In 1969 the Shaggs, a rock band made up of sisters, released an album to wildly mixed reviews. Critics called it one of the worst albums of all time – as well as ‘better than the Beatles.’
One critic split the difference and called it ‘brilliantly bad.’
The band formed in 1968 in Fremont, N.H., under the direction of the girls’ father, Austin Wiggin. He believed his daughters would be famous. Austin’s mother had read his palm when he was young and predicted that he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, that he would have two sons after she died and that his daughters would form a popular singing group. The first two came true so Austin figured the last one would too.
Meet the Shaggs
The band consisted of Dot on vocals and lead guitar, Betty on vocals and rhythm guitar, Helen on drums and Rachel on bass. Austin arranged for them to play at the Fremont Town Hall on Saturday night.
Dot later said the girls did whatever their father, a strict disciplinarian, told them to.
“He directed,” she said. “We obeyed. Or did our best.”
The Shaggs recorded Philosophy of the World on March 9, 1969. Dot wrote the songs. They included My Pal Foot Foot, their best known number, about a search for their cat. They also sang Why Do I Feel? and Who Are Parents?, which probably offers an insight into their relationship with their father:
Who are parents?
Parents are the ones who really care
Who are parents?
Parents are the ones who are always there
Some kids think their parents are cruel
Just because they want them to obey certain rules
They start to lean from the ones who really care
Turning, turning from the ones who will always be there
Frank Zappa Finds the Shaggs
One thousand copies of Philosophy of the World were pressed, but the man who pressed them absconded with 900 copies. The remaining discs were released to local radio stations, but got little or no air play. It seemed the Shaggs were done.
But the Shaggs over the years found their audience. Frank Zappa played some of their songs, which he said were his favorites, on the Dr. Demento radio show in the early 1970s. Terry Adams of the band NRBQ compared the Shaggs’ melodic lines and composition with the free jazz of Ornette Coleman.
Adams and a bandmate convinced a record label to reissue the Shaggs’ album in 1980. Rolling Stone gave them the ‘Comeback of the Year’ award, though a Rolling Stone critic said they sounded like lobotomized Trapp Family Singers and the record was ‘stunningly awful wonderful’). The Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker reviewed the record.
Cub Koda, who formed the rock group Brownsville Station, 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.
In 2001, a Shaggs’ tribute album was released under the title Better Than the Beatles. A stage musical about the group, written in 2003, premiered in New York in 2011.
On Oct. 29, 2013, Dot Wiggin released her debut solo album with previously unreleased Shaggs’ songs. Ready! Get! Go! It came out 44 years after the sisters’ first album.
In December 2014, a book called Rock Covers named the Shaggs’ album cover as one of the best in rock history — “because the cover and the Shaggs’ music is so decidedly, defiantly amateurish.”
Austin Wiggins’ mother may have been right all along.
Listen to them here.
This story was updated in 2023. Promotional image of the Shaggs, By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20132321.
Wellllll…I have this disc myself, and the liner notes explain that the father wrote all the songs. So no good trying to find out how the kids felt by reading the lyrics of Who Are Parents. He also thought that there was nothing to music, and you didn’t need to practice. He thought all rock and pop music was crap, and thought his girls would make him rich by doing the same. So not a lot of comparisons to Ornette Coleman there. That said it is an amazingly discordant mess which can be mesmerizing at times.
They are horrible
Never heard of them!
A certain someone at the museum actually went to a few of the Shaggs’ concerts in 1970, when briefly living in Freemont, HN, of all places. This completely blew her mind when she saw this post. The Shaggs were painfully bad, but it was a hot time in Freemont. The kids in neighboring towns called us the Freemont Farmers.
Nancy Cicco had a cassette, which she let me borrow!
I would have been 14 then…and really into music but I must say that I never heard of them!
Kurt Cobain was a big fan!
I love this record. Frank Zappa was (allegedly) also a big fan.
I was going to joke that the Shaggs clearly influenced (acoustic and electric) Ornette Coleman, but the link says Terry Adams already said that.
I went to school with these girls.
I lived in Freemont, the last year they played together, with my Aunt Ann and Uncle Dan, and their kids. I was too young to have any interest in live music.
They’re not better than the Beatles.
Grew up next town over From Fremont…. It was truly no where… “There is no there, there” amazing that anything came out that town
I take exception to Mr. Dubrule’s arrogant and ignorant comment about Fremont being a “nothing, no-where town, and that it’s amazing that anything came out of that town.” Fremont has an extremely proud, colorful & fascinating history dating back to the 1730’s, and is home to some of the finest people you could ever hope to know! We had Spaulding & Frost Cooperage –the world’s oldest pine barrel-making Cooperage for 125 years (1874 to 1999) which also made the world’s largest barrel-ever measuring 17 feet tall 8 feet wide; Fremont has one of only two unique 18th-Century Twin-Porch Meetinghouses in the U.S.; Fremont had the first Civil War Riot in New England in 1861; the first Mast Tree Riot in America in 1734; plus two other notable riots caused by billigerent British soldiers in 1757 and drunken railroad workers in 1874–both put down by independent, peace-loving townspeople; Fremont was home to Josiah H. L. Tuck – a pioneer submarine inventor in the 1870’s & 80’s; was also home to John & Andrew Brown – noted early New England Gunsmiths; Fremont was famous for the 1965 UFO sightings recorded in the best-selling book titled “Incident At Exeter;” and in addition to many other worthy claims to fame, we are the PROUD home of THE SHAGG’S…all good, hardworking girls with decent small town values that did their very best to bring musical happiness to many Fremont teenagers back in the early 1970’s. Fremont is an idyllic, small town that truly represents the VERY BEST of American values with people that back it up with integrity, personal pride & a fantastic work ethic! To prove what a great town Fremont is, we NEVER even had a murder here until 2014–not bad for a town settled in the 1720’s—we were the last town out of 37 in Rockingham County to have a murder…so as you can see we all get along pretty nicely with one another in this wonderful “off the beaten trail” of a town and we like it that way!
I went to school with them.
I went to school with them.
David Kaminester> Oh yes they are. Better than Wings? Maybe not. But definitely better than the Beatles.
That’s so cool
My aunts in New Hampshire! Love you all so much! Send me more of your music please! Come and sing in Arizona too!
My husband Chris’s mother was the drummer Helen!
[…] https://newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/the-shaggs-record-stunningly-awful-wonderful-record-ever/ […]
Comments are closed.