The Waitresses: Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful? (1982)

One of the defining albums of the New Wave era, coming out smack dab in the middle of my musically-formative high school years. If you're making a movie or tv show and need to quickly establish that it's set in the .80s, just throw in "I Know What Boys Like." It's like "I Melt With You" or "Love My Way" or a few other songs that are instantly recognizable as associated with a specific point in time.

This isn't necessarily one of my favorite albums of the age, but it has a lot to recommend it. Guitarist/songwriter Chris Butler's fun, quirky lyrics that had a low-key feminist edge to them; the sly, conversational vocal style of the late, great Patty Donohue (alas, she died young from lung cancer, making the everpresent cigarettes in the videos a little tough to watch); music that drew heavily from ska, shades of Madness or the English Beat, with far more sax than synth, but with other offbeat New Wave signifiers (at times sounding more like fellow Ohioans Devo).

Obviously "Boys" is the centerpiece, an instant classic with a unique sound, a self-assured embrace of feminine power. I'll also be the first to admit that a little bit of this song goes a long way, and given its pop culture saturation it's a little too easily dismissed as a somewhat cloying novelty track, overlooking its more groundbreaking nature.

Fortunately there are plenty of other great songs that have not worn out their welcome. Opening "No Guilt" is a personal favorite, a declaration of post-break-up independence built on the small things:

I've been reading more and looking up the hard words/I met people who get me on the guest list/My parents said that they would help me pay for grad school...
I'm sorry but I don't feel awful/It wasn't the end of the world.  I'm sorry I can't be helpless/It wasn't the end of the world.
And there's "It's My Car," bouncy pop ska that deserved epic amounts of radio airplay, and the B-52s-like "Wise Up," both of which have playful call and response vocals and pair the distinctively 80s stylings with some truly clever musicianship. And the title track is another one that, even if you're hearing it for the first time, makes you feel like you're back in the early '80s living a scene in a John Hughes movie.

The band went on to produce another EP and full-length LP (the former including "Christmas Wrapping," the greatest Christmas song ever), which are at least as enjoyable as the debut, so the band is well suited for a compilation (of which there are many). Pure fun.

Here, of course, is "I Know What Boys Like":
...and a live take on "No Guilt":