A History of The Shaggs, The Best and Worst Group EVER

They’re at once the worst group you’ve ever heard and almost the most inspiring. For almost fifty years, The Shaggs, three sisters from New Hampshire, have confused and enthralled people with…well, whatever it was they did. The New Yorker published this article on them in 1999. Definitely worth the read.

Depending on whom you ask, the Shaggs were either the best band of all time or the worst. Frank Zappa is said to have proclaimed that the Shaggs were “better than the Beatles.” More recently, though, a music fan who claimed to be in “the fetal position, writhing in pain,” declared on the Internet that the Shaggs were “hauntingly bad,” and added, “I would walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for forty days and forty nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shagg-related ever again.” Such a divergence of opinion confuses the mind. Listening to the Shaggs’ album “Philosophy of the World” will further confound. The music is winsome but raggedly discordant pop. Something is sort of wrong with the tempo, and the melodies are squashed and bent, nasal, deadpan. Are the Shaggs referencing the heptatonic, angular microtones of Chinese ya-yueh court music and the atonal note clusters of Ornette Coleman, or are they just a bunch of kids playing badly on cheap, out-of-tune guitars? And what about their homely, blunt lyrics? Consider the song “Things I Wonder”:

There are many things I wonder
There are many things I don’t
It seems as though the things I wonder most
Are the things I never find out

Is this the colloquial ease and dislocated syntax of a James Schuyler poem or the awkward innermost thoughts of a speechless teen-ager?

Keep reading–and let the album run in the background. Try not to be too distracted.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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