If you’ve never heard of The Shaggs and you’re interested in outsider music then you’re in for a treat. Imagine three wholesome girls who can’t play, sing or write songs. Now imagine they find a vague tune and sing some very bizarre wholesome lyrics over the top and then try to follow those notes exactly on the drums, guitar and bass, but fail badly. If you can imagine that, then you are still not prepared for The Shaggs.
They really were three wholesome girls called Dot Wiggin, Betty Wiggin and Helen Wiggin from Freemont, New Hampshire in the US. And in the late sixties their dad persuaded them to play and write their own music in a bid for them to be famous and make millions. Well it didn’t happen and to the untrained ear they sound like a trio of tone deaf ten thumbed girls who are simply wasting their time. Although people out there like myself with a slightly unusual acceptance of what is good and bad will have something to say about such a knee jerk reaction. I emailed a copy of the song Philosophy of the World to my good friend and radio collaborator Tommy Mackay and he emailed me straight back;
Christ – that is a thing of beauty. I love the way the guitar line just follows the melody. I loved it so much I’ve just ordered the ‘Philosophy of the World’ album and a whole load of their stuff. Thanks Mike!
Official President of The Shaggs Appreciation Society (South Queensferry Branch)
You see, it’s not just me out there that’s crazy. I absolutely love The Shaggs. There’s something about them that is actually brilliant. They’re like a grunge band before there was grunge. Kurt Cobain was a fan and when you listen to some of the more dystopian than usual tunes from Nirvana you can clearly hear the similarities. Take the hidden track on In Utero, called Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip and you’ll hear what I mean.
Probably unsurprisingly Frank Zappa was a fan and went on to quote that The Shaggs were better than The Beatles, which coincidentally was the name of a Shaggs tribute album.
One of the main reasons I’m writing about The Shaggs is they’ve been in high profile media a few times recently. And this is great news for someone like me who’s been trying to get them known further afield than their iPod. I’ve thought they were a misunderstood genius for years and have still only managed to convince Tommy Mackay on my theory. He lives in Scotland so he could just be humouring me because he lives 431.5 miles from Peckham Rye. The wife simply refuses to listen to them and fellow open minded music fan Mike Manera could only sit through half of the first track.
Now from all this disaster you wouldn’t believe anyone would be interested in The Shaggs apart from a few loyal fans the occasional open minded celebrity. But you’d be wrong because a stage show musical based on their life is being performed again in the states as we speak (I wish they’d bring it to the Edinburgh Festival one year) and documentary maker Jon Ronson concentrated on The Shaggs for his BBC radio show Jon Ronson On.
I recently checked Amazon.co.uk out of interest and because of the recent interest they have currently sold out of Philosophy of the World. You also can’t get a copy of Songs in the Key of Z either so it looks like the world of Outsider Music is getting that tiny bit more popular each passing day. So what are you waiting for Hollywood? Let there be a Shaggs movie.
For more information about The Shaggs check the website www.shaggs.com
Also there’s a great chapter in Irwin Chusid’s book Songs in the Key of Z