Frankly, any discussion of The Shaggs must begin with My Pal Foot Foot which you’ll find on many “Worst Song Of All-Time” lists. I love this video version, actually one of my very favorite music videos period:
By the way, that creature running around is Foot Foot, drawn by one of the girls as part of the album art. We always assumed it’s supposed to be a cat.
The first Shaggs album is like nothing else. It adheres to very, very few musical conventions. It’s truly its own thing. I don’t know if these girls’ parents kept them trapped in a closet or what, but what they invented is a different animal (Foot Foot?).
I’ve often thought of how difficult it would be to cover one of these songs in a band – not a new rendition – but attempting to copy The Shaggs note-for-note, rhythm for rhythm. I suspect it would be next to impossible.
However, these girls know what they’re doing in their own little world of their own little invention. They clearly rehearsed these songs before recording them in their dad’s studio. There are stops, starts, planned part patterns in the songs, background vocals, etc. But just concentrate on the drum part in Foot Foot to get a flavor of how crazy this invention is. The drummer executes this strange combination of snare drum, clicking on the side of the drum and cymbals. It’s other-worldly.
The more The Shaggs progressed (they made at least two more albums, I believe), the more musical conventions crept in, making initial listenings more tolerable, but never quite capturing that insane “something” on the first album.
As for other renditions, I own a fairly obscure Shaggs tribute album called Better Than The Beatles: A Tribute To The Shaggs. Most of it adds at least a little bit of traditional musicality to the Shaggs’ own world and some turns out pretty good. I noticed today that now-somewhat-mainstream Deerhoof actually does the Foot Foot cover. Back when I bought the album years ago, Deerhoof wasn’t any more recognizable to me than the other bands.
I’ll leave you with Philosophy Of The World by Ida. Lawr often uses the term “haunting.” I think this is pretty haunting and the lyrics are actually quite profound.
I am unable to go further. You don’t convince me the genius of the Shaggs was anything more than an accident, and one that needs forbearance in the first place. But I’m enjoying them anyway, and can’t imagine ever playing them again once we get beyond this. If I’d loved them when I was 22 would I feel different?
“Genius” isn’t the correct term for The Shaggs. They’re more like Rain Man being able to count toothpicks. Perhaps “autism” is the correct term; I wouldn’t go as far as “idiot savant.”
Believe me, I don’t grab a six-pack and sit out in the back yard blasting “History Of The World” (although that would be mighty interesting, come to think of it).
The Shaggs are like the 4th dimension of music. There’s the 3rd dimension, where most everything we listen to lives. Then there’s the 4th dimension of The Shaggs. Then, finally, the 5th Dimension (“When the moooooon is in the seventh house. . .”).