I Know What Boys Like

Album: Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful? (1980)
Charted: 62
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  • Lyrics
  • This song was written by Chris Butler, who at the time was a member of a popular Akron, Ohio band called Tin Huey. He got the idea for the song when he and the band's drummer Stuart Austin were at a local bar called The Bucket Shop. Chris noticed that the ladies at the bar were giving their attention to the lawyers and other white-collar types while ignoring the lowly musicians.

    "I got into this mindset, and it wasn't a pretty one," Chris said in our interview. "It was about women in a bar situation wheeling and dealing their wares, so to speak, for the highest bidder. And I was definitely the lowest bidder."
  • Chris Butler recorded a demo of this song (with him singing) hoping his band Tin Huey would record it. When he played it for his bandmates, however, they were incredulous, believing the song was nowhere near their standards. He put the song away, but revived it when he reconnected with Patty Donahue, who he know when they were students at Kent State University. He convinced Patty to sing on a new demo of the song, which he put together at the home studios of two local engineers, Mark Price and Rick Dailey.

    Again, he presented it to Tin Huey, but with a twist: Chris proposed that at the end of their sets, they bring Patty up on stage to sing it, with the band transforming into a different act called "The Waitresses." The band went for it, and the bit became a staple of their shows. At the end of their sets, the band would put on T-shirts that said "Waitresses Unite" (Chris got them at a Kent eatery called Jerry's Diner) and Patty would join them for a few songs, including "I Know What Boys Like."

    It was all a joke, but it went over very well, so Chris decided to turn The Waitresses into a real group. He and Patty moved to New York City and assembled a band that included drummer Billy Ficca and bass player David Hofstra. They released "I Know What Boys Like" as a single in 1980, but it went nowhere. The group got a deal with Polydor, however, and included the song on their 1982 debut album Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?, re-releasing it as a single that same year - this time it charted at #62 in the US. The Waitresses lasted just a few more years and never had another chart hit in the US, although their 1981 song "Christmas Wrapping" became a holiday mainstay.
  • Ralph Carney, who was also a member of Tin Huey, played saxophone on this track. His nephew, Patrick Carney, is one half of The Black Keys, another Akron band.
  • The song was conceived with a more straightforward vocal sound, but lead singer Patty Donahue didn't have a strong singing voice, so Chris Butler had her do it in more of a spoken word style, which became the group's signature sound.

    This singing style also accommodated Butler's songwriting technique of cramming lots of words in his compositions. "I think it was kind of endearing, it was very one-on-one," he told us. "It gave me the opportunity to come up with a writing style where it's a one-sided conversation where you assume that the other person is listening and contributing. I didn't know it at the time, but we definitely came into an interesting technique that I think other singers have used."
  • Lead singer Patty Donahue was essentially acting when she performed for The Waitresses, and Chris Butler's lyrics were her scripts. They considered her a character: a tough, working-class girl with big dreams.
  • Between this song's first release in 1980 and it's second in 1982, MTV went on the air. The network had very few videos, and while the "I Know What Boys Like" clip didn't have tremendous production value, it had the captivating Patty Donahue and a band with the modern, new wave look. "The mainstream of American pop music was flannel shirts and long hair," Chris Butler told us. "This whole new wave thing was all nice and crisp and neatly dressed, and all of that was novel and new. And thankfully, it did look good on camera."
  • A new version of this song was used at the end of the 2008 movie The House Bunny, in a scene where the sorority sisters make a video to the song. It was sung by the stars of the film: Katharine McPhee, Emma Stone, Rumor Willis, Kat Dennings and Kiely Williams.
  • This song got a lot of attention when it was used in the 1982 film The Last American Virgin. It has also appeared in the movies I Was a Teenage Zombie (1987), Shoot or Be Shot (2002) and Another Gay Movie (2006). TV shows to use the song include The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives, Glee, Nip/Tuck, Ugly Betty, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Californication.
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