One of the great things about the American version of new wave is that unlike it’s counterpart in England, it was often touched by funk. The nature of new wave’s syncopated rhythm suggested more than a bit of funk’s influence underneath. With American acts like The Talking Heads, B52s and Devo being closer to the originating source than their English counterparts, the funk was bound to be in the details.
What better place to start than Ohio. In the north eastern part of the state, Akron was home to some of new wave’s most interesting bands, foremost of them was Devo and the Pretenders. Another of Akron’s finest but lesser known acts was The Waitresses. They combined post punk sensibilities with new wave attitude and an occasional touch of funk. In fact the song “I Know What Boys Like” was captivating to teenage me was not because of its funny lyrics, but its girl bass player Tracy Wormworth who’s playing gave the band’s first hit some rhythmic swagger.
Wormworth would later go on to play with the Talking Heads (among others), but while with The Waitresses, she maintained a solid rhythm section on tracks like “Wise Up” and “Quit”. Although Chris Butler was the band’s leader and primary songwriter, it would be Patty Donahue who would be the sassy teen face of the band.
It’s was Butler’s smart writing and Donahue’s seasoned street smart delivery that set The Waitresses apart from the materialistic Valley Girl image being curated by bands like the GoGos. Some of that edge came via musical influences that went far beyond those of the Akron music scene.
The kind of start stop new wave pop was not limited to the occasional funk influence. Ska and reggae are actually more predominate as in the albums opener “No Guilt”. Stylistically, as an American band The Waitresses stuck out for their ska and reggae influences as much as funk. At the time (and consistently through the new wave era) these island influences seemed more a British thing, let alone one from a band based in Ohio.
For whatever reasons, The Waitresses did not last too long. With just two LPs and one EP of original material, they had a near hit with “I Know What Boys Like” right out of the gate, then scored a follow up holiday hit that same year with “Christmas Wrapping”.
Although not from Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, “Christmas Wrappings” was released the same year on the EP I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts and featured the band’s second hit.