And the poor people want what the rich people's got
And the skinny people want what the fat people's got
And the fat people want what the skinny people's got
You can never please anybody in this world!"
The mother of a young Austin Wiggin, Jr. had three visions: he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, he would have two sons after she passed away, and his daughters would one day form a pop group. The first two came true. A determined Austin set out to make that third vision a reality.
Austin had four daughters: Helen, Dorothy, Betty, and Rachel. He withdrew them from school, bought them instruments, set them up with music and voice lessons, and had them practice their instruments for a good five years straight. Satisfied with their progress, Austin booked them to play on Saturday nights at the town hall in their hometown of Fremont, New Hampshire — except they weren't very good at all, and their ineptitude only resulted in other kids picking on them. Undeterred, Austin booked a single day at the Fleetwood Recordings studio, where it became abundantly clear to the befuddled engineer that the girls weren't ready to record. Austin reportedly replied, "I want to get them while they're hot." The end result, such as it is, was named Philosophy of the World.
The Shaggs had an unusual approach to making pop music. Not only did their instruments sound blatantly out of tune, but their limited ability caused each member's individual performance to seemingly follow its own time signature. Each individual note matched up to every syllable they sang, and in general, it all added up to what the average person would hear as a lot of disorganized sound. Despite all this, the band has developed a small cult following and even some good reviews over the years (amongst them being from no less than Lester Bangs, Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa), with many praising the honesty and humanism of their lyrical content. Nowadays they are seen as a prime example of Outsider Music.
The band did have a second recording session in 1975, where among other songs, they did a cover of "Yesterday Once More" by the Carpenters. The sessions never materialized into a full album, as the sessions — and the band itself — were aborted after Austin Wiggin passed away from a heart attack.
Helen, the drummer, took her own life in 2006. An off-Broadway musical about their life was created and ran in in New York City in the early 2010s. Dot Wiggin released a solo album on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label in 2013. In 2015, she was the opening act for Neutral Milk Hotel's reunion tour; her band played both her new, straightforward material and songs from Philosophy of the World, played exactly as they were on the album (which is no mean feat, because doing that on purpose is extraordinarily complicated). In 2017, the surviving members of the Shaggs — Dot, Betty, and Rachel — reunited at Wilco's Solid Sound Festival.
In October of 2018, it was announced that there would be a movie based off the Shaggs' story, starring Elsie Fisher of Eighth Grade fame. Against all odds (and we mean all odds), a half-century after Philosophy of the World was released, the Shaggs' legacy lives on.
Tropes featured in their careers & music include:
- AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: Numerous examples as the girls tried to fit the words to the already awkward rhythms, such as "I don't know what to do" in "I'm So Happy When You're Near".
- Achievements in Ignorance: They became cult successes, in spite of their alarming inability to play or sing. In fact, once they became more talented musicians, it turned out to be a lot harder to replicate their original sound.
- Adorkable: Their lack of skill becomes sort of charming after a while.
- Album Title Drop: "Philosophy of the World" is the name of both the album and the very first song.
- Band of Relatives: All sisters, managed by their father.
- Con Man: The man Austin hired to press 1000 copies of Philosophy of the World reportedly took 900 copies along with the money and ran, hence why original pressings are obscenely expensive.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Songs like "I Wonder" and "Philosophy of the World" are quite possibly the most Adorkable versions of this trope.
- Cover Version: Of the Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More." By the time this was recorded, they could keep together reasonably well, but it was still unmistakably the Shaggs.
- Downer Ending: Double Subverted. They failed to achieve mainstream success, Austin died in 1975, and the band disbanded shortly after. Years later, they were Vindicated by History through cult and Outsider Music aficionados and played a few reunion shows in 1999, but then Helen committed suicide in 2006.
- Dreadful Musician: Though they slowly developed a rudimentary sense of instrumentation, synchronization, and playing in time.
- Establishing Series Moment: Put off by "Philosophy of the World"s flat sing-speak vocals and hopelessly amateurish instrumentation? Well get ready for eleven more tracks of it.
- Giftedly Bad: At least in Austin's mind.
- Good Parents: "Who Are Parents?" is a sweet song about love for your parents and how they take care of you. The only problem is that their father was a naïve, demanding, and overprotective Stage Dad who's suspected of having even written the lyrics himself.
- Halloween Episode: The subject of "It's Halloween", with its hilarious line "Why, even Dracula will be there".
- Have a Gay Old Time: "Why Do I Feel" is even more hilarious with this in mind:"Sometimes I worry over nothing at all
Sometimes I think life's just a ball
When life changes and turns the other way
I try to think of something gay"
- Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Too innocent to be anything but a 1.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Uh... ostensibly they're a 2.
- Outsider Music: Defines this as well as anyone else.
- The Perfectionist: Believe it or not, while recording, the band had a tendency to stop recording over perceived errors. One has to wonder what those were considering the end result.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Incredibly Lame Pun aside, this is subverted somewhat. The band failed to achieve mainstream success like Austin thought, but they're appreciated in cult and outsider music circles.
- Silly Love Songs: Their lyrics are so innocent it comes off almost eerie. Or maybe that's just the discordant mess of instrumentation.
- Stage Dad: The only reason this group existed.
- Studio Chatter: The beginning of "We Have a Savior", where the engineer says "Take 2" in an almost defeated tone.
- That Poor Cat: The song "My Pal Foot Foot" describes how the girls search for their lost cat, Foot Foot.
- Uncommon Time: In every single one of their songs... accidentally.
- Vocal Tag Team: Dot and Betty, in all their monotonal glory.