Ten Little Indians

Album: Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967)


  • Written in the style of a nursery rhyme, this song takes a dark spin on The Ten Commandments. Moses delivered God's tenets for life and worship to the children of Israel in Exodus 20:1-17. Nilsson shows us how the Ten Little Indians are obliterated one by one as they transgress the commandments:

    "One stood looking at another man's wife" - This could actually cover two commandments: Thou shalt not covet (don't lust after something belonging to someone else, including someone's spouse) and Thou shalt not commit adultery (he was thinking about it).

    "One took another's goods." - Thou shalt not steal.

    "One told a lie about another's best friends." - Thou shalt not bear false witness (in other words, don't lie).

    "One thought he'd found another way to get to Heaven." - Thou shalt have no other gods (he thought he could bypass god and still get into Heaven).

    "One took another's life." - Thou shalt not kill.

    "One pulled his mother down" - Honor thy father and thy mother.

    "One little Indian forgot to say his prayers." - This one could possibly break the order to remember the sabbath day, which is supposed to be reserved for rest and worship. This guy went about his own business and didn't keep it holy.

    "One took the name of God in vain."- Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.

    "One took a liking to a picture of himself." - Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image (he turned a picture of himself into an idol).

    "One little Indian, Out lookin' for the sun, At six o'clock the moon came out" - Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. In the Jewish tradition, the holy day begins at 6:00 pm and ends at 6:00 pm the following day.

    Suggestion credit:
    Colt - Arlington, WA
  • The Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page in the group at the time), recorded this on their 1967 album Little Games. their version reached #96 in the US charts.
  • Songwriter Septimus Winner wrote "Ten Little Injuns" for a minstrel show in 1864. His version sees them bowing out through a series of accidents until the last one escapes death by getting married and having "ten 'injuns' more" with his wife.

    It's not clear who's version came first, but Winner was possibly inspired by Frank J. Green's blackface number "Ten Little Ni--ers." The song was a popular mainstay at minstrel shows and inspired Agatha Christie's 1939 murder-mystery novel with the same cringeworthy title (renamed And There Were None). Off the stage, it was adapted into a nursery rhyme to teach children how to count to ten. Later editions of the song were retitled with another slur, this time against Native Americans, as "Ten Little Indians." Since then, the rhyme has also been called "Ten Little Soldiers."

Comments: 3

  • Duke from Fresno, CaRegarding Colts comment--the song is not about the Ten Commandments BUT it is used to help remember the Books of the Bible... go to youtube and put in 10 Little Indians Bible and it helps you memorize the books....nothing about the commandments. Please if you think it is please show me the link or where you arrived at that conclusion.
  • Adam from West Palm Beach, FlLittle Games is a really good album, but man, what an ill-advised song choice for a Yardbirds track, though.
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThe lyrics also parallel the nursery rhyme that was the basis for the Agatha Christie murder mystery also titled Ten Little Indians. Spoilers follow! In that story, ten strangers are invited to an island retreat only to be killed, one by one, in a manner similar to each verse of the nursery rhyme. (The last victim actually hangs herself, when she realizes she would be the logical prime suspect in the others' deaths.) The real killer turns out to be one of the earlier apparent victims, a vigilante who faked his own death to fool his remaining victims, then took his own life once he had succeeded in killing the others.
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