by Jeff Niesel
Known for new wave hits such as “I Know What Boys Like” and “Christmas Wrapping,” the Waitresses were one of the most significant bands to emerge from the same Akron scene that produced acts such as Devo and Tin Huey. Now, Omnivore Recordings has just reissued the band’s first two albums, 1982’s Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? And 1983’s Bruiseology as part of the double disc set Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses. Each disc comes with a couple of bonus tracks. The songs have all been remastered and sound terrific. Even the band’s Chris Butler, who spoke about the project via phone, is impressed with the sound quality.
“I’m not like Norma in Sunset Boulevard who watches her loops over and over,” he says. “I don’t listen to this stuff. But I listened to the mastering. I agree it does sound really good. They did a good job.”
While the band is associated with Akron where Butler first started rehearsing at the house of friend Rick Dailey, the group really hit its stride later when Butler moved to New York.
“New York was wonderful,” he says. “There were all kinds of scenes. Latin was huge. Hip-hop was starting in the Bronx. There was still a rock scene. You could get work in New York on the club scene. I didn’t want to be in a band. That fried me. When Island Records wanted to do the single of “I Know What Boys Like,” they needed a b-side. [Singer] Patty [Donahue] was in Akron. I wired her my last 50 bucks so she could get on a bus, and I had met some musicians who were also from the Midwest. We have a good work ethic because we wanted to go to New York. We recorded the b-side, which was “No Guilt.” That became the Waitresses first official single. It did well. They wanted an album and Patty and some of the players I had been playing with wanted to give it a shot. We were of the era. And we were skinny tie. I would like to think we stood apart and were individuals, but we were part of a scene and it was a wonderful New York scene.”
One song — the loopy instrumental “Hangover 1/1/83” — has never before appeared on CD. It was originally released as a b-side for a single for the UK. "I came up with this thing with three basses and a snare drum crashing in Rick [Dailey’s] basement and Rick playing his Telecaster out of tune," says Butler. "We had an old string clavinet keyboard and we came up with this goofy thing and I thought it was in the grand tradition of a throwaway b-side.”
Butler admits the thing that stood about the Waitresses was the late Patty Donahue. While she spoke more than she sang, her voice just dripped with sarcasm, and she sounded cool as hell.
“She sounded like a real person,” Butler explains. “I might have written a script for her, but it was her delivery. The things I would write were like one-sided conversations, the other person being the audience. She was a naturally talented actress and a smart and funny woman. Plus, she had some rough times. She liked the same old movies I did from the 1930s. She liked the movie stereotype of a tough but tender character. She was not a belter singer but there’s a long tradition of good talkers who tell stories and aren’t really singing. She was endearing and I was really inspired and stimulated by what she could do. She sounded like somebody’s big sister.”