The music of the Shaggs must be some of the most unusual, and most appealing, of all of what could be considered ‘outsider’ music. Like the Jackson Five, they were a family group created and managed by a driven and uncompromising father; unlike the J5, they were white, female, and quite breathtakingly untalented (in the traditional sense). The three sisters (Dot, Helen, and Betty Wiggin) were pulled out of school and forced to take up playing in order to fulfill a prediction made by their father’s mother (!) that his daughters would be pop musicians, and spent most of their teenage and early adult years practising over and over and over again, despite their lack of discernable ability or any real inclination (they stopped entirely the moment their father died, aged 47, in 1975). In 1969 they recorded their definitive statement, an album somewhat grandiosely called The Philosophy Of The World, which is a collection of banal homespun ditties performed with a lack of musical skill which renders them completely mesmerising. Or as Lester Bangs said: “They just whang and blang away while singing in harmonies reminiscent of three Singing Nuns who’ve been sniffing lighter fluid ... [It’s] one of the landmarks of rock ‘n’ roll history.” They may not have been able to play in the accepted sense, but their clumsy, amateur, at times almost atonal playing, combined with their evident sincerity and unselfconsciousness, make it work; in fact, make it charming, a genuinely human and expressive recording which has more depth and intelligence than you might at first think. Listen to the following song, with knowledge of their confined and dominated family life (and, disturbingly, the suggestion that their father may have been “intimate” with at least one of them, according to this article, which is also one of the most informative and interesting), and wonder if songwriter Dot might not have been sending a coded message about the best parents being the “ones who understand”. Here’s the song, and here’s some links for finding out more: here and here (click on the top picture to hear their brilliant 'My Pal Foot Foot'). Their music, in its own quiet way, challenged every notion that exists about popular music, which is why it's still relevant even today. Enjoy!
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