I have their album, or I should say, CD sitting right here on my desk.
One of the Night Crawlers is now retired building guitars. At least the one of them that I know.

He left Daytona about 5 years ago.


Anonymous said...

It was 1965 we were all trying to graduate and we had this double data my buddy and his girl and mine. The radio kept playing this song over and over and we knew it was by these guys from Daytona about 60 miles north of Cocoa up the east coast of florida. We stay out all night. Messing around, parking, talking, ,making out, steaming the windows. For some reason the song just grabbed us. All of us. It was kinda our song. Pulled you into it. We learned the words and sung along. IT was kinda weird but that jived with the times. I was going to be drafted soon. My number was coming up. George, my buddy, had no idea what he was going to do. The girls.. well I married mine and got dumped on my way to Nam. But the song stayed in my head, through the years. No matter what happened, its always been there. I would ask people later if the knew it... They would respond. "The little black WHAT?" .. "no, never heard of it..". I spent 5 tours in SEA and got 11 compaigns medals. I couldn't go back to the states. No one understood what was going on over the Nam. I'm ok now. No worries. But I left a lot of friends in the jungle. I wish they had heard that song. Sound dumb? Its all good yanno. Being ok today. But I cry sometimes. Reading this blog was cathartic. Made the memory sweeter and real. Thanks! And oh yeah, as always, Semper fi, to the guys.


Anonymous said...

That song transports me back somewhere more simple and surreal. The only other song that does that is " Lay lady Lay", by Dillon. I came to this blog because I saw the title which made me think of the song. And, of course, here is a post about it. I have know idea what to take from it other than what he is saying. Maybe this dude really was singing about a black egg.Ahhh...if life was always that simple and direct:)

Jack Collins said...

Well Rick you hit the nail right on the head, a great song that never got its due but lives on in the hearts and minds of those who lived through that time; you took the time to sum it up, now it's up to the rest of us to hum it up

Donnie said...

Pete Thomason, the Bass player, is my uncle. :)

Anonymous said...

Plastic Magi has a mono cassette recording of Little black Egg here:

Unknown said...

Not quite correct Donnie. Pete Thomasson played lead guitar...Chuck Conlin played bass.

chris said...

This is the first song I ever learned how to play on a guitar . There is something about this song that has always stayed with me. Everytime I here this song , it warms my heart!It reminds me of a great time in my life.
I was able to get the CD on Yahoo. com. I play the song at least once a week or more.

Anonymous said...

Sad is the fact that they had a member of the band that they have denied and gave someone else credit for something they were not even a part of.
Does not make them much of a band to me, despite the fact that their songs were part of a gentler childhood.

Anonymous said...

Always been one of my favorite '60's garage/psych tunes. Growing up in Atlanta in the '70's&'80's used to hear it played occasionally on one of the independent radio stations. Very mysterious, low-fi weird minor key feel-always kinda reminded me of the Jaynettes "Sally Go Round The Roses." Covered by countless local punk/psych bands. Bought the reissue LP when it came out in the late '80's- some decent tunes, some truly amateurish embarrassments, but it all comes back to My Little Black Egg-what was it? Acid? Speed? The thin-shelled ovum of a guinea hen (which are black and speckled, btw)? Oh, bother what can I do?

EXPO67 said...

I really enjoyed reading you review of 'Little Black Egg'

Anonymous said...

My late, last minute - weird night, comment: This is the first song I learned on guitar. "Little Black Egg." A simple 3-chord, A-G-D, progression. I heard it from a 45-rpm my older brother (Harry) had brought back from Daytona...I must of been 11 - 12 years old. And a lot has happened between now and then, eh?

Anonymous said...

I would like to let you all know. my grand father knew this band for a good amount of time and he wrote the song little black egg when he was only but a small boy. his name is Jerry Barstow.

Lisha (Alicia) K. Bryant said...

I love this song since the sixties cause a band I knew sang this sone every show they put on. I had a crush on the lead singer and he died in the early 70's from a car accient and I wad in the army (I'm a female) but I came home from Korea and my mom told that the guy was killed. Now I remember when I hear this song.. None of the oldies stations will play it not even XM. I had to look up to see what year it came out. Thanks for this blog and thanks to the Nightcrawerlers and Jerry Barstow!!! Thanks for the great memories!

Helen said...

What a (chronologically) long comment thread! I wonder if you can keep it going until 2017? This song was an obscure favourite of mine and I just googled it because last night I was treated to a cover by CALEXICO (at the corner hotel, Melbourne, Aus.) Do I have to add it was a great version!

Consuelo said...

Thank you for such a great review of this song and information on the band. I heard it today on Hopi Radio and it brought back memories of how much I always loved the song-- but never knew why. Today upon hearing it -- I instantly knew as it is mysterious and fraught with anxiety. It only takes one song for a band to stand out--I mean, you know, some poets just have one terrific poem. Thanks again.