WTF?! Wednesdays: The Shaggs, “Philosophy of The World” (1969)

Welcome to the Jackson Five of Fremont, New Hampshire…with slightly less talent. OK, not much talent at all, really. The Shaggs were concocted by one Austin Wiggin Jr., who decided that his daughters would become famous as a pop group. Dear old dad sent Betty, Helen, and Dot Wiggin through much music and vocal training and even went so far as to take them out of the local school system (a correspondence course would substitute) so that extra rehearsal time would become available before the recording sessions would commence.

If you’ve heard of The Shaggs, chances are your introduction came by way of the likes of either Frank Zappa or the band NRBQ. Frank raved about them in a 1976 Playboy poll (was he joking?) while Terry Adams and NRBQ helped to get Philosophy of The World reissued in 1980. Author Susan Orlean wrote a terrific profile of The Shaggs back in 1999. There’s also a chapter on them in Irwin Chusid’s excellent Songs In The Key Of Z.

But most important…what does the music sound like? For some, the answer would be “Like HELL!” It’s an extremely off-kilter pop music. Also, funny as heck. It seems like the girls are all playing at slightly different tempos. Things are out of sync. They don’t line up. Guitars are out of tune. Sometimes the “lead” guitar line, meant to be played in unison with the lead vocal, falls out of the pocket and lags behind the singing. It’s a big, glorious mess.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.