Frank Zappa released 62 albums in his lifetime (many more appeared after his death), but "Valley Girl" is his only song to crack the US Top 40. Hearing him on playlists alongside Rick Springfield and Journey was shocking to Zappa fans, who were accustomed to his subversive tunes and caustic attitude toward mainstream music.
"Valley Girl" got the attention of radio program directors (Zappa's nemesis) as a quirky novelty song that listeners could easily digest. "'Valley Girl' is innocuous enough that they'll play it," Zappa said in Creem. "They figure everyone will just have a little laugh and that's it. No real information is conveyed. There is definitely an anti-information syndrome as far as radio is concerned. No real content is ever allowed on the airwaves anyplace."
The song makes fun of Valley Girl talk, an early '80s trend that started in California and led to teenage girls around the country saying things like "Gag me with a spoon." It pokes fun at what Zappa believed were spoiled rich girls living in the San Fernando Valley of California. Laraine Newman was doing variations on the Valley Girl character on Saturday Night Live at the time.
This features Zappa's daughter, Moon Unit Zappa, as the Valley Girl. She was 14 when they recorded it.
Moon was also an inspiration for the lyrics, as she would come home from bar mitzvahs repeating the Valley Girl talk she heard and covering topics like a grody English teacher and a place to get her toenails done. She got a co-writing credit on the song for coming up with many of the lines. Moon didn't consider herself a Valley Girl, but learned how to talk like one.
Leave to Frank Zappa to get a song on the radio that discusses S&M, albeit from the perspective of a girl who wants nothing to do with it. "Could you like just picture me in like a leather teddy?" she asks.
Moon Unit Zappa got a taste of stardom with this song, suddenly becoming very popular at school. In Creem, she said the kind of thing you would expect a 14-year-old girl with a flash of fame to say: "I don't want to be recognized. But I feel I know what it's like to be a handicapped person now. You know, when you go by someone in a wheelchair you kind of stay away."
Moon stayed in the corner of the public eye, making appearances as a VJ on MTV and showing up in various TV shows and movies. Her most famous role is playing Rusty's love interest in the 1985 film National Lampoon's European Vacation.
In 2000, a California man named Timothy Brownfield sent letters to the FBI threatening to kill Moon Unit Zappa because he thought she stole the lyrics from him.