ON THIS DATE (29 YEARS AGO)
May 3, 1982 – Frank Zappa: Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4/5
# allmusic 3/5
Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is an album by Frank Zappa, released on this date in May 1982. The album’s first half consists of studio recordings, while the second half consists of live recordings; its vinyl configuration presented the studio recordings on the first side, while the second side was live.
Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch turned out to be Zappa’s highest charting and most popular album of the ’80s (its title is based on the album’s cover artwork–a drawing by ’50s artist Roger Price). The record’s unexpected commercial success was due to the inclusion of the popular novelty song “Valley Girl,” which featured Zappa’s then-teenage daughter, Moon Unit, doing her best impersonation of a spoiled and obnoxious youngster. Besides “Valley Girl,” the rest of Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is comprised of five tunes that are more representative of Zappa’s usual work.
The album’s closer, “Teen-Age Prostitute,” is the perfect example of how Zappa constantly tried to push musical boundaries–the music is heavy metal accompanied by a female opera singer (Lisa Popiel) with xylophone added in for good measure! Other intriguing tracks include the transcendent “Drowning Witch,” a melodic instrumental entitled “Envelopes,” and “I Come From Nowhere,” which merges funk with tough hard rock. Although some Zappa fans have complained that the album is too short (when compared to his other lengthy recordings), Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch certainly has its moments.
by François Couture, allmusic
Released in May 1982, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch marks Frank Zappa’s entrance into the 1980s. From this point on, his rock records would focus on single, simple rock songs (the previous year’s You Are What You Is had them organized in interconnecting suites) with occasionally more complex instrumental numbers. The recipe would be extended to The Man From Utopia (1983) and Them or Us (1984). Side one features three studio songs that would never be performed on stage. By 1981, Zappa had become a master at manipulating vocal tracks, a technique featured in each of them, but most successfully in “Valley Girl,” where daughter Moon Unit (aged 14 at the time) pastiches rich girls from the San Fernando Valley. Released as a single, it became a novelty hit, climbing into the Top 40 in the U.S., a rare (and not necessarily sought-after) experience for Zappa. Side two presents three live tracks, two of which are difficult rock instrumentals. “Drowning Witch” may be one of his hardest pieces to perform. This album clearly lacks ambition and tends to get lost among the man’s humongous discography, but it should not be overlooked. It contains a few good songs (“No Not Now” is quite entertaining), strong guitar work from Zappa and Steve Vai, and it is not defaced by the cold 1980s sound of subsequent albums.
“No Not Now” – 5:50
“Valley Girl” – 4:49
“I Come from Nowhere”- 6:13
“Drowning Witch” – 12:03
“Envelopes” – 2:46
“Teen-Age Prostitute” – 2:43