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The Shaggs in 1968.
|Origin||Fremont, New Hampshire|
|Genres||Rock, pop, outsider music|
|Years active||1968–1975, 1999|
|Labels||Third World, Red Rooster, Rounder, RCA Victor|
|Past members||Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin
The Shaggs were an American all-female rock group formed in Fremont, New Hampshire in 1968. The band was composed of sisters Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin (vocals/lead guitar), Betty Wiggin (vocals/rhythm guitar), Helen Wiggin (drums) and, later, Rachel Wiggin (bass).
The Shaggs were formed by Dot, Betty and Helen in 1968, on the insistence of their father, Austin Wiggin, who believed that his mother foresaw the band's rise to stardom. The band's only studio album, Philosophy of the World, was released in 1969. The album failed to garner attention, though the band continued to exist as a locally popular live act. The Shaggs disbanded in 1975 after the death of Austin.
The band is primarily notable today for their perceived ineptitude at playing conventional rock music; the band was described in one Rolling Stone article as "...sounding like lobotomized Trapp Family singers." Terry Adams of NRBQ compared the group's melodic lines and structures to the free jazz compositions of Ornette Coleman.
The conceptual beginning of The Shaggs came from Austin Wiggin, Jr.'s mother. During Austin's youth she had predicted during a palmreading that he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, that he would have two sons after she had died, and that his daughters would form a popular music group. The first two predictions proved accurate, so Austin set about making the third come true as well. Austin withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged for them to receive music and vocal lessons. The Wiggin sisters themselves never planned to become a music group, but as Dot later said, "[Austin] was something of a disciplinarian. He was stubborn and he could be temperamental. He directed. We obeyed. Or did our best." Austin named The Shaggs after the then-popular shag hairstyle and as a reference to shaggy dogs. In 1968, Austin arranged for the girls to play a regular Saturday night gig at the Fremont, New Hampshire Town Hall.
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On the topic of the album, Cub Koda wrote, "There's an innocence to these songs and their performances that's both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them ... being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one."
At this point, the man who had promised to press 1,000 copies of Philosophy of the World reportedly absconded with 900 of them, as well as with the money paid him. The rest were circulated to New England radio stations but attracted little attention, and Austin's dreams of superstardom for his girls were dashed.
Reportedly, during the recording sessions the band would occasionally stop playing, claiming one of them had made a mistake and that they needed to start over, leaving the sound engineers to wonder how the girls could tell when a mistake had been made.
The most likely first instance of widespread publicity for The Shaggs was on The Dr. Demento show. In an early '70s Dr. Demento show, Frank Zappa was a guest, and was playing some of his favorite songs. He played a couple of Shaggs songs, and professed his love for the album.
In 1980, Terry Adams and Tom Ardolino, of the band NRBQ, who owned an original copy of the LP and were fans of the music, convinced their record label, Rounder Records, to reissue Philosophy of the World. Upon the LP's release, Rolling Stone magazine accorded the Shaggs "Comeback of the Year" honors. The album was widely—if derisively—reviewed. Adams and Ardolino issued some unreleased 1975 recordings on the 1982 LP Shaggs' Own Thing, but its closer approximation to conventional music caused some to disregard this collection. In 1988 Dorothy Wiggin rediscovered the lost masters of Philosophy of the World in a closet; these and the tracks from Shaggs' Own Thing were remastered and released on Rounder as a self-titled compilation, which had a resequencing of all tracks.
The Shaggs are referenced in the 1995 Warner Bros. motion picture Empire Records. Robin Tunney's character Debra asks James 'Kimo' Wills' character Eddie if he has Philosophy of the World on 45 rpm single. Tunney's character also makes an unsubstantiated claim that their second album was stolen prior to release and never recovered.
RCA Victor released Philosophy of the World (with the original track sequence) on CD in 1999. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the CD on the day it was released, and The New Yorker subsequently ran a lengthy profile of the Shaggs by staff writer Susan Orlean, who mentions Frank Zappa's (probably apocryphal) claim that The Shaggs were "better than the Beatles," but also alludes to an online review describing their album as "hauntingly bad".
In 2001, the Animal World label released Better Than The Beatles, a Shaggs tribute album. The title was based on the title of an article by Lester Bangs in which he described the importance of what The Shaggs accomplished musically. The album featured established acts such as Ida, Optiganally Yours, R. Stevie Moore, Deerhoof and Danielson Famille covering The Shaggs' songs.
A stage musical about The Shaggs, Philosophy of the World by librettist/lyricist Joy Gregory, composer/lyricist Gunnar Madsen, and co-conceiver/director John Langs, opened at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Los Angeles in November 2003. The show received its New York premiere starting May 12, 2011 in a co-production between Playwrights Horizons and New York Theatre Workshop.
In September 2013, it was announced that Dot Wiggin would release her debut solo album, Ready! Get! Go!, on Alternative Tentacles Records on October 29, 2013. The album contains new recordings of previously unrecorded Shaggs songs as well as new songs Wiggin wrote with her band.
- Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin — vocals, guitar (1968–1975, 1999)
- Betty Wiggin — guitar, vocals (1968–1975, 1999)
- Helen Wiggin (deceased) — drums (1968–1975)
- Rachel Wiggin — bass guitar (1969–1975)
- Tom Ardolino (deceased) — drums (1999)
- Austin Wiggin Jr. — vocals (1973)
- Robert Wiggin — vocals (1973)
- Philosophy of the World (Original issue: Third World Records, TCLP 3001, 1969) (Reissue: Red Rooster/Rounder 3032, 1979)
- Shaggs' Own Thing (Red Rooster/Rounder 1982)
- The Shaggs (CD contains both "Philosophy Of The World" & "Shaggs Own Thing") (Rounder Records 1988)
- "My Pal Foot Foot / Things I Wonder" (Fleetwood FL 4584, 1969, credited as "The Shags")
- Better Than The Beatles - A Tribute to the Shaggs (2001)
Various artists compilations
- Songs In The Key of Z - The Curious Universe of Outsider Music (2000)
- Chusid, Irwin. Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. (Chicago) A Cappella, 2000. ISBN 1-55652-372-6.
- Guralnick, Peter. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000. (New York) Da Capo Press, 2000. ISBN 0-306-80999-0.
- A New Philosophy: Revisiting the curious tale of The Shaggs
- Vincentelli, Elisabeth (2011-06-08). "A sweetly 'Shaggs'-adelic tribute to '60s girl group". Nypost.com. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
- "The Shaggs by Mike Walsh". Missioncreep.com. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
- Connelly, Chris (December 11, 1980). "Is Rock Ready for the Shaggs?". Rolling Stone (Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.) (332): 19.
- Guralnick, p. 137
- Chusid, p. 3
- "Rolling Stone's 1980 Rock & Roll Awards". Rolling Stone (Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.) (338): 31. March 5, 1981.
- "Meet The Shaggs". Susanorlean.com. 1999-09-27. Retrieved 2014-03-14.
- "Philosophy of the World". Playwrightshorizons.org. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
- "Jon Ronson On Series 6 The Fine Line Between Good and Bad" bbc.co.uk Retrieved 10 May 2011
- "Obituaries for Fri. April 21, 2006". SeacoastOnline.com. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
- "The Shaggs' Dot Wiggin Announces Debut Solo Album Ready! Get! Go!". Pitchfork Media. 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2013-09-05.