The Waitresses serve up their piping hot platter “I Know What Boys Like” on “Radio 1990″ (1983)

By on August 21, 2019

We’re taking another look at this April 13, 1983 episode of Radio 1990,” hosted by Lisa Robinson, who tells us in her introduction to the Waitresses’ piping hot platter “I Know What Boys Like” that the Akron, Ohio-transplants occasionally dropped by Gerdes Folk City in NYC’s West Village for their Wednesday night music series “Music for Dozens.” Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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Guitarist Chris Butler wrote the über-catchy new wave hit back in Akron, Ohio — home to Devo and the Pretenders — when he was still a member of  Tin Huey, who, in his words, were “an arty, high-concept combo.”

Butler was inspired by watching how the pretty girls at the Bucket Shop — a popular “after hours” joint in the urban Highland Square neighborhood — ignored him and his musician pals, usually going home with white-collar douchebags (usually attorneys) who gave them coke.

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The original working title was “Wait Here, I’ll Be Right Back” (it was released under that title on a 1980 compilation of Akron acts, Bowling Balls from Hell).

Butler — who was also a member of an experimental band called 15-60-75 — had written a lot of songs that Tin Huey turned down, but they did eventually end up playing this one at the end of some of their shows, after transforming themselves into “The Waitresses,” slipping on t-shirts emblazoned with “Waitresses Unite” across the front.

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Butler did record the song on a Teac 8-track in the basement studio of two local engineers, Mark Price and Rick Dailey.

Butler played all the guitar, bass and and Farfisa combo organ parts, while Dailey played the piano. Tin Huey’s drummer Stuart Austin and saxophonist Ralph Carney also played on it (the late, great multi-instrumentalist Carney later played with Tom Waits, the B-52’s, Elvis Costello and other artists of note).

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Butler needed a singer, so he went to a local bar called Walter’s at lunchtime and asked if anyone in the room was up for singing on the recording.

Patty Donahue — the girlfriend of 15-60-75’s drummer, and a former student at Kent State University, like Butler — volunteered on a lark.

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Patty’s sassy, half-spoken wry vocals — and her snotty nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah’s — fit perfectly with Butler’s song’s stop-and-go new wave rhythms.

Butler knew the song was, in his words, “just a piece of pop fluff,” but when Tin Huey split in 1979, he brought the recording with him when he moved to New York City.

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Read more about the Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like” below.

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One night, Chris Butler gave an acetate of “I Know What Boys Like” to Mark Kamins, a deejay at Danceteria, and the very next day someone at Island/Antilles Records called him to set up a meeting.

Kamins was hoping he’d get an A&R gig out of it (he later “discovered” Madonna, but that’s another story).

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When they asked to hear more songs, Butler told them his “band” were back in Ohio, but he quickly began hunting for musicians, finding a few Midwestern ex-pats in NYC.

Butler wrote a few more songs, including the eventual b-side, “No Guilt,” and the single was released on Antilles in the Spring of 1980.

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Calling themselves Chris Butler and the Stereos at first, Butler played a few NYC gigs, but when the single took off on college radio,  he realized he needed to put together a “real” band who could tour the country.

Butler also got in touch with Patty Donahue and sent her a $50 bus ticket for her to make the trip from Akron to NYC to join Butler, Dan Klayman (keyboards), Mars Williams (reeds), Tracy Wormworth (bass) and Billy Ficca (drums, ex-Television).

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On January 3, 1981, the Waitresses made their debut at Club 57 in the East Village, located at 57 St. Mark’s Place.

Ann Magnuson managed the club and hosted events, and Madonna, Keith Haring, Cyndi Lauper, Klaus Nomi, the B-52s, Joey Arias, and dozens more made Club 57 their regular hangout.

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The Waitresses now had a buzzing hit single, but they didn’t have an album.

Then, while the band were touring around the country, Antilles’ parent company Island lost their distribution deal with WEA.

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After a bit of a shuffle, the Waitresses first ended up on Ze Records, but then Ze lost their distro deal, and the band finally ended up on Polygram, who released their debut LP, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, on January 11, 1982.

“I Know What Boys Like” — promoted with a video featuring Patty Donahue holding with a cigarette between her fingers while she sang — didn’t even break into the Top Forty, peaking at #62 the week of May 29, 1982 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it became an ’80s classic anyway.

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The original Waitresses lineup also recorded and released an EP, I Could Rule the World, which gave them a second ever-more-minor hit, “Christmas Wrapping,” and they also did the theme song for the short-lived CBS sitcom “Square Pegs.”

They even appeared in the pilot episode, performing “I Know What Boys Like” at a school dance. The series lasted just one season and was reportedly cancelled because of the rampant drug abuse among the teenage cast (specifically the female actors).

Patty Donahue left the Waitresses in May of 1983 — her replacement, as seen in the band’s press kit photos, was former Holly & the Italians’ singer, Holly Beth Vincent — but she briefly returned to band in early ’84 again.

Donahue eventually ended up working in the music biz, landing a job at MCA publishing in NYC. Sadly, she died from lung cancer in 1996.

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Watch the April 13, 1983 episode of Radio 1990 on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.