The Waitresses

TrackAlbum
SlideThe Akron Compilation
I Know What Boys LikeWasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?
Wise UpWasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?
Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?
Go OnWasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?
Heat NightWasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?
Christmas WrappingI Could Rule The World ... EP
Square PegsI Could Rule The World ... EP
Thinking About Sex AgainBruiseology
They're All Out Of Liquor,
Let's Find Another Party
Bruiseology

The Waitresses photo 1

The Waitresses (1982) (l to r): Dan Klayman (keyboards), Billy Ficca (drums), Chris Butler (guitar), Tracy Wormworth (bass), Mars Williams (sax), Patty Donahue (vocals)

 

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Waitresses playlist

 

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

There is a phenomenon in American music, at least in the 1980s and early 90s, that I’ll call the MTV Effect. The MTV Effect results in songs that were minor, or perhaps not even, hits, being remembered as pretty sizeable hits because they were in frequent rotation on the 24 hour video music channel.

The Waitresses were one of the bands that felt the MTV Effect. Not that they weren’t a great band during their short life span. But because of their MTV play they are remembered as being a bit bigger than they were. Which isn’t near as big as they should have been.

Regardless, a good band whose catalogue deserves being dug into.

The story of the Waitresses started during lunch one day in the 1970s in Kent, Ohio, during a conversation between Chris Butler and Liam Sternberg. Butler was the first, and for a while only, Waitress, and his friend Sternberg went on to find success as the songwriter of tunes like the Bangles hit Walk Like An Egyptian, and the theme for the 21 Jump Street television show.

Butler at the time was playing in the criminally underrated Numbers Band (aka 15-60-75). And while he loved being in the band, he was chafing a little bit at not being able to really run with his own ideas. And as playing in the Numbers Band didn’t leave time for a side project, the idea of coming up with a fake band to play around with his ideas emerged during that lunch in Kent. Sternberg, liking the idea of a fake band as well, decided on calling his band the Belvederes. Which also eventually also evolved into a real band called Jane Aire and the Belvederes.

Butler released a 45rpm on Clone Records called Short Stack in 1977. At the time he had moved on to being a member of Tin Huey, but still ran the Waitresses as somewhat of a solo project. Short Stack had the songs Clones and Slide on it. The latter he rerecorded with Tim Huey for their 1979 release on Warner Brothers.

In 1978, Butler’s Waitresses placed three songs on Stiff Records The Akron Compilation. The two songs from Short Stack and The Comb. Combs eventually played a significant part in the band’s history.

At some point Butler decided a new song he had penned, I Know What Boys Like, required a female singer. As he recalls he was at yet another place in Kent when he got up on a chair and announced he needed a female singer to go into the studio with him to cut some tracks. A voice from the back of the bar announced herself, and Patty Donahue entered the picture. But then Tim Huey splintered after Warner Brothers decided not to release their second album, and Butler moved to New York. While there he shopped around some of his music, and one label felt I Know What Boys Like had ‘big hit’ written all over it. He stalled them by telling the label his band was back in Ohio waiting for him to make a deal. So he called up Donahue, told her to get to New York, and then actually put together a band that became known as The Waitresses. For a couple years they did OK, and it seemed that they were about to pop a few times, until internal strife eventually ended the band’s short run.

Their first song on my list is from when the band was really just Chris Butler and whoever he may have had in the studio with him at the time. Slide, which appeared both on the 45rpm Short Stack and The Akron Compilation album, in 1978. It’s probably as funky as any incarnation of the Waitresses ever got, and just a fun song. Butler also recorded it when he was with the band Tin Huey, and it appeared on their Warner Brothers album Contents Dislodged During Shipment in 1979. It’s also a great version. But we will start with that one.

The next would be the song the band is most remembered for. A song that also was originally recorded before the actual band was formed. He had recruited Donahue along with others for the demo session. One of those being his Tin Huey bandmate Ralph Carney, who eventually became Tom Waits’ long time sax player, spent a couple years with the B-52s and appeared on countless albums over the years.

Other Tim Huey members as well as some significant members of the Akron musical community played on the single I Know What Boys Like. After shopping it in New York, and being signed on the strength of it, Donahue came to New York to join him. Carney however had other engagements and suggested saxophonist Mars Williams. Danny Klayman was a fellow Akronite already in New York. David Hofstra, Ariel Warner and Billy Ficca eventually filled the band out. Ficca had been the drummer of Television, who Tin Huey had opened for at CBGBs in New York. It was released as a single in 1980, and again as a single from the band’s first album in 1982. It didn’t break into the top 40 in the U.S. or U.K., although it did in other countries. It was on fairly constant rotation on MTV and is thought of by many people from the era as a major hit. It wasn’t, but it’s a great song.

It was a couple years before the band finally released an album. I Know What Boys Like appeared on Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (1982). AllMusic calls the album “a unique and fairly important moment in early 80s new wave”. The site comments that “lead singer Patty Donahue’s singing ranged from playful sexiness on the well-known hit I Know What Boys Like to a half talk, half yell with shades of post-punk” on other tracks. It’s interesting that such a well-known music site assumes the song was such a big hit.

Wise Up from the album starts with a great sax intro, and while Donahue handled the majority of vocals, Butler also contributed his fair share of vocals to the song. Although it isn’t technically what you’d call a duet. Butler, who also co-produced the album and wrote all the songs, contributed some nice guitar licks. It’s a great tune and quite a bit different in cadence than some of the other songs on the album.

Where Wise Up opened with a great sax bit, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? led with drums. Just as good, just as effective as on opener. It employed Klayman’s keyboards more than most songs by the band, showing their dexterity. The music was a collaborative effort; everyone in the band stepping up at some point on their debut album.

Go On took a slight turn into punk as opposed to new wave. And I mean slight, I know some had/have reviewed it as a more significant turn but I see it as the band just giving one of their songs a bit more edge than usual.

Heat Night had a great intro, Donahue’s vocal didn’t start until she yelled STOP around :50. Instead the band let it out and rocked it up a bit, demonstrating what a good tight outfit they were. Too often new wave/punk bands weren’t known for being that tight. The Waitresses were.

1982 saw some changes in the band as Warner and Hofstra left. Actually Hofstra left during the recording of the debut album. He was replaced by Tracy Wormworth, who went on to play bass for the B-52s. Supposedly one of the band members saw Wormworth walking down the street with a bass and asked her to tryout. If true, it worked out for both parties.

Late 1982 saw the release of a five song EP, I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts, that contained a few songs they recorded for other projects. Christmas Wrapping was cobbled together and written in a cab on the way to a recording session for their label’s Christmas album. Chris Butler and the band, who were on a tour and trying to break into the mainstream, had completely forgotten they had agreed to do it. Butler wasn’t really that happy to be pulled away from everything else to record a Christmas song in August but he did. It was well received but didn’t chart off the Christmas album released in 1981. But when they released it off their own EP in 1982 the song they didn’t really want to do became their biggest charting single. The Daily Telegraph called it “one of the most charming, insouciant festive songs ever.” AllMusic calls it one of the best Christmas songs ever. Dave Buck who was playing trumpet along side Carney in the B-52s joined the band for the single.

And although it was their biggest chart single, the song that was probably heard by the most people was the theme for the U.S. television program Square Pegs. The television show only lasted one season, though long rumored to have been cancelled for reasons other than ratings, its theme was broadcasted into millions of American living rooms every week over 20 episodes. The band also appeared in the pilot episode. And of course much like Christmas Wrapping, Butler wrote the song the night before they recorded it.

Early 1983 saw the release of the Waitresses’ second full length album, Bruiseology. The band was already in conflict, which would lead to them breaking up a year later. But they still managed to wring out a few good tunes from the album while not coming close to the overall quality of the first effort.

Thinking About Sex Again started out by seemingly trying to pattern itself after the playful sexiness of I Know What Boys Like, but as the song went on it clearly had no intention of being a bouncy pop hit. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I swear I can hear the anger of a band breaking up.

They’re All Out Of Liquor, Let’s Find Another Party anchored the album, and in some ways it was some of the last new music you’d hear from the band. A little more of a rocker than I usually think of when I think of the Waitresses. It’s a good way to wrap things up.

Some infighting over the direction and makeup of the band ramped itself up in 1984 to the point Donahue was replaced for a few gigs, and might have stayed replaced if the band’s new singer had kept showing up. A reconciliation quickly followed, but that perhaps wasn’t the best idea as it didn’t last.

Most of the band members had continued success after the band broke up. Patty Donahue unfortunately died of lung cancer in 1996. Most U.S. children of the 1980s can name a couple Waitresses songs and remember them as sizeable hits. Even though they really weren’t. But they should have been.

 

The Waitresses photo 3

Patty Donahue (1956–1996)

 

 

The Waitresses photo 3

The Waitresses (1984) (l to r): Billy Ficca, Tracy Wormworth, Mars Williams, Holly Beth Vincent, Chris Butler, Dan Klayman

 

The Waitresses – informative website

Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses 2xCD

Chris Butler’s website

The Waitresses biography (iTunes)

Calvin Rydbom’s latest book is “The Akron Sound: The Heyday Of The Midwest’s Punk Capital” published in 2018 by The History Press. He is the vice-president and archivist of the “Akron Sound” Museum and vice-president of freelance archiving firm Pursue Posterity. He has published a number of music-related articles and was elected to the Society of American Archivists steering committee on recorded sound before being promoted to website liaison. Some of Calvin’s other toppermosts are on the Dead Boys, Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels and Tin Huey all from Ohio. He has also written about many non-Ohio acts for this website including Billie Holiday, Gene Clark and Thelonious Monk.

TopperPost #799

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jun 26, 2019

    “Boys like, boys like, me.” A wonderful statement of rock and roll with the perfect amount of snark and sass. Enjoying the other 9 tracks too.
    Also ‘I know what boys like’ got fairly high rotation on my local radio station in rural New South Wales, around 450 kms NW of Sydney. And we didn’t have MTV. I can’t remember if it was a hit (at least local top 40) in central western NSW. But the programmer of the local station clearly liked it. (We only had 2 stations).

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Jun 27, 2019

    Nice job! I didn’t know that Holly Beth Vincent was in the latter day Waitresses, post-Tell That Girl To Shut Up / Holly and the Italians.

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