Twelve Songs of Christmas

Chris Butler of The Waitresses

December 26, 2018

This week, I talk to Chris Butler of the 1980s’ band The Waitresses about their Christmas single, “Christmas Wrapping.” The band got enough interest and acclaim that they were asked to record the theme song for CBS’ 1982 high school sitcom Square Pegs, but the band never quite caught on in the way a lot of people thought they would. In 1981, The Waitresses were touring on the strength of their signature song, “I Know What Boys Like” when the one-off track they cut for Ze Records’ A Christmas Album, “Christmas Wrapping,” started to get attention. In 1983, it charted in England, and today it is better remembered than “I Know What Boys Like” and “Square Pegs,” and the song represents the new wave era when radio stations go to the all-Christmas format.

In our conversation, Butler talks about writing for Patty—Patty Donahue, The Waitresses’ singer, who died of cancer in 1996. Her distinctive sing/speak gave the band its identity because it made the band’s songs sound like natural extensions of her. He also spoke of his affection for XTC’s “Countdown to Christmas Party Time.” Unfortunately, the song is not for sale digitally and I don’t have it in my collection, so I couldn’t include it in the show. You can hear it here.

Earlier this fall, I interviewed saxophone player Mars Williams about his Albert Ayler Christmas project. Williams played saxophone with The Waitresses, and at the time we talked about his memories of “Christmas Wrapping,” including his decision to include it on Mars Williams Presents: An Ayler Xmas, Vol. 2. I have included a relevant excerpt from the Williams interview for this conversation on “Christmas Wrapping.”