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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." As the obscure LP achieved recognition among collectors, the band was praised for their raw, intuitive composition style and lyrical honesty. Philosophy of the World was lauded as a work of art brut, and was later reissued, followed by a compilation album, Shaggs' Own Thing, in 1982. The Shaggs are now seen as a groundbreaking outsider music group, receiving praise from mainstream artists such as Kurt Cobain and also from Frank Zappa after he called the Shaggs "better than the Beatles". 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." (emphasis in original) 
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. Upon closer examination, The Shaggs seem to have a consistent (but highly idiosyncratic) approach to melody, harmony, and rhythm. The songs use highly irregular verse structures, which are emphasized by the melodic structures, which typically accord one note per syllable: the guitar accompaniment attempts to reproduce this pattern as well. Most of the Shaggs' material is made up of eighth- and quarter-notes.
In 1975, Austin Wiggin arranged a second recording session for his daughters, during which time the group recorded several songs. By this point, the band had improved in their ability to perform conventional music (the sessions included several cover songs), and the performances no longer resembled the offbeat style that dominated Philosophy of the World. However, when the sessions were forestalled by Austin's fatal heart attack, The Shaggs aborted the recording project and disbanded the group shortly thereafter.
The most likely first instance of widespread publicity for The Shaggs was on The Doctor Demento show. In a early '70's 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. RCA Victor released Philosophy of the World (with the original track sequence) on CD in 1999, whereupon it was hailed as something of an avant-garde cult classic. 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, authored by Susan Orlean.
On November 20 and 21, 1999, NRBQ celebrated their thirtieth anniversary with two concerts in New York City; their opening act each night were The Shaggs. Helen, who had been suffering from depression for years, declined to attend, so Ardolino, NRBQ's drummer, was faced with the challenging task of attempting to play Helen's parts. Dot, Betty, Rachel, and Ardolino played the same four-song set both nights. These performances marked the Shaggs' only live stage appearances outside of Fremont.
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.
Artisan Entertainment bought the movie rights to the band's story in 2000, with Katherine Dieckmann assigned to script and direct. Since that time, the project has been acquired by a succession of production companies, but no film has yet been made.
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 LA Weekly Theater Award-winning Scenic Design was created by Brian Sidney Bembridge. The production was staged at Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago in the spring of 2004 and at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in September 2005.
- 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)
Studio albums 
- Philosophy of the World (1969)
- Shaggs' Own Thing (1982)
- The Shaggs (1988 - includes all studio recordings)
Tribute albums 
- 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
- A sweetly 'Shaggs'-adelic tribute to '60s girl group
- "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.
- "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.
- Meet The Shaggs (biographical information)
- The Shaggs at Allmusic
- The Shaggs discography at MusicBrainz
- My Pal Foot-Foot (unofficial site)
- Variety review of 2003 off-Broadway production Philosophy of the World, by Joy Gregory, based on the Shaggs
- Obituary for Helen Wiggin Bickford
- A Shaggs Jazz Review by John McNeil