Recorded through an almost piggish New England accent and a lack of rhythm or melody, the question most people have when listening to Philosophy of the World by now-lo-fi icons The Shaggs is: how in the world did a band made up of three musically (possibly mentally) retarded sisters actually get signed to a label to release a record of this garbage on the public? Who would actually think a band like this could sell records, become famous, or make any money at all? Is this some sort of cruel joke? Well the answer to these questions is simple, it’s all family ties. The story of the Shaggs’ infamous debut is one of questionable taste and an extreme bias. The women of the Shaggs, guitarists, Betty and Dorothy Wiggin (who also supplied vocals) and drummer, Helen Wiggin were at one point three normal teenagers in a normal New Hampshire town with a slightly abnormal father. Back in his day, father Austin Wiggin, made three predictions. Austin predicted he would marry a strawberry blonde, have two sons he would not see live and that his three daughters would form a world famous music group. The first came true in a matter of years and with the second impossible to know Daddy decided to work on his third prediction. With a bit of money and a lot of prodding from the father the Shaggs were born in 1968.
When listening to the music of the Wiggin sisters I actually feel a bit of sadness. They had a father who gave them high hopes and dreams of stardom, but a sound that could never be fully understood until 1980’s and 90’s. The music gives off such an element of childish joy and cluelessness, a true example of the profound statement, Ignorance is Bliss. Armed with only her songs of daily obedience, materialistic woes and new friends Dorothy Wiggin was thrown into a world of ferocious criticism and hate, unbeknownst to the fact that her songs would, later in life be recognized as some of the most unique albeit horrible tunes in the history of garage rock. The albums instant gem comes in the incredibly disturbed My Pal Foot Foot, a song about Dorothy’s imaginary friend Foot Foot, a paranoid homeless type character with a loyal personality. The drumbeat is the only decent part to the song, until the warped fills come in during the chorus. Helen has absolutely no sense of rhythm, but rather a need to hit every drum on the set at list 5 times during every measure. The guitars are just as bad, if not worse. Their in and out of tune squeals and squawks of distorted noise become almost unbearable as the song bounces along. The two guitarists fumble around on the neck for almost 3 whole minutes while Dorothy takes care of the vocals, complete with faux progressive fake echoes and almost harmonized duets with her sisters. This is easily the most incredible piece of music I have ever heard. It may not be “good”, but incredible is one of the only words I can find to describe it.
But other songs on Philosophy of the World are less “incredible”, for me there’s a difference between innocent brilliance (Like “My Pal Foot Foot” the lovelorn ballad, “Sweet Things” and the ever questioning, “Things I Wonder”) and just a plain horrible song (Philosophy of Life, We Have a Savior). But my main problem in the CD is its tendency to feature the same riffs and lyrics rehashed for new songs. The whole CD, despite its weirdness and obvious comical content gets extremely boring after a while. It’s almost a shame the Shaggs did not continue to make music, there is an obvious talent hidden in each member, though maybe it’s a little hard to see. Some call it the worst CD ever made, I call it a comedic stepping stone to a band that could have been the greatest pop act of all time. This album has a legacy, influencing many a warped indie band to come, but there is nothing like listening to the album for the first time. It is truly one of the weirdest.