Judging from appearances, the Nightcrawlers' album, released on the Kapp label in the midst of the colorful late '60s, seems like a psychedelic throwaway, its cover a dreadful painting of a black egg surrounded by yellow and red, engulfed by a purple amoeba. No personnel listing, background information, or photographs of the group clutter the LP jacket. In 1967, this enigma was worth a few stoned conversations.
The Nightcrawlers were a garage group from South Florida unfortunate enough to have their first single, "Little Black Egg," debut on the national charts over a year after it had been a regional hit on the Lee label. The song is minimalism at its most polished, catchy and mysterious.
Like "Louie, Louie" or "96 Tears," you want to figure it out, play it yourself, repeat the magic opening riff. Like the drums on "Wipe Out," the guitar on "Little Black Egg" directs the action of the song, which is about nothing more than an egg found in a tree, or, Dadaism in the guise of stupidity.
All of the ten songs here are originals, most composed by vocalist Chuck Conlon, but beyond this fact, the band's identity remains elusive. They are versatile, possessing no discernible style, recalling at different moments the Byrds, the Beau Brummels, the Monkees, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, even Del Shannon. "If You Want My Love" is especially strange, an elaborately produced teen-idol tearjerker that echoes Gene Pitney's melancholia and pain.
The band's sound carefully walks the line (it's as if they actually knew what they were doing!) between the two types of garage music--the folk-rock of Los Angeles and the American punk shaped in defiance of the British Invasion. Sometimes the band snarls ("Who Knows"); other times, with a harmonica and tambourine, they quietly protest ("Show Me the Way").
As if drawing a circle, the band returns to the riff of "Little Black Egg" for the LP's final song, "Washboard." The song is a game, a chant, a singalong that Tommy James and the Shondells should have recorded. "Wash clothes everyday, no work or no play, everybody--washboard, washboard." The sun's beating down, there's no time to dance, but the rhythm of complaining and scrubbing gives the singer pleasure: Holy moly, he's discovered bubblegum music!
In the middle of 1967, the Nightcrawlers' fourth and final single, "My Butterfly," was released. When their album was issued, it was already too late: the band had ceased to exist. Perhaps for this reason, not the band's faces but a psychedelic egg graces the cover of the album. Nevertheless, despite the band's breakup, the LP, which includes the band's A-sides and B-sides, works remarkably well. It remains a minor miracle embodying the garage sound of an era--and continues to be a subject for stoned dialogues late into the night.
FOOTNOTE: One of the great wonders of the modern mystery known as the Internet is the obsessive nature of its die-hard inhabitants. Here's the link to a remarkable blog inspired by "Little Black Egg" called The Little Black Egg. Devotion this pure needs to be celebrated.