The Waitresses were a unique New Wave group formed in Akron, Ohio. While theyre commonly thought of as a One-Hit Wonder in retrospectives, the Waitresses actually have two major contributions to pop music - their smirking, man-eating pop number "I Know What Boys Like," and a standard of Christmas Songs, "Christmas Wrapping."
While the Face of the Band was the sassy Patty Donahue, the group was masterminded by veteran songwriter Chris Butler. Hed been a sociology major at Kent State University, and was actually one of the students fired on by the Ohio National Guard in the infamous Kent State shootings in May of 1970 (the same incident that helped shape the band Devo into who they are today). Butler was in various groups through the 70s, such as the Numbers Band (a.k.a. 15-60-75), and by the time he was putting the Waitresses together, hed just endured the breakup of experimental new wave outfit Tin Huey, who Warner Brothers thought were going to be a big smash, but werent.
Butler had a song hed written from a womans point of view, "I Know What Boys Like," and he got a woman he met in a bar, Patty Donahue (who had no formal musical training to speak of, but had been a waitress once) to sing lead vocals, with former Tin Huey member Ralph Carney on saxophone. Shopping the recording he made to various labels, the song finally got the Waitresses signed by ZE Records (home of Suicide and Lydia Lunch). Normally, this would be a cause for celebration for any band, but therein lied the problem: the "band" didnt exist yet. Butler spent the last of his money on a bus ticket for Donahue to come to New York, and from there, they hastily arranged a band featuring unemployed New York musicians, featuring (among others) ex-Television drummer Billy Ficca and free jazz saxophonist Mars Williams.
With the Waitresses finally an actual band, they assembled an album, Wasnt Tomorrow Wonderful? which eventually wound up being released on Polydor Records. Butler wrote all their material, with a lot of slice-of-life content that he referred to as "hypernormalism," which was all put over by Patty Donahues half-spoken, half-sung, all-Deadpan Snarker vocals. The album peaked at #41, and the big single "I Know What Boys Like" reached #62 in America, while being a much bigger hit in Australia, hitting #14. They followed this up with an EP, I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts (the title taken from a Tin Huey track), notable for containing their theme song to the Cult Classic early 80s sitcom, Square Pegs. The EP also had the famous "Christmas Wrapping," a song Butler had thrown together from various scraps of songs he had lying around, that surprisingly got a lot of radio airplay and became their only charting song in the UK.
Things started going wrong for the band as the touring wore on, as tensions began to build up, and Patty Donahue left after the release of their follow-up album, Bruiseology, produced by influential producer Hugh Padgham. Chris Butler made an effort to get the Waitresses going again in 1983, and got Holly Beth Vincent, formerly of Holly and the Italians, as the new lead singer. Vincent bailed on the band after two weeks, so Donahue briefly agreed to come back, and the band were able to put out the EP Make the Weather before the Waitresses finally went their separate ways by the end of 1984.
The bands bassist, Tracy Wormworth, would go on to be an in-demand touring musician for such luminaries as Sting, Cyndi Lauper and more, plus a member of the house band on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, and a member of The B-52s since 1992. Chris Butler himself would produce some albums here and there for other artists, like the dBs and Joan Osborne, before he eventually went solo. Among his accomplishments is recording the worlds longest pop song, The Devil Glitch, in 1997, as well as a reformation of Tin Huey in the late 90s. Meanwhile, Patty Donahue moved behind the scenes for MCA and became a talent scout. Unfortunately, her heavy smoking habit caught up to her, and she passed away in New York City after a battle with lung cancer, in December 1996.
A live album, King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents the Waitresses, was released in 1997.
- Chris Butler guitar, backing vocals (19781984)
- Patty Donahue lead vocals (19801984, 1984; died 1996)
- Billy Ficca drums (19801984)
- Dan Klayman keyboards, organ (19801984)
- Mars Williams saxophone, reed instruments (19801984)
- Tracy Wormworth bass guitar, backing vocals (19811984)
- David Hofstra bass guitar (19801981)
- Ariel Warner backing vocals (19801981)
- Holly Beth Vincent lead vocals (1984)
- Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful? (1982)
- I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts (1982, EP)
- Bruiseology (1983)
- Make the Weather (1984, EP)
- The Best of the Waitresses (1990, Greatest Hits Album)
- King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents The Waitresses (1997, Live Album)
- 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Waitresses (2003, Greatest Hits Album)
- Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses (2013, Greatest Hits Album)
Tropes associated with the Waitresses include:
- Christmas Songs: The legendary "Christmas Wrapping," a stream-of-consciousness story about a stressful Christmas season, but with a Happy Ending.
- Deadpan Snarker: Patty, Patty, Patty. The way she sings "I Know What Boys Like" makes it clear she'd rather make a mockery of these stupid boys than get mixed up with any of them.
- Directionless Driver: The narrator of "It's My Car" spends the whole song bitching out one of these guys, because not only did he get lost, but he got lost driving her car.
- Everygirl: Patty Donahues charm was that while she wasnt any kind of polished vocalist, she had a relatable, personable charm that made her a charismatic frontwoman.
- Leaving You to Find Myself: "No Guilt" is about this trope paying off successfully. It's about a woman who becomes incredibly self-sufficient as she realizes that she doesn't need her now ex-boyfriend to take care of her after all.
- Lust Object: Deconstructed in "I Know What Boys Like" as said Lust Object is fully aware she's this trope, and just uses it to make fools of every guy that's after her.
- Male Gaze: Parodied in "Pussy Strut" where the song uses mathematics and physics to describe a girl's butt while she's walking.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: The Waitresses' brand of new wave is an odd mix of rock, ska and funk.
- Silly Love Songs: Butler intended the band to be an aversion of this trope.Butler: I never wrote love songs. That territory was already well-covered by better songwriters than me. I was more interested in day-to-day psychological and sociological themes and situations, natural dialogue, the common problems of daily life which had not been served by rock song lyrics. I took the term original song very literally, and strove to cook up new ways of writing lyrics and music.
- The Tease: "I Know What Boys Like" has the narrator bragging in a Deadpan Snarker tone about how much of a tease she is.I got my cat moves that so upset them
Zippers and buttons, fun to frustrate them
They get so angry, like pouty children
Denied their candy, I laugh right at them