The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World

The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World

This month, Light In The Attic are reissuing the classic album Philosophy of the World  by The Shaggs, recorded around 1968-69. Famously later hailed by Frank Zappa as “better than The Beatles,” The Shaggs (a type of haircut people!) initially existed for around five years from 1968 and only produced one album, but their legacy has spread far and wide. In fact, as well as the endorsement of Zappa, Philosophy of the World was one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite LPs and is often cited as influencing everyone from Deerhoof to Jad Fair.

Philosophy of the World’s title track is fast and loud and the lyrics pose genuinely philosophical questions about life: “The rich people want what the poor people got/And the poor people want what the rich people got.” The guitars and singing are in tune, yet the drumming seems to be in a massive rush to finish the song. This drumming style pretty much lasts throughout the rest of the LP. ‘That Little Sports Car’ has a similar sense of urgency and intriguing guitar gymnastics from Dot Wiggins that gives it a weird composition. ‘Who Are Parents’ is yet another brilliant question to pose and The Shaggs approach it with accomplished harmonies that expound the query again and again.

My Pal Foot Foot,’ the song most people think of when asked about The Shaggs, begins with an awesome drum solo that immediately leads into free form jazz guitar. It’s a chaotic song, which happens to be about their beloved cat “Foot Foot.” It culminates with another drum solo as an outro. Phew! ‘I’m So Happy When You’re Near’ is equally chaotic, yet the lyrics and guitar interludes are beautiful.

Things I Wonder’ finds The Shaggs in another philosophical mood with Dot singing “I wonder about the stars/ I wonder about the birds.” Again it’s another slow song and the lyrics seem to either be the result of experiments in stream of consciousness or the result of rushing towards the end of the song before a natural structure emerges. By contrast, ‘It’s Halloween’ feels somewhat playful, with its slow guitar strumming and simple drum beats. ‘Why Do I Feel?’ is a curiously danceable track with lovely sounding guitars and in time drums. The lyrics and singing also make this one of the stand-out tracks on this LP. Final track ‘We Have a Saviour’ has a great guitar intro and once again sees them “wondering why they don’t believe in the lord like we do.”

The love that musicians and listeners alike have for this album is down to a number of factors. It has simplicity. It has no pretensions. It feels true. It has honesty and a purity associated with folk and outsider art. It’s this purity that has drawn people to them over the years. However, when the LP was rediscovered by the band NRBQ and re-released in 1980, Rolling Stone’s reviewer described it as “the most stunningly awful wonderful record I’ve heard in ages.” Therefore there’s been a “so bad, it’s good” attraction to the LP that has somewhat distracted listeners from the content. But ultimately, fans must hear that Philosophy of the World has genuinely good songs. They may often be out of tune or a bit of sync, but listen hard through this (minor) detail and you can hear some great lyrics, clever chord changes, sophisticated song structure and heartfelt melodies. You just have to give it a chance and listen.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.