Wilco revealed the lineup for their fifth Solid Sound Festival today, and one of the obscure highlights is a reunion of The Shaggs. The gig marks the first performance for the enigmatic outsider pop group since they appeared at NRBQ’s 30th anniversary celebration in New York City in November of 1999.
The Wiggins sisters Dorothy (“Dot”), Betty, and Helen formed The Shaggs in Fremont, New Hampshire in 1968 at the whim of their father, Austin Wiggin. Another sibling, Rachel, joined a year later. They released one album, 1969’s Philosophy of the World, which was limited to just 1,000 vinyl copies — 900 of which were stolen by the man who printed them.
The remaining copies circulated around New England radio stations, but the music was largely ignored and disparaged. The Shaggs’ sound was the furthest thing from conventional rock, with slipshod and dissonant arrangements, particularly unskilled performances, and earnest-yet-sappy lyrics. Still, they garnered a rather cult following and played live until Austin died in 1975.
Philosophy of the World saw a rebirth in the late ’70s when NRBQ’s Terry Adams and Tom Ardolino convinced their label, Rounder Records, to reissue it. Dot rediscovered the original masters in 1988, and the record has been reissued a number of times since, most recently just last year via Light in the Attic.
Despite the universally confusing musicianship, The Shaggs’ lone album has only seen its cult appreciation grow over the years. Kurt Cobain ranked it at number five on his list of the 50 best albums, and The Dead Milkmen reference it on their track “When I Get to Heaven”. There are also shoutouts to the record throughout popular culture, including Empire Records and even Gilmore Girls.
Drummer Helen passed away in 2006, and wasn’t a part of the 1999 reunion (Ardolino took her place). Dot released a solo album in 2013 which included previously unrecorded Shaggs material. She played Philosophy tracks during concerts supporting the release, but she’ll join her sisters Betty and Rachel to perform the music for the first time in 18 years when Solid Sound takes over North Adams, Massachusetts’ Mass MoCa this June 23rd – 25th.