Far be it from me to herald so-called one (or two) hit wonders of the ‘80s, but damn it, the Waitresses were one fucking great band. You probably know them from a possible three most popular tunes: the infectious and trashy “I Know What Boys Like”, the always-popular holiday special “Christmas Wrapping”, or the ‘80s-out-the-wazoo sounds of “Square Pegs”. Who knew that Sarah Jessica Parker would have ever had a fashionable career after that dud of a show for which the latter tune was written?
But if anyone knows this writer, then they know how much I absolutely love anything by Chris Butler, songwriter and guitarist for the Waitresses. The man’s been having a bit of a renaissance of his own lately, touring madly with his latest group, the Cranks, behind his new album, The Museum of Me, a wondrous collection of tunes recorded entirely on various archaic machines throughout the history of recorded sound. But the Waitresses is where Butler first left his mark.
The Best of the Waitresses (The Millennium Collection)
(The Millennium Collection)
US: 18 Mar 2003
UK: 17 Mar 2003
This album is another in the long line of Universal’s 20th Century Masters—Millennium Collection series. While some critics like to balk at the majority of these discs (they are cheaply priced and seem to be a clearing house for every famous to semi-famous band that Universal has recently swallowed up), this Waitresses’ disc does a pretty damn good job of covering the high points from their career. The individual albums have been out of print for a while, so prior to this fans had to enjoy The Best of the Waitresses, which is on the PolyGram label, now one of those imprints being owned by the mighty Universal.
The track listings between the two releases are relatively the same, with this album containing 12 tracks versus The Best of‘s 15, but why quibble? Lead singer Patty Donahue provided the perfect voice for Chris Butler’s feminine side. After all, this was nothing new. Even Madonna’s huge hit “Like A Virgin” was penned by a couple of virile males. Yet it seemed that Butler did indeed have a certain knack for writing tunes that sounded great sung by women (for further proof, dig the Kilopop! album Un Petit Gouter that he released not so long ago on his own Future Fossil label, featuring the lovely Carla Murray on lead vocals).
So, yes, if you’re an ‘80s nut then by all means buy this album for “I Know What Boys Like”. But also buy it for the genius that lurks behind the other, perhaps semi-forgotten tracks, like the cleverly titled “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?”, the snarky “No Guilt”, and the tasty “Thinking About Sex Again”. After all, this was the band who offered up such tempting morsels as “Pussy Strut” on a normal day. For straddling the New Wave/Trash Pop genre, there was no one better than Chris Butler.
The group disbanded after releasing Bruiseology (the title track from which can be found here), and sadly, Patty Donahue succumbed to cancer in 1996. Yet this collection demands a serious look back at the Waitresses. Talent was furious in this group, be it in Butler’s guitars, Tracy Wormworth or David Hofstra’s bass work, Billy Ficca’s drumming, or Dan Klayman’s keyboard stylings and Mars Williams’s sax excursions. The proof really is in the pudding here, clichéd as that may be. It just goes to show that behind a lot of these “one hit wonders” there was often a morass of skill and terrific songs and songwriting that was ignored. Such was the case with the Waitresses. Will this collection make a difference? Who knows? But the enjoyment can easily be yours for a small fee. Don’t pass this one up.