Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review of The Waitresses' "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website just a little earlier tonight:

Review Summary: "Nice things.../Don't mean nothing, if they're dumping/Things that sting on you/Don't take that, honey!" - from "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?"

Nowadays, to the extent that The Waitresses are remembered at all, it's only for two songs: The novelty holiday song "Christmas Wrapping", which still gets plenty of airplay on '80s stations every December; and "I Know What Boys Like", their 1982 single, which has been featured in several film soundtracks over the years, and still gets play today as the background music in various TV commercials. During their heyday in the early '80s, they were also somewhat known for two other tracks: The theme song to the TV show Square Pegs (which gave Sarah Jessica Parker her first big role), and the jaunty number "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?", which got at least some airplay on American New Wave stations. "Christmas Wrapping" and "Square Pegs" are both on the 1982 EP I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts. The other two songs, however, are on this album.

The Waitresses were a post-punk band formed in Akron, Ohio in 1979 by guitarist Chris Butler. Their choppy rock sound was notable for their use of occasionally discordant saxophone, and especially for the playful vocals of Patty Donahue. Donahue's style was fairly unique: her vocals were usually half-spoken, half sung, and her persona was a mix of flirtatiousness, brattiness and world-weary feminism of the kind you'd expect to find from a gum-chewing truck stop waitress.

Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful? was The Waitresses first, and best, LP. This probably isn't setting the bar too high, considering that the band's entire output consisted of just two LPs and two EPs. Nevertheless, this is a pretty likable little album. It reached a peak of #41 on the U.S. Billboard charts in 1982, driven mostly by "I Know What Boys Like".

Musically, you wouldn't necessarily expect "I Know What Boys Like" to be a successful single. It's a slow song, driven by bass and jangly guitar, that's fairly repetitious throughout. It's carried by Butler's clever lyrics, and by Donahue's mischievous performance as the stereotypical schoolgirl "tease", who revels in getting the boys all hot and bothered, then laughing in their faces: "I got my cat moves/That so upset them/Zippers and buttons/Fun to frustrate them." 

Other songs find her playing an assortment of roles: The sympathetic confidant ("Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?"); the girl who thrives after the breakup ("No Guilt"); the annoying friend with the car who always gets you lost ("It's My Car"); and the stiff interview lady from the human resources department ("Wise Up").

The songs don't all work, but some are unknown gems. Especially strong are "Heat Night", which is probably the most upbeat and exciting song on the album; and "Jimmy Tomorrow", a song which might or might not be about how your ideals and goals get jaded when the real world intervenes. On this one, an increasingly frustrated Donahue gets repeatedly heckled by the rest of the band, and finally ends the song with the declaration, "My goals are to find a cure for irony and make a fool out of God."

You won't find The Waitresses on any of the '80s nostalgia tours making their way around this summer. This is because sadly, Donahue died of lung cancer in 1996, and, well, The Waitresses just wouldn't be The Waitresses without her. Few would cite them as one of the top bands of their era, but they definitely deserved at least a place at the table. Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful? gives you a good example of their charm.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars