NE Ohio Band The Waitresses Score a Christmas Favorite

The Waitresses was a smart-aleck New Wave band born in the late 1970’s in Akron, a kind of off-shoot of the band Tin Huey. Founder and songwriter Chris Butler recalls that one summer the owner of their independent record label ZE Records asked them to come up with a Christmas song.

“He came up in July..June of 1981 and ‘Oh wouldn’t it be wonderful, let’s do a Christmas album with all out artists. ‘ Now at the time the artists were Lydia Lunch, Alan Vega from Suicide, people you don’t normally associate with warm fuzzy Christmas feelings.”

The band was busy so Butler ignored the request. But by the fall, the owner was insistent.

“I took a little bit of this half-written song, a little bit of this half-written song and wrote kind of a short story and we literally put it together at the last minute had a couple rehearsals. We recorded it in I think 2 days, mixed it in one, and then forgot about it.”

Butler expected the song to be throw away so he included the year -1981 –in the lyrics. The six piece band went back on the road, touring behind their single “I know What Boys Like.”

By mid-November the six-piece band was pretty tired and still on the road when Butler phoned his girlfriend.

“I called home to my girlfriend and says ‘Just checking in’ and she said ‘Oh, you’re all over the radio!’ I go ‘Oh great finally. 9 months of flogging “I Know What Boys Like.” It cracked college radio ghetto and has hit Main St radio.’ And she goes ‘No, no.It’s your Christmas song.’ Whaaa, That?!”

The band had to relearn the song so they could quickly add it to their shows, playing it first in Rochester. That was some work for lead singer Patty Donahue who had to memorize almost 500 words in the short story about a woman who just wanted to spend the holiday alone.

"So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise up cups of Christmas cheer,
I just need to catch my breath,
Christmas by myself this year. . .."

Annual Sales

Christmas Wrapping sold especially well in the U-K. and in 1998 the song got a big boost when the Spice Girls recorded a version – with that year’s date. Since then it’s been covered by the children’s group Kidz Bop and performed on the TV show Glee. It’s also on one of the top I-Tunes albums this month in the UK, a Christmas compilation that includes fellow Akron musician Chrissie Hynde and her Christmas song 2000 Miles.

Yes rock stars aren’t afraid to make Christmas records. John Goehrke of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says around three-quarters of its inductees have made a Christmas record. Goerhke says Christmas songs can have a lasting impact, even if the ones sung by rodents..

“If you were 6 years old and the first record you got was the Chipmunks Christmas Album I guarantee, if you heard it today, no matter how old you are, it would actually hold a special place in your heart.”

And they continue to sell year after year, says Goehrke, in a window of only about six weeks around the holidays.

Five of the top 20 all-time best-selling singles are Christmas records. Mariah Carey “All I Want for Christmas is You” from ’94 - that’s in the top ten. That has sold more copies than “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles.

For his part, Chris Butler says he certainly can’t live off of his song “Christmas Wrapping” but he does get a nice little annuity from the seasonal hit.

“I know I’ve done better work and things that I care about a lot more. But the fact that you get one at all is a gift." And Butler laughs "I think I’d rather have that on my tombstone than ‘He knew what boys like.' "

Giving Back

For a guy who never liked Christmas much, the Cleveland native sounds pretty sincere when he says it’s not just about the money.

“Because I will be in a grumpy mood around the 23rd, 22nd 20th of December. And I’ll be at the shoe store in the mall buying something or whatever and that song will come over the radio and it blind-sides me. And it just smacks me on the side of the head and says ‘Lighten up.’”

So for the past 2 decades Chris Butler has presented his Wrappie Award to the first person to hear his song played in public after Thanksgiving. He makes a $100 donation in that person’s name to the Children’s Library in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he now lives.

"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
Couldn't miss this one this year!"

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