The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Reissue Theory: The Waitresses

with 3 comments

Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on well-known albums of the past and the reissues they could someday see. The more-or-less official start of the Christmas season has us revisiting a band behind a popular modern holiday song and the other music they released in their brief but notable run.

“Bah humbug!/But that’s too strong/’Cause it is my favorite holiday…” Those first lines kick off one of the most unabashedly fun Christmas power-pop carols of the past 30 years, The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping.” The rapid-fire, sing-song vocals by lead singer Patty Donohue, the well-crafted lyrics by guitarist Chris Butler, the pulsating rhythm section and a saxophone riff so good you might wish the song could be played year-round.

For most people, “Christmas Wrapping” is one of three tunes the average person remembers from The Waitresses. The other, non-Yuletide offerings include “I Know What Boys Like,” another minor hit with a catchy melody, and the theme to the cult classic TV show Square Pegs. But, as you’ll find out, there’s a lot more to The Waitresses than those three great songs – and most of it’s never been released on CD, making it a perfect notion for a Reissue Theory post.

To help kick off a season of great music – and coverage of great holiday music at The Second Disc, for sure – we present a look at the complete discography of The Waitresses after the jump.

The Waitresses inevitably started with Chris Butler, a guitarist/songwriter who rose to middling prominence as a member of the band Tin Huey in the late 1970s. Butler began writing songs for a not-quite-real side project, in some ways intending to channel the spirit of the burgeoning New Wave scene that seemed to take Butler’s native Ohio by storm. (Akron gave birth to Devo as well as Chrissie Hynde, although she had left the States before forming The Pretenders.) Butler assembled a crack team of Midwestern and Northeastern session musicians to play along, including Billy Ficca, the drummer for Television; bassist Tracy Wormworth (who would tour with Sting and The B-52’s), keyboardist Ralph Carney (who later switched to his natural horn instruments as part of Tom Waits’ band in the late ’80s) and saxophonist Mars Williams (now part of The Psychedelic Furs).

But the linchpin to the band’s success was Patty Donohue, a sexy, uniquely-voiced singer that could go from a sweet, almost lilting tone to a punk-rock sneer. Her persona was never more evident than on “I Know What Boys Like,” in which she was clearly using her looks (and her unattainability) as a weapon. (That Butler could write so many songs for her point of view was stunning.) Eventually, the honchos at Ze Records took notice and signed them after a few compilation appearances (including one song, “Wait Here I’ll Be Right Back,” an early version of “Boys.”)

One of the first assignments at Ze was to pen a tune for A Christmas Record, a little holiday promo the label sent out. Mainstream listeners won’t recognize most of the names on the disc, other than proto-punk outfit Suicide and funk-dance masters Was (Not Was), making The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” far and away the most famed offering from the disc. It was 1982 that saw the band’s biggest brush with success, however; “I Know What Boys Like,” included on debut LP Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, scraped up the lower half of the Billboard Hot 100, leading the band to a job writing the theme to Square Pegs (a TV show about teenage girls in high school that not only predicted the rise of the likes of John Hughes but made an early mark on the career of the show’s star, Sarah Jessica Parker). That Christmas, “Wrapping” just missed the U.K. Top 40.

By all intuition, The Waitresses should have been on the rise, but the stresses of touring and infighting led to Donohue’s exit not long after the release of sophomore LP Bruiseology (1983), produced by Hugh Padgham (who’d produce The Police’s Synchronicity that same year). A brief stint with vocalist Holly Beth Vincent didn’t lead to much and the band soon broke up (though not before Donohue returned). Despite the premature demise of the band (and, sadly, its lead singer, who’d succumbed to lung cancer in 1996 after a quiet career in MCA’s A&R department), “Christmas Wrapping” remains a staple of holiday radio programming and “I Know What Boys Like” has been placed on countless ’80s compilations. Strangely, it’s only one of a handful of Waitresses tunes readily available on CD; Polydor issued a greatest-hits set in 1990 and an entry in the 20th Century Masters series, but neither Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? nor Bruiseology made it to CD. (Tomorrow made its iTunes debut in 2008 with “Christmas Wrapping” and an instrumental B-side as bonus tracks.)

In honor of one of the catchiest carols of the modern age, we present this theoretical look at how, say, Hip-o Select might tackle these albums and other tracks over two discs.

The Waitresses, I Know What Boys Like: The Complete Waitresses (Polydor)

Disc 1

  1. The Comb
  2. Slide
  3. Clones
  4. “Wait Here I’ll Be Right Back”
  5. Christmas Wrapping
  6. Astronettes (Love? You Must Be Kidding)
  7. No Guilt
  8. Wise Up
  9. Quit
  10. It’s My Car
  11. Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?
  12. I Know What Boys Like
  13. Heat Night
  14. Redland
  15. Pussy Strut
  16. Go On
  17. Jimmy Tomorrow

Disc 2

  1. Bread and Butter
  2. Square Pegs
  3. The Smartest Person I Know
  4. I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts
  5. Chopsticks/Square Pegs (Instrumental)
  6. A Girl’s Gotta Do
  7. Make the Weather
  8. Everything’s Wrong
  9. Luxury
  10. Open City
  11. Thinking About Sex Again
  12. Bruiseology
  13. Pleasure
  14. Spin
  15. They’re All Out of Liquor, Let’s Find Another Party
  16. Bread and Butter (John Luongo Extended Mix)
  17. Bread and Butter (John Luongo Dub Mix)
  18. Hangover 1/1/83

Disc 1, Tracks 1-2 from The Akron Compilation (Stiff Records GET 3 (U.K.), 1978)
Disc 1, Track 3 from The Waitresses in…Short Stack EP (Clone CL-006, 1978)
Disc 1, Track 4 from Bowling Balls from Hell (Clone Records CL-011, 1980)
Disc 1, Track 5 from A Christmas Record (ZE ILPS 7017 (U.K.), 1981)
Disc 1, Track 6 from Bowling Balls II (Clone Records CL-013, 1981)
Disc 1, Tracks 7-17 released as Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (Polydor PD-1-6346, 1982)
Disc 2, Tracks 1-4 released as I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts EP (Polydor PX-1-507, 1982)
Disc 2, Track 5 previously unreleased – heard in the closing credits of Square Pegs
Disc 2, Tracks 6-15 released as Bruiseology (Polydor PD-1-6367, 1983)
Disc 2, Tracks 16-17 released as Polydor promotional 12″ PRO-196, 1983)
Disc 2, Track 18 was the instrumental B-side to “Christmas Wrapping” U.K. single (ZE WIP 6821, 1983)

(For more reading on The Waitresses, check out this fan site and this feature article on Chris Butler from 2005.)

Written by Mike Duquette

November 26, 2010 at 14:16

3 Responses

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  1. saw the waitresses summer of 82 at magic mountain. first show, 3/4 full, second show…not so much. still fun though. “no guilt” is on my top 100 songs list. what a great sparseness in instrumentation & it’s flippant vocal line. second favorite…”it’s my car.” nice summariztion of a brief, but fun band.


    November 27, 2010 at 14:05

  2. Rumor in the mid-aughts had it that Hip-O was prepping a comprehensive Waitresses collection. In late 2005 they were (supposedly) saying that the project had been bumped to 2006.

    Dean Harris

    November 29, 2010 at 10:37

  3. […] Mike imagines what a complete Waitresses set on CD would look like – with “Christmas Wrapping,” of course. 11/29: […]

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