Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography


Frank Zappa


From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Frank Zappa Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch album cover
3.61 | 299 ratings | 20 reviews | 15% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

Write a review

from partners
Studio Album, released in 1982

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. No Not Now (5:50)
2. Valley Girl (4:50)
3. I Come From Nowhere (6:09)
4. Drowning Witch (12:03)
5. Envelopes (2:45)
6. Teen-Age Prostitute (2:41)

Total Time: 34:18

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / lead guitar, vocals, arranger & producer

- Steve Vai / guitar
- Ray White / rhythm guitar, vocals
- Tommy Mars / keyboards
- Bobby Martin / keyboards, saxophone, vocals
- Scott Thunes / bass (2,4-6)
- Arthur Barrow / bass (1,3)
- Patrick O'Hearn / bass (3)
- Chad Wackerman / drums
- Ed Mann / percussion
- Roy Estrada / vocals
- Ike Willis / vocals
- Bob Harris / vocals
- Moon Zappa / vocals (2)
- Lisa Popeil / vocals (6)

Releases information

Artwork: Roger Price

LP Barking Pumpkin Records ‎- FW 38066 (1982, US)

CD Barking Pumpkin Records ‎- D2 74235 (1991, US) Remastered by Bob Stone
CD Zappa Records ‎- ZR 3865 (2012, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
Edit this entry

Buy FRANK ZAPPA Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch Music

FRANK ZAPPA Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch ratings distribution

(299 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(15%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(41%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

FRANK ZAPPA Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by daveconn
4 stars Lowbrow humor and late-inning guitar heroics were fast becoming a staple in FRANK ZAPPA's diet, so Ship Arriving Too Late. couldn't have come a moment too soon. Led by Frank's first (and last) US Top 40 hit, "Valley Girl", the album distills the artist down to his current essence: funny dialog, startling arrangements, and stellar musicianship. At six songs and thirty-four minutes, it's one of ZAPPA's shortest albums, but also his tightest since Joe's Garage, Act I. An octet plus vocalists, you might expect this crowd to step on one another's toes, but they never do: led by Steve Vai and bassist Scott Thunes, the music is a group portrait that allows individual players like percussionist Ed Mann and drummer Chad Wackerman to claim their own corner of the painting. You'll hear this especially on "Drowning Witch" and "Envelopes", which have more space between instruments than you'd expect from a band this big. There are moments on the mock-opera "Teen-age Prostitute" and the equally demented "I Come from Nowhere" when sounds come crashing together, but that's by design, and they soon return to their respective posts. Amid this musical maelstrom are two of Frank's most accessible tracks: "No Not Now" and "Valley Girl." The former is an improvement over the funky formula of "Fine Girl", the latter a launching pad for a lesson in valleyspeak from Frank's then-teenage daughter, Moon. It's worth a warning that "Valley Girl" isn't a fair indicator of what to expect from "Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch"; no doubt some folks expecting a whole album of cute novelty songs were scratching their heads by side two. FZ produced some real clunkers in the '80s -- The Man from UTOPIA, Francesco ZAPPA -- but this one is worth rescuing from the junk pile. It's one of the "humorous" FRANK ZAPPA albums that tickles the imagination as well as the funny bone.
Review by Certif1ed
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Complete Work of Art

I'm a little frustrated by the lack of any biographical data behind the making of this album, apart from stories about the LSO sneaking off to the pub instead of rehearsing, Moon Unit's letter to daddy requesting an audition for the Valley Girl part, and Lisa Popiel's familial link to the Pocket Fisherman and Kitchen Magician.

So, here we go with an opinion piece - trying very hard to aviod the traps that reviewers can fall into; Finding "No, Not Now" irritating is surely to miss several points that Zappa intended us to catch; The clues must be in the lyrics - which I, for one, do not get entirely. For example, there is a reference to Donny and Marie (Osmond?) - "Can both take a bite" (a reference to the famous teeth and cheesey grins?), probably some innuendo (Bite it, Marie!), and the "Beans to Utah" is obviously a "Coals to Newcastle" reference. But without knowing these lyrical references it is difficult to come to any judgment other than the superficial "Sounds a bit repetitive", which may be true - but why?

We must remember that Zappa was first and foremost a composer, influenced by other serious composers, like Varese and Stockhausen. Unlike those composers, Zappa had a unique wit which is evident throughout his works - even the "serious" pieces. "Ship Arriving..." is a masterpiece in miniature, being around 35 minutes - but there is so much packed into those minutes that it is clear the music is but a reflection of the minimalist artwork on the cover - sharply angular, just a portion of Zappa, and a complete self-referential work.

It is widely known that "Valley Girl" was Frank's first and last hit single, featuring "Teenage Prostitute" as the flip side (vinyl singles were played both sides for the CD generation!). The reason for the pairing is obvious. The title track, "Envelopes" and "Teenage..." are blended as a single track - the only flaw IMO is that the two main guitar solos in the title track are slighty overlong and tend to meander around the same paths instead of developing. Again, maybe there is a deeper reason waiting to be found out.

"I Come From Nohere" is practically an introduction to "Valley Girl", although it appears afterwards sequentially on the album - and musically the two do flow well together. Maybe Zappa was just being obtuse - but who cares? This is an accessible introduction to Zappa, particularly for those who like their music on the heavier side with a large portion of funk, jazz and satire; and with Steve Vai serving up "Impossible guitar parts", you really can't go wrong. Think of David Lee Roth's "Skyscraper", but with braincells - Vai's profound influence is just as distinct on both albums.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This album was a disappointment to me, as I believe I'm not able to enjoy the style of this music (I'm more into his early 70's stuff). Though there's lots of technical complexity and good musical acts, they didn't save this record in my case. Even the hit song "Valley Girl" with Frank's daughter Moon sounded bad to my ears. Maybe Frank's and his band's style of humor had evolved to a direction which didn't please me. The covers are funny though.
Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Impossible guitars! The record starts with 2 rhythmic & complex "pop" rock songs "No not now" and "Valley girl". On "No not now", the repetitive, funny & crazy highly pitched vocals sound a bit like the ones on "Wind up working in a gas station" (Zoot allures). On "Valley girl", the girl who narrates the story is nobody else than Zappa's daughter Moon: she has a very good voice, with this exaggerated accent from Encino. Then follows one of the craziest track ever recorded by Frank: "I come from nowhere": I've never heard a so much complex bass: it is rhythmic & dissonant at the same time! It definitely takes many many listens to REALLY understand it! Like if it was not enough, the lead vocals on it are completely deranged! Finally, this track ends with an impossible guitar solo, absolutely gross, disgraceful and monolithic: but the accompanying bass and drums are so elaborated and loaded that you are obliged to find it at least good! The other side is completely different: we are talking about one of the most complex song from Zappa: "The drowning witch": the percussions are ABSOLUTELY outstanding! The track is all the time rhythm and melody changing, and what is the most impressive is to realize all that perfect synchronization of all the instruments. The first guitar solo is very bizarre and impossible to play: Yngwie Malmsteen is very melodic and catchy compared to that! Then the track continues with an awesome percussions exhibition: thanks God, the new involved guitar solo is a bit more comprehensible! The next track "Envelope" is very similar, so that those 2 tracks can be considered as one. Finally, the last track is more accessible & anthemic: the woman and man sing with a semi- opera voice; the overall sound and style of this track are a bit like on the "Tinsel town rebellion" album, especially the keyboards which emulate horns.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Bj-1
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another very enjoyable 80's effort by Zappa, although being quite commercial in places though the title track and "Envelopes" are both jarringly complex and some of Zappa's most complex songs ever written back in the early 80's. The musicianship here his even tighter than usual and the production is clear as always giving the album a very polished but somewhat sterile sound, but the music mostly makes up for that. A guest appearance from Roy Estrada (from the old Mothers of Invention line-up) on "I Come From Nowhere" as lead vocalist singing like a retarded man is one of the funniest moments on this album and finish the song with a three-minute guitar solo (one of Zappa's coolest). The rest of the album is also good, notably the opener "No Not Now" with a catchy, repetitive melody with some really hilarious high-pitched singing to top it all. While "Valley Girl" is slightly weaker, but still has plenty of good riffs and was Zappa's only US top 50-hit. "Teenage Prostitute" is a hilarious Opera/Hard rock parody with some really hilarious lyrics and closes the album with a smile!

Highly recommended for Zappa fans that like his more polished material soundwise. A bit uneven but still very good!

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, what a mouthful of words. This album, released in 1982, would prove to be my favorite early 80s Zappa album, mainly because of the incredible complexities that lie within each song. The album itself is made up 6 songs that yields arguably the best Zappa epic of the 80s and also one of the most technical pieces out there (Zappa said himself that the group never got the song 100% correct live and that only once did they come close). It would also yield Zappa's first and last hit single in the racous romp of Valley Girl (which his daughter Moon provided the infamous Valley Girl vocal lines). If there is one album from the 80s Zappa collection you should get, I would recommend this one, as it fares better than the rest (which range from disappointing to pretty good).

Opening with the falsetto vocals of No Not Now (you can definitely hear the Roy Estrada influence on the vocals, with falsettos galore). This song relies on the vocal parts more than the vocals, but it's a generally fun piece that is harmless more than anything else. Next up is the hit of the album, Valley Girl. Although pretty simple musically, the vocals here are the main draw. Moon Zappa improvised a bunch of dialogue that she actually had heard people talk about (in her best valley girl accent) and you can't help but laugh at the subject matter of the piece. The harmony vocals from Ike Willis, Roy Estrada, and Bob Harris are also fantastic. I Come from Nowhere is the first really complicated piece of the album, with some superb guitar from Zappa and Chad Wackerman playing some sophisticated drums. This track also has Roy Estrada singing as if he were mentally ill, which is nothing short of hilarious (as the man himself was a comedy machine). It ends the first half of the album comfortably.

The second half opens with one of Zappa's most technically challenging and dense compositions in Drowning Witch. Although beginning simply and having a lush vocal performance from mainly Ike Willis, the middle section is where everything gets crazy. The drumming on this piece is outstanding, and the rhythmic interplay between the drums and the bass guitar is nothing short of spectacular as Zappa belts out solo after solo (Steve Vai gets in on the action with his coveted 'impossible guitar parts' role in the band). I must say that this is probably the best Zappa song he wrote in the 1980s, nothing else he wrote can really top this (although there are a few contenders). Envelopes is a short jazzy instrumental that has some more superb work from the rhythm unit in Chad Wackerman and Scott Thunes (who plays on the bulk of the songs here). The album ends with the operatic and bombastic Teenage Prostitute (which was coupled with Valley Girl as the b-side of that single). It's a funny piece that has some great keyboard work from Mars and Martin, and it ends the album on a lighter note, just like it began.

So that in a word is Ship Arriving too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. It has a timeless feel and hasn't really aged at all, and still remains somewhat relevant even today. If I were to recommend one Zappa album from the 80s, this would probably be it (although there are a few albums that are contenders along with this one). If you want fun pieces that will make you laugh, this era of Zappa will definitely fit that bill. 4/5

Review by LiquidEternity
2 stars While Zappa's albums are usually somewhat tainted by a song or two that just isn't up to snuff, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is at least 50% abysmal, by the high standards Frank himself set on previous releases.

Here we have, on side one and side two, a clear separation of the two sides of Zappa's work in the early 80s. Side A is characterized by bad pop built around a too few good ideas and some terrible humor. Side B explores his carefully composed technical side, ending on a crossing point between the two. If you have You Are What You Is and think Frank tackling prog-free pop is a good idea (admittedly, You Are What You Is is, despite a painful lack of jazz and tact, a fairly decent release), then the first three tracks on Ship Arriving might be enjoyable to you. No Not Now is perhaps the most upbeat of the three, returning to the best chorus on side A a few too many times, however. Valley Girl is humorous and enjoyable, but not for as long as the song is, and it tires intensely after a few listens. I Come from Nowhere, despite the horrifically goofy vocals (not the good kind of Zappic goofery), eventually turns into instrumental music and actually features a decent guitar solo after a period of wading through some pretty poor music.

At last, side two starts. The quasi title track is primarily instrumental, following a very YAWYI-sort of vocal passage. Here, the band finally gets to shine a bit. No, it doesn't have the wonderfully creative jazz flair that mid-70s Zappa was so blessed by, but it does move along at a good clip and do some interesting things. And honestly, I'm not too sure when that song ends and Envelopes begins. Pretty sure they're more or less one song split up over two tracks. All in all, if you are interested in the Zappa band featuring Steve Vai, this is a great pair of tracks to listen to. The third piece on the second half is Teenage Prostitute. Unlike the first three songs, this one is mildly clever but very creatively constructed. It's about as close as I've found Frank coming to metal, though the operatic vocals are perhaps almost prophetic towards the late 80s and on power metal sort of scene. It may be short and simplistic, but it's a very fun tune, and a nice ending to the album.

In short, an abysmal first half and a slightly redemptive second half. It can't quite average out to, well, average, so I'm going to have to go with two stars. Fans of 80s Zappa music will find plenty to enjoy here, while those who prefer 60s or 70s Zappa may find the quality sparser. And if you do not know much about 80s Zappa, I'd recommend starting with You Are What You Is instead of this one, as that album is stronger and features a much better spread of styles.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Probably Zappa's best '80s album, although you wouldn't guess that from the first two songs. This album features Steve Vai doing "impossible guitar parts". The first half seems to be studio only, while the other half sounds mostly recorded live with some studio parts. This album features some great bass work, from three different bassists. The cover art is very simple yet great and ties into the title.

"No Not Now" has some falsetto harmony vocals that might turn some people off, but I like them. The sound of the bass here is just awesome. This song is both weird and catchy at the same time. Frank mainly sings in a low talked voice. The lyrics are the typical sex oriented stuff that Frank did in the late '70s/early '80s. "Valley Girl" is of course Zappa's most well known song and his only hit in the US. Features his 14-year old daughter Moon Unit on vocals imitating the way some girls in southern California talked at the time. Lines like "barf me out, gag me with a spoon". The music is basically hard rock of it's era.

"I Come From Nowhere" has former member of the original Mothers Roy Estrada on vocals. He sings the words like he's intoxicated or got hit on the head with a heavy object. More outstanding bass work on this song. Features a great long guitar solo from Frank. "Drowning Witch" is perhaps Frank's best composition since the pre-Sheik Yerbouti days. Mostly a live recording. This song has some demented laughing in it which I assume is overdubbed. That laughing appears again in the last two songs.

The song begins in a style similar to some of the songs on Joe's Garage or You Are What You Is. After 2 minutes goes into a more complex instrumental section with the demented laughing. The marimba playing really stands out. Then a reggae-like part with a guitar solo. Drums and bass playing gets more varied. Before 7 minutes changes to a part that is probably studio recorded. Mainly laid-back music with fast guitar playing. The tempo picks up and the music gets more jazzy. After some cool synths and marimba. This part leads directly into...

"Envelopes" via a sequenced piano part. This has a steady piano figure and then guitar and marimba. The song gets more complex and the demented laughing comes back. That song leads right into "Teen-Age Prostitute", an opera-metal song. Features the female operatic singing of Lisa Popeil, daughter of Ron Popeil the infomercial guy who sells stuff ("set it and forget it!"). I think it's funny when you hear her sing: "she's only 17/ she's really sort of cute" in an operatic voice. You hear that demented laughing voice again. The song ends with crowd applause.

Not as good as his best albums from the 1970s, but better than most of what he released during the 1980s. The production and playing is top-notch. Since this album contains "Valley Girl", it's was probably one of Zappa's most well known albums during the '80s. Not something you should start with if you're a Zappa newbie, but an album you should get after the 'classics'. 4 stars.

Review by tarkus1980
3 stars I can't help it; the album cover totally cracks me up. I never bothered to look closely at it until I started listening to this album intensely, but I laughed like hell once I got the joke, and I still giggle when I think about it. Who'd think such an effective image could be made with a box and four lines?

Great cover or no, though, this is a major step down from You Are What You Is, and it very much feels like a relative throwaway. It's a half-live, half-studio single album, boasting but six tracks, and it only lasts a little more than half an hour. More bothersome than the brevity, though, is that a lot of the album sounds confused and aimless, even if the tracks on the whole are still decent. Obviously Frank couldn't just go and make a clone of You Are..., but he might have been better served by waiting a bit before issuing a followup. This album strongly insinuates that the quality of You Are was a bit of a fluke, and that the 80's wouldn't be as good of a decade for him as the 70's were.

The studio side is highlighted by "Valley Girl," which would go down as a rather simplistic rocker were it not for a guest appearance by Frank's daughter Moon Unit, who absolutely steals the show. Her spoken imitation of a valley girl from Encino, filled with stereotypical mannerisms and phrases, mixed in with hilarious side-tracks about perverts approaching her and her ultra-gay teacher, are a total laugh riot, and the way she obviously relishes every moment makes it only more delightful. Oddly enough, this ended up being a minor-hit single for Frank, marking one of the least likely re-emergences of an artist into mainstream culture I can think of. Unfortunately, the tracks that bookend it, while showing some promise, are noticably less entertaining. "No Not Now" has an amusing high/low vocal dynamic, almost reminiscient of 60's Beach Boys, but this song would have been much better at three minutes instead of six. "I Come From Nowhere" has a neat, often fascinating instrumental backing, but the vocals just don't work in this case. I guess that having the vocalist sing in a way that doesn't work with the rest of the song was something Frank intended, but it's not one of the best ideas he ever had. Needless to say, this song doesn't work at six minutes either.

The live side is also rather uneven. I am very fond of the closing "Teenage Prostitute," where Frank has a man and woman belt out the lyrics in a fast operatic style, over a melody driven as much by xylophone as by guitar and the 80's synths. The immediately preceeding "Envelopes," though, does nothing but take up space; the busy chord and rhythm changes do nothing to keep me interested in this case. And finally, the twelve- minute title track starts off as an amusing story, and quickly morphs into a multi-part, complicated-sounding suite that sounds ... okayish. I mean, it's passable as background noise, but I've already heard enough okayish background noise passages from Frank to last me a lifetime. This doesn't even remotely measure up to something like "The Gumbo Variations," and I'm not an enormous fan of that one either (though obviously I do like it).

In the end, this pretty much defines "middle of the pack" for Zappa albums. It's good, with nothing overtly offensive about it, but except for a couple of tracks, it doesn't even remotely reach greatness either. If you can get it cheap, pick it up for "Valley Girl" and "Teenage Prostitute," but don't break a sweat looking for it.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This album is sort of a mixed bag. Luckily, the good far outweighs the bad on this release.

The album starts with two throwaway pop songs. Strangely enough, one of them became Zappa's highest charting hit single. No Not Now is a simple, repetitive, and completely unmemorable song, with lyrics full of pop references and in jokes. I'm sure Frank found it very humorous. The hit single Valley Girl comes next. The song is listenable a few times, because of Frank's daughter Moon Unit's charming and funny valley girl impression.

The rest of the album contains some of Zappa's best music from the 80's. The down side is that he experimenting with some fairly bad vocal stylings at that time. I Come From Nowhere is a hard rocking tune, with lyrics sung off key with lame affectations. The vocals don't ruin the song, but they diminish it just a bit. Drowning Witch is an amazing epic (12 minute) Zappa piece that has a short segment in the middle of the same affected scat style vocals that bring down parts of "The Man From Utopia". This suegues into Envelopes, another simply amazing piece. Teenage Prostitute ends the album in grand style. This is another difficult, hard rocking song, featuring operatic vocals from Lisa (daughter of Ron) Popeil.

The two pop songs, and some questionable vocals can't hide the fact that this album contains some of Frank's best music of the decade.

Review by Isa
3 stars |C| Prog from 82 - a good time for mockery in music... or perhaps too much of it.

This is an interesting album in the context of this time-period of the music industry, the problems of which most prog listeners are knowledgeable. In some ways there is a clear adaptation of their style to early eighties rock, often for the sake of mocking it, and sometimes in a way which is actually artistic. And as you might expect, as an album by Frank Zappa, there's plenty of blatant humor, mockery, and silliness, and a lot of really cool textures created by arranging instruments beyond the normal rock parameters. In the case of this album, the humor goes on for too long at times, often to the point where it looses its charm and becomes repetitive or even annoying. The music occasionally suffers this ailment as well, which is a bit surprising given the hefty lineup of musicians that contribute to the album.

Track Commentary: you can tell from the first few seconds of "no not now" that this is not music to take seriously, but is laden with humor and mockery, as to be expected from a Zappa album. The backup vocals are so screechy and forward sounding that there's no question that it's there to make fun some music that was popular at the time. I always thought this song would be hilarious set to a music video at a carnival with a carousel , "up and down" sort of silliness. This leads straight into the famous "Valley Girl" song with Frank Zappa's daughter Moon mocking the title's reference, and is quite hilarious. It gets a bit repetitive toward the end for sure, though, and drags out too long with the mockery. This leads straight into I Come from Nowhere, which I guess is making fun of those friendly hicks with bad teeth or something - or maybe an excuse for Frank Zappa to be self- indulgently silly, which gets a bit annoying pretty quickly, making for one of the weaker songs on the album. I'm guessing that that's Steve Vai playing the "impossible guitar parts" on this track, which is kinda cool at first, but looses its charm quickly and goes on for a bit too long in my opinion. The album title track is supposedly one of the most challenging and difficult-to-play songs that the band ever made (which fans know is saying a lot) and when you really listen to it, it's not too hard to figure out why. In fact the complex electric jam session leans on the side of being too discordant, and like other things about this album, seems to drag on too long as to sound quite self-indulgent, like a speaker rambling on too long without really saying anything substantial at all (which is not the case with instrumental jams in other albums). Envelope is an instrumental some cool keyboard settings, which combined with the other instruments makes some cool textures. As for Teenage Prostitute, I think some prudishness is in order in saying that I'm not too fond of the idea of making a joke out of something which is a sad and serious problem in the destitute realms of our culture, though I wouldn't put is past the "humor at the cost of anything" approach of Zappa, of course. That being said, the use of operatic singing and the arrangement of the instruments are both pretty cool.

While there is plenty to like about this album (much of which can be found in a lot of Zappa's albums), this one has the problem of either being way too redundant and dragged-out with the mockery and some song sections, or too heavy on the discordant rambling (mostly in the album title track). Finally, there's a general sense of frivolity and lack of depth about almost all of the music and lyrics, and even the humor itself seems contrived and forced at times. One might conclude that the musicians were trying too hard to just fill up time, rather than creating something really clever and great.

This is a decent album, and I would definitely recommend this album to Frank Zappa fans and avant-garde listeners; the former would appreciate the humor most, and the latter would probably appreciate the title track a lot more than I do.

Review by Prog Leviathan
3 stars Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch is a good, but not great, example of one of art-rock's grand masters transitioning into the '80's (a turbulent decade for prog rock). Here Zappa blends his typical blend of sarcasm and musical wizardry with the highly produced and polished tone of the then modern sound. The effect is an enjoyable one, which while not as powerful (or entertaining) as his classics, remains a fun listen and good example of one of the music industry's most subversive figures.

The first half is upbeat, bottom heavy, driving, and intense. The lyrics are nonsensical and superficial, but the playing is energetic and exciting. There's a bombastic sarcasm in each of these songs, and while they may go on a little longer than needed, are great when taken individually. A lot of fun even if they don't have an especially deep level of complexity thanks to the fine instrumental performances.

The second half is more in vein of the classic and quirky Zappa sound, but the set piece "Drowning Witch" loses its melodic focus quickly to become a 9-minute guitar noodling extravaganza. It would be crazy to complain about Zappa's guitar work, but one can skip through most of this track and hear almost the same sounding licks and effects. Really, the only thing that makes this qualify as a song is the excellent work by the rhythm section, which keeps things in key and moving forward interestingly. "Envelopes" and "Teen-Age Prostitute" are more bite sized and easier to digest, "Teen-Age Prostitute" especially. This track is great because it takes the trademark bounce of Zappa's enjoyable instrumentals and kicks them into overdrive. Heavy guitars and dynamic bass lines make for a rip-roaring close. It should be noted that the second half of the album is recorded live, adding an interesting tone.

A worthy album for fans introduced to Zappa through his other, more engaging work, or those ready for a tongue-in- cheek collection of weird '80's hard rock.

Songwriting: 2 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Like, OH MY GOD! This album is sooooo bitchin'


More bitchin' than shopping at the Galleria in Encino

It's like finding some totally whacked out shoes

And some totally wild ass clothes

It's just like so super BITCHIN'!

It's like, yeah i know "No Not Now" sounds like Alvin & The Chipmunks meets The Turtles with a super S&M bass line slappin' my ass but OH MY GOD! It's so ear wormy!

Like so apple core-ish and all

Like how can we ignore Moon Unit in her magic moment

Like she was totally woken up from her Valley slumber when her dad totally woke her up to improvise the lyrics to the only FRANK ZAPPA top 40 hit ever! It's tubular, ya know

Yeah, "Valley Girl" is like such a beastie. It slaps you like being dressed in a leather teddy screamin' "hurt me, hurt me!," i am so sure! But so freakin' wild and uncharted territory!

If you don't see the brilliance in this i am so sure that you need to like bag yer face!

You're like totally blitzed

Stop being Lord God King BU-FU and stop playing with your rings

If you think "I Come From Nowhere" with this review you can like totally bag your toenails which are totally gross cuz i like totally dig the strange time sigs that fit the music like a nice pair of jeans fit my freaky butt

No it's not grody to the max, this is some cool 80s meets 70s freakiness that just begs the open minded listener to readjust their expectations


Can you not evolve!

I mean don't be a total space cadet!

You don't have to wash the dishes and clean the cat box to move on!

This isn't "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" world anymore!

Like don't totally diss this album as 80s swill

Just listen to the title track and like WHOAH!

It's like totally tubular with everything Zappa-esque like totally freaking me out TOTALLY!

I'm sooooo sure!

It's like totally progressive and catchy at the same time


It's the ultimate anti-BARF ME OUT and gag me with a spoon!

Maybe not as clean as playing Pac-Man but i'm def

On this album there are "Envelopes," you know, the totally cool things that they used to put letters in and OMG! it like totally turns into "Teenage Prostitute" which has like major diva action just making me feel like an opera has blossomed from the avant-rock catalog

This is just one wickedly cool spin that never makes me feel like i've just gone to the orthodontist and like never leaves me totally bummed!

It like so makes me feel so BITCHIN' and never makes me feel like i'm cleaning someone's food off the plates with someone else's saliva sticking to the utensils but no biggie really

It's like getting my braces off but it's like NEVER grodie to the max, it's never as ugly as my smile and it like totally never makes me wanna scream "GAG ME WITH A SPOON!"


If taken in the perspective of ZAPPA evolution then this is like bitchin' waaaaaay cool

For those stuck in jazz-fusion territory then like no way :o

You will totally find this like such a total bummer like that stuff that totally sticks to the plates

If you are totally open-minded and have no connections to the ZAPPA past

I'm like so sure you won't find this totally nauseating in like a totally good way!

Otherwise you will like BARF OUT

And gag yourself with a spoon which is like totally gross!

I am sooooooooooooo sure



Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars One of the most intriguing things about Frank Zappa was the unpredictable ways he would take his music. It always seemed he found a certain sound or style and then he would take that style and work it until he bled it dry of any possibilities. During the early 80s, while all the 70s bands were adjusting their sound to try to fit in with the new sound, Zappa was pushing that sound to the extreme limit and then throwing it into a blender and making it sound like something completely different by mixing it with other forms and styles. His 1982 'studio' album 'Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch' is a perfect example of taking a style and stretching it to its boundaries so it comes out as something completely different when its done. It ended up being one of the most unpredictable albums he did.

The interesting thing about the entire album is, he knew it was going to be a single album, and he also knew what material was going to be on one half of it. It ended up being side two of the album with 'Drowning Witch', 'Envelopes' and 'Teenage Prostitute'. The other three songs got worked out later, but made up side one. I imagine that the first two 'pop' songs were chosen to start off the record in order to help boost sales and also to get the younger crowd interested so that they would listen to the rest of the record which had Frank's more complex compositions on it. Frank used humor and pop music to lure people into listening to his 'serious' music.

Starting with what was inspired by an actual Mongolian song, 'No Not Now' is the first of the pop songs. Roy Estrada does the vocals on it, and Zappa layered Estrada's vocals to sound like he's singing with a goofy male choir with harmonies and all. The song ends up feeling rather thick with the layered vocals, but it has a really nice, catchy bass line. Arthur Barrow plays the bass, and learned the bass line 8 measures at a time. Zappa would hum it to him and he would play it, and they would record it as they went. The problem I have with some of Zappa's songs from this period is that the lyrics can be overly repetitive, especially at the close of the track, and they seem to go on to infinity with that obnoxious falsetto and melody. There is a good element of humor in there though, especially poking fun at Donnie and Marie Osmond, their Hawiian Punch commercials and Utahan's love for string beans. (Fun fact #1: Utah consumes more string beans per capita than any other state.) 'Valley Girl' is Zappa's biggest hit single of course, with his daughter Moon Unit Zappa singing lead vocals. Yep, it's hilarious and in '82, the radio stations played endlessly, so it did tend to get annoying. The end of this track also utilizes over- repetition at the end, but Moon's characterization is spot on. Both songs could have been shortened down a minute though to cut out the repetition. But why would I question Zappa? Moon's monologue makes the track though, and also gave Frank a huge hit. (Fun fact #2: 5 different monologues were recorded and Frank took out the best parts of each and melded them together for the final product.)

'I Come From Nowhere', according to Frank, is about people who smile too much. Roy Estrada is singing the vocals with the odd lounge-jazz style that totally contrasts the heavy rock sound of the track. Of course, the vocals are in a different meter than the rest of the instruments, that's what give it the strange sound. This is definitely a world of difference between the pop songs and the rest of the album. The track was created mostly one track at a time, starting with a drum track, and everything else added on top of it all. Same this with the wild guitar solo. (Fun fact #3: Frank hardly ever likes to put studio guitar solos on his albums, and usually uses solos from live concerts when he adds a solo on his studio songs. However, this solo was recorded in studio.) Frank took two hours of soloing material that was done in-studio before he finally got a sound he liked. The track eventually fades out on the solo.

'Drowning Witch' and the rest of the album is taken from several live performances all added together. The track starts with a standard sounding chorus, but soon Frank slips into a improvised sounding sing-song, narration style, again almost with a lounge-jazz style during the singing, with several meters and varying tempos working against each other. After a jazzy interlude with the band, Frank slips into a long guitar solo. (Fun fact #4: Frank claims that this track comes from fifteen different live shows.) The crazy thing with this one is, that it goes totally against the usual formula for improvised solos, even for Frank, in that the foundation that supports the solo is almost as complex as the solo. The several edits factor in key and modal changes. It's no wonder that Frank says this song is difficult to play correctly on stage. About halfway through, there is another instrumental interlude that bridges the track to a second guitar solo, with a completely different feel, but also very complex.

The preceeding track goes right into the next track 'Envelopes', a two minute atonal instrumental that was originally intended to be played by two amplified keyboards with rhythm section accompaniment, but as with most of Zappa's music, it was too difficult to play, and the original version was never released. (Fan fact #?: The original recording was done with Mark and Howard, [the Flo and Eddie team from the Mothers of Invention in the late 60s] along with George Duke, but they couldn't get it right according to Frank, so it was never released.) The album has the rock band version of this complex composition. The original also had lyrics, but this version doesn't. It is being played live here and is not edited or cut, so what you are hearing is the unbelievable performance of this difficult track. The album ends with 'Teen-age Prostitute' performed at Santan Monica Civic Auditorium in Dec of 1981. It features a rare performance where Lisa Popeil sings the operatic lead vocals. Again, this is a complex track sounding like a wild opera about the title character, with a James Bond style instrumental interlude. Expect the crazy Zappa hyjinx.

Many people didn't know what to make of this album when it came out. Remember, many of the purchasers of the album were probably expecting more songs like 'Valley Girl', and ended up getting this very avant-garde album instead. That must have been some surprise to a lot of virgin ears at the time. Anyway, annoying repetition aside, if you pay attention to 98% of the album, you have a real complex recording here that really showcases Frank's talent, not just as a guitar player, but more as a composer. This music may sound quite alien to most people, but you are hearing Zappa at his inventive best. The 2nd half of the album seems to go by in a chaotic whirlwind, and you definitely won't catch much of the genius behind it all until you listen to it several times and seek to understand what an amazing musician Frank Zappa was. Once you understand what goes into Frank's music, and the amazing talent of his band, you can't help but give this 5 stars, even with the annoying repetition at the end of the first 2 tracks.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Review #156 This is actually a very cool album. Drums and bass are on their best all over the record and the weird backing vocals are almost omnipresent. Just the song "Valley girl" is a whole masterpiece itself: ZAPPA wanted to record something with his little teenage daughter Moon and it immedi ... (read more)

Report this review (#2375866) | Posted by Uruk_hai | Thursday, April 30, 2020 | Review Permanlink

3 stars [3 - 3,5 stars] Why Frank, why? I'm sad when the really good material is just put together with bad stuff on the same record without any care, and that's the case here. The first side of the album is almost unbearable to me; I've heard it's supposed to be funny, but I don't feel amused at all. No ... (read more)

Report this review (#2170882) | Posted by Harold Needle | Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | Review Permanlink

2 stars This ship came to early for me. This was my first Zappa album which I had saved up all the money I'd found on the floor or stolen from others to pay for and it was a massive disappointment to my naive, 10 year old self. Definitely not a good album to start discovering the intricacies of Frank ... (read more)

Report this review (#583627) | Posted by Canterzeuhl | Tuesday, December 6, 2011 | Review Permanlink

2 stars You know, Frank Zappa is absolutely my favourite artist ever. No one could write stuff like he did, and he was a brilliant guitar player. But this record, I think, is his weakest effort. It's an album that could have been good if done by someone else, but not by Zappa. For example, I can hardl ... (read more)

Report this review (#157402) | Posted by JethroZappa | Tuesday, January 1, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I think the three first songs are good, although consisting of repeating choruses - getting some usa's west coast 70's and 80's pro-punk pop music to it's utmost. And, actually they are good (also hits, but I think it and the songs are ironic, still humour not being the main idea), still prog and ex ... (read more)

Report this review (#78019) | Posted by progressive | Saturday, May 13, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This album has some great tracks, but overall it's not anywhere close to Zappa's best, or an essential album. No Not Now: Catchy little tune, but I dont think this would please many progfans. Valley girl: This song was Zappa's ''hit'', just like the first song its catchy, but i dont think it ... (read more)

Report this review (#58474) | Posted by | Monday, November 28, 2005 | Review Permanlink

Post a review of FRANK ZAPPA "Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch"

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.