For those only acquainted with the Waitresses through media play, their career likely consists of “I Know What Boys Like,” “Christmas Wrapping” and “Square Pegs.” The first was their lone U.S. chart success, bubbling up to #62, gaining video airplay on MTV and becoming the band’s icon. The second charted in the UK, and its inclusion on the compilation A Christmas Record gained it additional turntable action in the states. The third was the title theme for a short-lived television show that’s now become an ’80s nostalgia favorite, Their debut album, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, almost cracked the Top 40, a follow-up EP, I Could Rule the World if I Could Only Get the Parts, and LP, Bruisology, bubbled under the Top 100. Commercially, that was just about it, a small catalog over a few years, which makes the band’s longevity in listener’s memories all the more impressive.
The Waitresses grew out of an Akron, Ohio music scene that was spotlighted in 1978 by Stiff Records release of Devo’s “Be Stiff” and the multi-artist Akron Compilation. The latter featured three tracks by the Waitresses (“The Comb,” “Slide” and “Clones,” not included here) alongside several acts (Rachel Sweet, Tin Huey and Jane Aire) that would also get label deals. Songwriter Chris Butler was the engine behind both Tin Huey and the Waitresses, but vocalist Patty Donahue’s deadpan delivery gave the latter their signature sound. The Waitresses appeared on several more compilations (Bowling Balls from Hell, A Christmas Record and Bowling Balls from Hell II) and released “I Know What Boys Like” as an unsuccessful single in 1980 before stepping up to their 1982 debut LP. The LP showed Butler’s knack for writing in a 20-something female’s voice and Donahue’s convincing enactments to be a potent combination.
Butler wrote songs of women coming into their own; women gaining confidence, independence, introspection, wisdom, control and self-improvement, rather than girls wallowing in broken hearts, dependence or defeat. The group followed their first album with an EP that gathered together “Christmas Wrapping,” “Square Pegs” and its B-side “The Smartest Person I Know,” and added “Bread and Butter” and “I Could Rule the World if I Could Only Get the Parts.” The latter was a tight, ska-influenced live version of a song Butler had previously recorded with Tin Huey in a more Zappa-influenced style. Disc one closes with the funky, experimental instrumental “Hangover,” which had been released as the B-side of the 1983 UK reissue of “Christmas Wrapping.”
The set’s second disc opens with the group’s second and final album, continuing the self-empowered themes of their earlier releases, but with a darker, less naively buoyant tone. The group’s punchy mix of rock, ska, funk and jazz continued to read a line between almost-commercial pop and no-wave experimentalism. What becomes really clear is that the Waitresses were a lot deeper, musically and lyrically, than their novel hits suggested. Donahue left the band the following year and was briefly replaced by Holly Beth Vincent (late of Holly and the Italians), and though the former quickly returned, the band was essentially over by the end of 1984. Disc two adds remixed versions of “Bread and Butter” that were originally released as a DJ 12″. The two-disc set gathers together the band’s key releases, omitting only their pre-LP single, contributions to a few compilations, and a live set available separately from theÂ King Biscuit Flower Hour. For those who’ve made do with original vinyl that’s long since shown its age, this is the replacement you’ve been waiting for. [Â©2013 Hyperbolium]