First of all, I will argue until I am blue that “Philosophy of the World” is not a bad album. It is hopelessly naïve, musically clueless and painfully out of touch with reality. It is also impossible to duplicate, 100% free of pretense and utterly charming. In my opinion, most bad music is made by ‘artists’ who believe they are somehow incapable of making bad music.
Rather than work with what they have, they abuse their talents and stretch them into shapes that no tasteful person would ever willingly witness. Thus, the worst music is often a product of hubris over common sense. I fully admit that I laughed my ass off the first time I heard the Shaggs. I found it hard to believe that they really existed, and considered the possibility that it was actually a farce concocted by a group of subversive comedians.
After all, how could a group this out of touch ever have gotten to the point where they actually entered a recording studio? What sort of support group could have enabled such cacophony? And the album cover was the most suspect of all – a photo of three very ordinary but obviously uncomfortable looking girls straining to smile behind their instruments. It struck me as something that simply could not be real. The joke lasted long enough for me to continually drag the album out and stupefy my friends, but the longer I did this, the more I recognized that I felt genuine admiration for the impossible accomplishment represented by “Philosophy of the World.”
I swear that I am not picking this record as a favorite just to be contrary. Nor am I picking it because it could easily be perceived as so bad that it comes full circle and ends up great due to its stupendous ability to royally suck. I am picking this album because it has genuinely grown on me, and I doubt that anything else like it will ever exist, ever again. The naïve (and you cannot over-use that word when discussing the Shaggs) pathos that informs each and every composition demands attention.
This may be the least self-conscious music ever made by anyone…ever. How else could a heartfelt song about the joy of Halloween exist? How else could we have the opportunity to dwell on lyricist Dorothy’s observations on the meaning of life (“Philosophy of the World”, “Things I Wonder”), or her dedication to her parents (“Who Are Parents?”) – even though she must have been bristling under her father’s insistence that they keep practicing – against their own best instincts - for a record that he would finance in the incomprehensible delusion that his girls were destined to be stars.
The musical interplay is so nonexistent that they may as well have been placed in isolation booths when recording, and yet they somehow stumble to the end of each song with a deliberation that defies physics. There is not a word or beat (or ‘non-beat’) that rings false on this entire record, and what I love most is how the album can revive my own childlike curiosity. With luck, I will eternally wonder just who (or what) is “My Pal Foot Foot”. Thank you, girls.
June 1969 - Billboard Did Not Chart
The Kinks: Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Album #71 - October 1969
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