Frank Zappa - Ship Arriving Too Late To Save a Drowning Witch (1982)

No Not Now   5:51
Valley Girl   4:50
I Come From Nowhere   6:10
Drowning Witch 12:03
Envelopes   2:46
Teen-Age Prostitute   2:40
Total Time: 34 min, 18 sec

A relatively short album, this one is probably best known for containing Valley Girl, which was Zappa's most successful single. But amongst Zappa fanatics, the album is probably better known for its title track, a twelve minute, insanely complex, mostly instrumental song inspired by the doodle pictured on the album cover.

Side one features three pop/rock songs, but none of them are exactly standard top-40 material. No Not Now is a peppy little disco parody, with lyrics about sex, driving string beans to Utah and Donny and Marie ("Bite it Marie!"). The BGs style falsetto backing vocals on this song really irritated me at first, but now I love to howl along with them. The next track is the infamous Valley Girl, which features Frank's daughter Moon Unit talking in the valley girl style some of her friends used. This track was a case of being in the right place at the right time, as it became so popular that it spawned a national "val speak" trend, and there was even a Valley Girl movie made. But don't mistake it for just a novelty song - listen to the killer rhythm section (the bass is particularly impressive throughout this album) and the crunchy guitar parts. Taken as an instrumental, this would be a killer track - Moon's brilliant babblings are just the icing on the cake. I Come From Nowhere - this is a song that I have to be in the mood for. The music continues the high-energy rock feel of the previous two tracks, but the vocals...they're just ridiculously bad, but purposefully so. If the 50/50 vocals bothered you, this song will drive you insane. Be forewarned.

Side two begins with the epic Drowning Witch. It starts out with some fairly goofy lyrics about a witch drowning on the floor of the polluted ocean, and the Navy's attempts to rescue her. After the first couple minutes though, it goes into some of the most complex, twisting instrumental stuff that Zappa ever put together, complete with a couple impressive (and long) guitar solos. Frank himself stated that his live bands never managed to play this song correctly from beginning to end. This version is pieced together from several live performances (you can even hear some crowd noise if you listen carefully), with subsequent studio overdubbing. Drowning Witch segues directly into the instrumental Envelopes, and the change is so seamless that I wasn't even aware that Envelopes was a separate song until I heard a stand-alone orchestral version of it. The album ends with a little pop ditty about a Teen-age Prostitute, sung by Lisa Popiel (the daughter of the guy who invented such useful products as the pocket fisherman). Given the subject matter, it's a little surprising that Zappa decided to use this song as the b-side of the Valley Girl single. Maybe he wanted the kids who bought the 45 to have some idea of where being a mindless valley girl would lead you.

While I didn't care for this album much when I first bought it, it has grown on me a lot over the years. It's still not one that I'd recommend as a first purchase, but for hard-core fans, it makes for a tasty little 35 minute Zappa fix.

Album Cover

Image of the Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch album cover