Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Little black egg

Organic No. 12 - Black Egg
Organic No. 12 - Black Egg, Deedee9:14

The Little Black Egg - The Nightcrawlers

Little Black Egg - The Pagans

Little Black Egg - Tarnation

The Little Black Egg - Minus 5

The first "Little Black Egg" I heard was a 1997 version by gothic Americana band Tarnation. You wouldn't know it wasn't the original. The cavernous, reverb-soaked production, chiming steel guitars and Paula Frazer's powerful Georgia preacher's daughter voice make it--for me at least--the definitive take.

The song was written and first performed by The Nightcrawlers, a Daytona Beach, Florida folk-garage rock outfit that had their biggest hit with it in 1966. But it wasn't much of a hit. While "Egg" got plenty of regional radio play upon its first release in 1965, it only made it as far as 85 on Billboard's national charts. Given the Nightcrawlers' phlegmatic execution, that's not surprising. Nice tune, you might say, effective use of four simple chords, rather catchy--particularly the sing-songy verse--but not a lot of energy. And the lyrics...

The history of pop music teems with claptrap, rot and babble, but "Egg" is nonsensical in a fairy tale manner. That is to say, it's somewhat discomfiting. Black bird eggs are uncommon (apparently Emus lay very dark green eggs that can appear black) so the "little black egg with little white specks" has a mythical--and sinister--quality to it. You could support a dozen different metaphorical readings, including the allegory of interracial sex concocted by some alarmist rubes in the mid-60s. But what has always intrigued me is the narrator's fiercely defensive stance:

I found it in a tree just the other day
Now it's mine all mine, they can't take it away.

Given childrens' propensity for imaginary world-making and adults' equal propensity for imaginary world un-making, I'd like to think "Egg" has something to say about letting children be children. Allow them to hold onto their little black eggs as long as possible. There's also these intriguing couple of lines in the final verse of the Nightcrawlers' version:

Oh bother, what can I do?
Little black egg's gonna tell on you.

(At least it sounds like "Oh, bother." I've also found lyrics online that go, "Oh goldurn, what can I do?" Whatever goldurn might refer to... )

The 2004 Minus 5 version--a faithful cover with the addition of an organ and some doo doos and ah ahs--deviates slightly with an "Oh, darling." Tarnation takes a simpler route with "Oh, my" and 80s Cleveland punk band The Pagans dispenses with the verse altogether. Whichever rendition though, the question looms: What is the little black egg gonna tell? What secret might a child reveal that is not either charming or appalling?

Other bands have covered "Egg," including The Cars and Lemonheads. If you have those tracks and would like to send them to me, that'd be swell.

More black eggs:
The Little Black Eggs, Gainesville, Florida band
"My Black Egg," from World Dream Bank
"Black Eggs from the Sky," from Fortean Bureau

14 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

It was also covered by Inner City Unit - I have the video for it, great surreal stuff. I think I also have it on MP3 - will try to dig it out.

2:46 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Here's the ICU version of Little Black Egg

2:57 AM  
Blogger jon manyjars said...

What a great post. Best thing I've read today. Thanks!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Now that's exegesis, baby.

Or is it reporting? I dunno, but I can say my pride swelled upon reading.

As always, fine work, A.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Dan: Thanks much--I'll download as soon as I get home.

Jon Manyjars: Very nice to hear, makes the work worth it.

Blogmate Jon: Basic Google skills and an 11th grade honors English class-level close reading.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous david said...

Wow -- this brings back memories! Amy, you included "Little Black Egg" on a mix tape you made for me waaaaay back in the late 90s. I'll have to dig it up!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Did I really? Don't remember that... Hey, you have a new blog and didn't tell me!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Knut said...

Good song and a good blog one might add.

The Tone Benders (obscure 60s girl-garage group), The Neighb'rhood Children (60s psych outfit)have covered this tune well. Better known groups like The Pagans, The Rattlers, Music Explosion, The Revolvers and The Primitives have also covered this song.

Im sure there are others that have covered it aswell, those are the ones I have a copy of.

I`ll check out the Tarnation and Minus -5 version of it :D

10:00 AM  
Blogger Herb said...

I've loved this song since first hearing it in the late 1960s (the Music Explosion version, I think). Every garage band worth its salt had to cover it in those days. Glad to see it's still exerting its fascination on people.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Music Explosion's "One Potato Two" borrows the guitar hook and much of the melody of "The Little Black Egg."

4:38 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hey I also have a version by The Cars. I always thought it was a Minus 5 song. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking for this song for 2 years, I heard in the late
60s early 70s. I did not know who performed it. I finally found it on yahoo music. After I found your site it cleared up my questions about who wrote it and when. Thanks for all your information. Keep up the great work.
Kevin

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lemonheads do a cover as well.

12:41 PM  
Blogger George said...

The Rattlers also do an excellent cover of "Little black egg".
I saw this performed live back it the late 80's in Providence RI. The Rattlers, headed up by Joey Ramone's brother, opened for the Ramones. Awesome song, Awesome show

1:33 PM  

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