the shaggs (well sort of…..)

Musical Interlude – the Shaggs….

A bit like having all your Christmases parked up at once and then having the electricity switched off and being told last minute it’s been cancelled. There was yesterday sometime a momentary flutter of the heart at the prospect of viewing rare live footage posted up on the internet of outsider pop combo the Shaggs. Apparently only a brief spot pulled from a low key appearance from 1972, but just enough to satiate curious notions as to this largely unsung and most obscure of trios. Alas some blighter has pulled the content on the grounds of copyright protection – we will – when it re-appears – be fleecing these pages with regaling words should we nail the blighter on a future mooch around that there you tube. Anyhow some words are here –

also managed to root out this review we did of a compilation album put out by Animal World Recordings many years ago called ‘better than the Beatles…..a tribute to the Shaggs’

The first of a planned release schedule that will see future tribute accolades going to such heavy weights of outsider pop as Captain Beefheart, Young Marble Giants and Family Fodder.
Okay it’s own up time for me, I have to admit not owning either of the two albums by the Shaggs, though I do vaguely remember a friend playing a tape of the trio’s debut release ‘Philosophy of the World’ some years back. I have tried desperately in the weeks since receiving this compilation to acquire copies of the two CD pressings of the said albums to no joy.’Better than the Beatles’ is not a statement of intent, though I bet someone somewhere is already planning perhaps even finished a Doctorate for literary discussion. The title comes from a quote attributed to Zappa in reaction to having heard the trios first mythical outing, ‘Philosophy of the World’.

The Shaggs story is the stuff of legends, perhaps no other artist has been so spoken in hushed awe with so little recorded output to inspect than perhaps Robert Johnson. Late 60’s the Wiggin sisters, encouraged by their father set about tying a deal with a local label owner, who goes walkies with their money and all the pressings bar one box. Said box with records becomes one of the most sought after releases from the underground ever.

This tribute captures the essence of the band perfectly, naive pop that is almost ridiculously immature but in many ways that’s the drawing power, honest pop like never before and never since. Packed to the rafters with the kind of hamfisted efforts that on paper shouldn’t work, that are thrown in the air and miraculously reassemble neatly into a curious blend that recalls a melodic version of Tony Hancock’s ‘infantile school of art’ in the film ‘The Rebel’.

To the sounds within then. Thirteen bands assembled with the arduous task of making sense of the nonsensical. Perhaps the two key highlights are the contributions of Plastic Mastery and the Furtips. Plastic Mastery loosen up. ‘Shaggs own thing’ is totally reclaimed as their own, crossing between 50’s style at the hop chorus’ with a vague whiff of their brand of wired goofiness and distantly recalling the Boxtops. The Furtips on the other hand tangle with ‘You’re something special to me’ and take it to teenage summer fuelled extremes, particularly fetching half way through when it all starts loosing the plot.

Elsewhere, the magnificent Optiganally Yours whose last album was surely one of the ten albums that every cool record collection should own, get to grips with their interpretation of ‘You’re something special to me’. Lets just say if you are looking for a more upbeat but spiritually kindred spirits of Black Heart Procession, then search no further. Perhaps of all the bands featured here, The Shaggs sense of awkward melodies best suit Optiganally Yours as they smoothly reorganise the blueprint for their own. Mongrell give good account with ‘My Cutie’ sounding more in common with Shonen Knife with their childlike outlook. Bauer introduce harpsichords, their baroque stylings add a degree of dimension to their version of ‘We have a saviour’, a crystal clear continental sound is weaved to grand effect recalling groups such as Remington Super 60. Joost Visser provides an inspired insight on his cover of ‘It’s Halloween’ that draws a parallel between The Shaggs and the underrated talents of Daniel Johnston no less.

As tributes go ‘Better than the Beatles’ is an essential starting point to tracking the work of the Shaggs, which less face it is a job in itself. Personal I don’t go with tributes persay, but not since the Troggs covers album a few years ago have I had so much fun and such pleasure with an album. This is a testament not only to the Shaggs themselves but to all the bands who have had the nerve to recreate and re-evaluate one of America’s true treasured secrets. Now back to hunting for those albums…

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