Better Than the Beatles (and DNA, Too)
by Lester Bangs
The Village Voice
Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 1981
. .

Thanks to Jeff Grimshaw for sharing our wonderment that no one has ever reprinted Lester Bangs' hilarious and prescient 1981 review in the Village Voice of the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World LP.reissue.


- - I have been getting whiny letters from a lot of you lately complaining about the general state of the art. "What is all this shit?" you ask. "We thought New Wave was supposed to be this awakening of New Avenues of Self Expression and Freedom, resulting in new musical verities and new insights into the human condition even! Instead we went out and spent all this money, and all these records are shit!"

- - You're right about about one thing at least: all those record are shit, and you might as well have burned all those dollar bills. (Closer, 12 bucks, haw haw haw!) But those records aren't shit for the reasons that you think: those records are shit because they're all too good!

- - That's right. All those stupid bands were so stupid they plumb went out and learned to play their instruments, a process as ineluctable as the putrefaction of a corpse. Teach 'em a chord or two, then just watch those little bastards practice till they can switch off, back and forth between those two chords (then three, then four . . . never shoulda learned even one!) deft as Al DiMeola if he wanted to play that which he probably will soon! Damn!

- - Which is why the only hope for rock'n'roll, aside from everybody playing nothing but shrieking atonal noise through arbitor distorters, is women. Balls are what ruined both rock and politics in the first place, and I demand the world be turned over to the female sex immediately. Only hope. Valerie Solanas was so much greater a prophet than Warhol that I can only pray she might consent to lead the group I'm forming. The absolute best rock'n'roll anywhere today is being played by women: the other night I saw God in the form of the Au Pairs, the Slits are stupendous, the Raincoats are better than London Calling or anything by Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde doesn't count, Joan Jett deserves her place in the sun if not reparations, Lydia Lunch is the Female Role Model for the '80s besides being one of the greatest guitarists in the world . . . the list is endless. (Patti, come home!)

- - But credit must be given to the foremothers: the Shaggs. Way back in 1972 [sic] they recorded an album up in New England that can stand, I think, easily with Beatles '65, Life with the Lions, Blonde on Blonde, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks as one of the landmarks of roll'n'roll history. The Wiggins [sic] sisters (an anti-power trio) not only redefined the art but had a coherent Weltanschauung on their very first album, Philosophy of the World. Basically what it comes down to is that unlike the Stones these girls are saying we love you, whether you're fat, skinny, retarded, or Norman Podhoretz even. Paul Weyrich. Don't make no difference, they embrace all because they are true one world humanists with an eye to our social future whose only hope is a redefined communism based on the open-hearted sharing of whatever you got with all sentient beings. Their and my religion is compassion, true Christianity with no guilt factors and no vested interest, perhaps a barter economy, but certainly the elimination of capitalism, rape, and special-interest group hatred. For instance, in their personal favorite number, "My Pal Foot Foot," they reveal how even a little doggie must be granted equal civil rights perhaps even extending to the voting booth. Hell, they let Nancy Reagan in! They also believe that we should jettison almost completely the high-tech society which has now perched us on the lip of global suicide, and return to third world-akin closeness with the earth, elements, nature, the seasons, as in my personal favorite on this album, "It's Halloween," which emphasizes that seasonal festivals are essential to a healthy body politic (why d'ya think all them people in California got no minds?).

- - Unfortunately the Wiggins's masterpiece was lost over the years -- it came out on a small label, and everybody knows the record industry has its head so far up its ass it's licking its breastplate. But this guy from NRBQ had the savvy to rescue it from oblivion (in a recent issue of Rolling Stone, he compared their work to early Ornette Coleman, and he's right, though early Marzette Watts might be more apt), so now we got it out on the Red Rooster label, which of course is a perfect joke on all those closet-queen heavy-metal cockrockers. How do they sound? Perfect! They can't play a lick! But mainly they got the right attitude, which is all rock'n'roll's ever been about from day one. (I mean, not being able to play is never enough.) You should hear the drum riff after the first verse and chorus of the title cut -- sounding like a peg-leg stumbling through a field of bald Uniroyals, it cuts Dave Tough cold and these girls aren't even junkies (of course!). They just whang and blang away while singing in harmonies reminiscent of three Singing Nuns who've been sniffing lighter fluid and their voices are just so copacetic [sic] together (being sisters, after all) you'd almost think they were Siamese triplets. Guitar style: sorta like 14 pocket combs being run through a moose's dorsal, but very gently. Yet it rocks. Does it ever. Plus having one of the greatest album covers in history, best since Blank Generation. God Bless the Shaggs. Now if they will only emerge from (semi?) retirement (?) no one ever will have cause again to say "Rock'n'Roll is dead, man . . ." Up an' at 'em, Valerie.


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