Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is a 1982 album by Frank Zappa. It is best remembered for "Valley Girl", a satirical novelty single featuring by Zappa's then 14-year old daughter Moon Unit, targeting a specific kind of girls who live in the San Fernando Valley in California and who speak a specific "slang". Unexpectedly it became Zappa's biggest hit in the USA, reaching #32 on the Hot 100 - his only Top 40 placement - and even becoming a pop culture phenomenon that inspired a lot of merchandising sold by and bought by people who clearly didn't get the joke. As a result "Valley Girl" became a Black Sheep Hit for Zappa, atypical of his usual eclectic music, and inspiring the kind of sociological trends he actually hated. He never performed it live either.
Apart from "Valley Girl" is generally not regarded as one of Zappa's more memorable albums, though "No Not Now" and "Drowning Witch" are fan favorites.
The album cover is a droodle cartoon by Roger Price. Zappa got permission to use his original picture.
- "No Not Now" (5:50)
- "Valley Girl" (4:50)
- "I Come From Nowhere" (6:20)
- "Drowning Witch" (12:01)
- "Envelopes" (2:44)
- "Teen-Age Prostitute" (2:40)
- Frank Zappa: vocals, guitar
- Steve Vai: guitar
- Ray White: vocals, rhythm guitar
- Tommy Mars: keyboards
- Bobby Martin: vocals, keyboards, saxophone
- Ed Mann: percussion
- Scott Thunes, Arthur Barrow, Patrick O' Hearn: bass
- Chad Wackerman: drums
- Roy Estrada, Ike Willis, Bob Harris, Lisa Popeil, Moon Unit Zappa: vocals
Barf Out! Trope Me With A Spoon!
- Album Title Drop: "Drowning Witch"There's a ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch
- Alliterative Title: "No Not Now".
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: "Drowning Witch"She could mutate insanelyYou know, she could go on the freeway and grow up to be 15 feet tallAnd scary-lookin'And then ...Cars could crash all over the placeAs a result of people with Hawaiian shirts on ...Lookin' up to see her faceSardines in her eyebrows ...Lobsters up 'n down her foreheadAll of them HORRIBLY LARGE FROM RADIATION ...And smelling very bad and DANGEROUS!
- Black Comedy: "Teen-Age Prostitute", about a seventeen year old prostitute who ran away from home from her uncaring parents and is treated "like a dog" by her pimp.
- Call-Back and Continuity Nod:
Could you just picture me in like a leather teddy?
- "No Not Now" mentions the lines "those cowboy pants" and "the waitress", referencing "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" from 200 Motels. The "trans-continental hobby-horse" mentioned in the song would reappear during "Truck-Driver's Divorce" from Them or Us (1984).
- "No Not Now" appeared twice on Thing-Fish (1984), once under its original title and second as "Won Ton On" (which is the same track played backwards).
- "Valley Girl" mentions the conceptual continuity item leather, as well as orthodonics (see "Dental Hygiene Dilemma" on 200 Motels and "Montana" from Over-Nite Sensation)
- "Drowning Witch" uses B-movie imagery, something referenced a lot in his work, by imagining a witch growing to enormous size. The final line also mentions ritual sacrifice, which brings in mind "Ritual Sacrifice Of The Young Pumpkin" from Absolutely Free.
- "Envelopes" would be performed again in a different arrangement on London Symphony Orchestra (1984).
- The parents in "Teenage Prostitute" don't care about their daughter, which is a common theme in many Zappa songs, including on We're Only in It for the Money.
- Comically Missing the Point: "Valley Girl"I do not talk funny, I'm sure.What's the matter with my talk?
- Epic Rocking: The 6:20 "I Come From Nowhere" and the 12:01 "Drowing Witch".
- Evil Laugh: "Drowning Witch" features a few halfway the work.
- Green Aesop: "Drowning Witch"She's on the ocean floorAnd the water's all green down thereAnd it's not very clean down there
- Intercourse with You: "No Not Now" about a girl who "can't decide who she wants to ride" and "goes up and down on a bull".
- Instrumentals: "Envelopes".
- Live Album: The second half of the album are live recordings.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: The cover is a droodle.
- Mundane Made Awesome: It's fairly obvious that the lyrics of "Drowning Witch" were just written to fit the theme of the droodle on the album cover. Yet the music itself is impressively complex.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: "Drowning Witch"Now even a witch oughta be caughtOn the bottom of America's spew-infested waterways, hey-heyShe could get radiation all over herShe could mutate insanely
- One-Word Title: "Envelopes".
- Packaged as Other Medium: The cover looks like a droodle.
- "No Not Now" has the line "Book 'Em, Dano!", which was a recurring phrase in the police series Hawaii Five-O.
- The Runaway: "Teen-Age Prostitute"She ran away from homeHere mom was destituteHer daddy doesn't careShe's a teenage prostitute
- Special Guest: Lisa Popeil, whose track "Lisa's Life Story" would appear on Zappa's "You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 6" (1992). On her debut album, "Lisa Popeil" (1984) Steve Vai was guest musician. She would go on to become a regular backup singer for "Weird Al" Yankovic.
- Spoken Word in Music: Zappa sings "Drowning Witch" in "Sprechstimme" technique, where one combines singing with talking.
- Stepford Smiler: "I Come From Nowhere"I come from nowhereAnd you should go thereJust try it for a whileThe people from nowhere always smileTheir eyes are all frozen overThe sides of their faces pooch out at the cornersBecause that's what happens when their mouths turn up on both sidesWhich is why we can tell they're smiling
- Step Up to the Microphone: Zappa's teenage daughter Moon Unit does the lead vocals of "Valley Girl".
- Take That!: "Valley Girl", aimed at female inhabitants of the San Fernando Valley in California and their typical speak.She's a valley girl and there is no cure!
- Too Dumb to Live: "Valley Girl"Tosses her head 'n' flips her hairShe got a whole bunch of nothing in there
- Valley Girl: Zappa was pretty much the Trope Codifier. His single" Valley Girl" became an unexpected radio hit and spawned off an entire pop culture phenomenon in the USA based on the kind of girls he satirized in the song.