The theory of (musical) relativity


Courtesy of the artists

The cover art from The Shaggs’ inadvertently landmark 1969 album, “Philosophy of the World.”

Samara Samad, Staff Reporter

According to Rolling Stone’s original 2003 “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles is considered the “greatest album of all time.” 

The concept album, known for its exquisite melding of experimental rock, psychedelia, and baroque pop elements, is donned a masterpiece by general consensus. 

But what makes this album so great compared to others? Is there a certain formulaic manner to songwriting that determines its quality or is musical greatness merely relative? 

If one album can be crowned as the “greatest,” shouldn’t there be an album that is the “worst”?

Although these questions seem to have ambiguous answers, surprisingly, there actually is an album that is considered to be the “worst.” 

Austin Wiggin Jr. always believed that his daughters, Helen, Betty, and Dorothy (aka “Dot”), would become stars. His daughters, who comprised a band known as “The Shaggs,” recorded their debut album Philosophy of the World on March 9, 1969. 

Little did the Wiggin sisters know that this musical project, which would one-day be cited as the “worst album of all time” by a multitude of critics, would also become a cult classic for many music fans.

Artists such as Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana have cited Philosophy of the World as a key inspiration for his music. Legendary rock musician Frank Zappa went far enough to highlight The Shaggs as “better than The Beatles.” 

As a genuine music lover, I had to decide for myself what the issue with The Shaggs was all about. In order to see what makes Philosophy of the World the “worst album of all time,” I listened to three of the album’s most popular songs, analyzing the musical elements that cause people to either love or hate the Wiggin sisters’ debut album. With the help of some friends, I wrote my thoughts down as follows: 

The first song I reviewed was “Philosophy of the World.” 

The song starts with out-of-tune electric guitar chords accompanied by loud drums. The guitar and drums are off-beat, leaving you wondering if anyone was actually in the studio where the girls were recording, and if there was, did they even have ears to hear this mess. Though the instrumentals might be musically dissonant, it’s not terrible, I actually enjoy the song. 

When the girls begin to sing, from a musical standpoint, the vocals seem choppy and out of place. 

Aside from musicality, the opening lyrics are poignant. As the song continues, it’s interesting to see the complex ideas wrapped within the seemingly simple lyrics.

‘Oh, the rich people want what the poor people’s got

And the poor people want what the rich people’s got

You can never please anybody in this world

We do our best

We try to please

But we’re like the rest

We are never at ease”

Honestly, I was impressed by the lyrics, and so were a few others. I asked seniors Page Franz and Chase Tucker about their thoughts on “Philosophy of the World.” 

After listening to the song, Franz said she enjoyed the lyrics’ message and optimistic feel.

Tucker also commented on the lyrics of the song, saying how they were very true because they emphasized how people should be grateful for what they have. 

I agree I think the lyrics of the song are surprisingly insightful for being written by a group of tween girls with little songwriting experience. 

Though the lyrics are charming, the musicality is a different story because overall, the instrumentals are disastrous. The mix of out-of-tune, plucky guitar chords, and droning drum beats complicate the choppy yet heartfelt lyrics, but I can honestly say I enjoyed this song; though it is messy and slightly irritating at some points, “Philosophy of the World” is ironically engaging.

The second song that I reviewed from Philosophy of the World was called “ My Pal Foot Foot.”

As I hit “play” on the album’s next hit song, I was greeted by another mind-rattling drum solo. Seconds into the toddler-esque percussion beats comes a wave of what sounds like girls tuning their guitars and then strumming the discordant instruments. 

Before I acted on my overwhelming urge to pause the song, the Wiggin girls sang the curious line “My pal’s name is Foot Foot.” At this moment I had to fight off my urge to pause the song and push myself to listen to the line that piqued my interest to discover more about this mysterious “Foot Foot.” 

The lyrics of the song highlight an interesting story of one of the girls and her eccentric, free-spirited friend, “Foot Foot,” who goes missing one day but then returns. 

When asked about her thoughts on the song, Franz described this song as a “fever dream,” and, like other listeners, she was confused by the song.

On the other hand, Tucker enjoyed the zany nature of the story and said, “Everybody has a friend like Foot Foot.” 

Though the lyrics are elementary and completely clash with the backing instruments, I don’t hate the song. Yes, I may not have enjoyed the terrible drum solo at the end, but I was both entertained and perplexed by this song. 

For the final song from Philosophy of the World, I reviewed “It’s Halloween.” 

As the song begins, I’m greeted by another lovely drum pattern. The instruments and vocals have no consistency, leaving me to believe that the time signature of this song is nonexistent. Aside from the lack of interesting percussion, I do enjoy the catchy, light-hearted guitar licks in the song.

From a lyrical standpoint, I would say this song gets me in the Halloween spirit even in the middle of February because the song is essentially just a list of the monsters and spooky costumes the singer sees on her Halloween adventure.

Franz described this song as her favorite from the Philosophy of the World album because of its “carefree and fun” nature, which is perfect for people to “relax and celebrate a fun holiday [to].” 

When asked about his opinions on the song, Tucker said, “There’s nothing better than an upbeat song that gets you on your feet and ready to dance.

This song does exactly that.” He even noted that he will be adding some of The Shaggs’ songs to his playlists. 

“It’s Halloween” is truly a fun, cute tune that puts you in a festive mood. This song along with the other songs from Philosophy of the World actually made The Shaggs grow on me. 

I can honestly say that I don’t believe Philosophy of the World is the “worst album of all time” because there are elements of this album that are musically interesting and lyrically complex.

This album is appealing because it’s so distinct from any other music I’ve ever heard. Although this album may differ from traditional music genres, this does not make the album inherently “bad.” Instead, I believe the album’s unorthodox nature adds to its overall appeal. 

Though it may not be Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Philosophy of the World and its eclectic lyrics and avant-garde sounds constitute its overall charm and merit. The Wiggin sisters’ out-of-the-box style is evident, and I can clearly understand why Philosophy of the World has become an underground favorite and cult classic for a multitude of music lovers.