On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Frank Zappa – Valley Girl (1982)
We’re leaving the UK behind, dear reader, and we’re heading over to the US and to Baltimore in Maryland. Here we find a musician by the name of Frank Zappa whose career began in the mid 1950s when he was still a teenager and later saw him head a group by the name of The Mothers of Invention which were active in the 1960s and 1970s. Zappa had a prolific career with more than 60 albums during his life but when we join him in 1982 he is working on a solo album by the name of Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, which has to be one of the most original titles ever. From that record 1001 Songs have gone with Valley Girl.
The story behind Valley Girl is quite sweet. Zappa’s then 14 year old daughter, Moon, wanted to spend more time with her father so slipped a note under his door suggesting they record together. Zappa took his daughter up on the suggestion and together they improvised a track which satirised teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley of California. Imagine a film like Clueless (1995) and you get the idea of what the song has to say about these valley girls. Frank Zappa shares vocals with Moon with the latter talking through the verses and recreating a typical San Fernando girl, both in behaviour and in the way she speaks. I mean, she like, totally describes how these girls are fixated on their appearance, not just clothes but in getting their nails done, how being asked to do household chores is like so beneath them. There is plenty of bitching about other people such as parents and even one of the school teachers. The valley girl life is so tough and they have so many first world problems to deal with. The use of slang here is to make these girls sound like they are not very bright and, sadly, very self-serving and vain.
This collaboration between Frank and Moon Zappa would prove to be his biggest hit and even earned a Grammy Award nomination. Ironically, the song popularised the stereotype of the San Fernando Valley girls being this way and a 1983 film of the same name, starring Nicolas Cage, further rammed the idea into the public consciousness. It was one of Zappa’s regrets that from a vast body of work this was one of the tracks he became best known for. He continued to record and perform into the 1990s but died from prostate cancer in 1993 at the age of 52. Today, more than 100 albums exist with Frank Zappa’s name on them. What an achievement. I mean, like, totally.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)