The Waitresses' 'Christmas Wrapping' Song ('Couldn't Miss This One This Year'): The Backstory It's a short story about a woman who just wants to spend the holiday alone, from a band that had no interest in writing what would become a holiday classic.
NPR logo

Couldn't Miss This One: Behind 'Christmas Wrapping'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/372662676/372837255" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Couldn't Miss This One: Behind 'Christmas Wrapping'

Couldn't Miss This One: Behind 'Christmas Wrapping'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/372662676/372837255" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now to a Christmas song that started as a throwaway and has become a holiday favorite. Mark Uricky, from member station WCPN, has the story behind "Christmas Wrapping."

MARK URICKY, BYLINE: The Waitresses was a smart-aleck New Wave band born in the late 1970s in Akron, Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) I know what boys like. I know what guys want.

URICKY: Founder and songwriter Chris Butler recalls that one summer, the owner of their independent record label asked them to come up with a Christmas song.

CHRIS BUTLER: July, June of 1981, he came up - oh, wouldn't it be wonderful? Let's do a Christmas album with all our artists. Now, at the time, the artists were, like, Lydia Lunch, Alan Vega from Suicide, people you don't normally associate with warm, fuzzy Christmas feelings.

URICKY: Butler ignored the request. But by the fall, the owner was insistent.

BUTLER: 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. And we recorded it in, I think, two days, mixed it in one and then forgot about it.

URICKY: Because the band was on the road, touring behind its single, "I Know What Boys Like."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) I know what boys like. Boys like, boys like me.

URICKY: Around mid-November of that year, Butler phoned his girlfriend from the road.

BUTLER: And said hi, just checking in. And she said, oh, you are all over the radio. And I go, oh, great, you know, nine months of flogging "I Know What Boys Like." Finally it cracked a college radio ghetto and has hit, you know, mainstream radio. And she goes, no, no, it's your Christmas song... That?

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAITRESSES SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

URICKY: The Waitresses had to relearn the song so they could add it to their set list.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAITRESSES SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

URICKY: That was some work for lead singer Patty Donahue, who had to memorize almost 500 words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) Bah humbug - no, that's too strong 'cause it is my favorite holiday. But all this year's been a busy blur, don't think I have the energy to add to my already mad rush just 'cause it's 'tis the season. The perfect gift for me would be completions and connections left from last year.

URICKY: The song's title, "Christmas Wrapping," spelled with a W, was a spoof on Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" that came out a year earlier.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS RAPPIN'")

KURTIS BLOW: (Singing) Now I'm the guy named Kurtis Blow, and Christmas is one thing I know. So every year just about this time, I celebrate it with a rhyme.

URICKY: Chris Butler's song is a short story about a woman who just wants to spend the holiday alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) 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.

URICKY: "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. 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 iTunes albums this month in the U.K.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) Merry Christmas, merry Christmas, but I think I'll miss this one this year. Merry Christmas, merry Christmas, but I think I'll miss this one this year.

URICKY: John Goehrke of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says around three-quarters of its inductees have made a Christmas record. Goehrke says Christmas songs can have a lasting impact, no matter how silly.

JOHN GOEHRKE: 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.

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

GOEHRKE: 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 has sold more copies than "I Want To Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles.

URICKY: 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.

BUTLER: The fact that you get one at all is a gift. And I think I'd rather have that on my tombstone than, he knew what boys like. (Laughter).

URICKY: But for a guy who never liked Christmas much, he sounds pretty sincere when he says it's not just about the money.

BUTLER: I will be in a grumpy mood around the 23 of December. And I'll be at the mall buying something. And that song will come over the radio. And it just smacks me on the side of the head. It says, lighten up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) A&P has provided me with the world's smallest turkey, already in the oven nice and hot. Oh, damn. Guess what I forgot?

URICKY: For NPR News, I'm Mark Uricky in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING")

THE WAITRESSES: (Singing) That Christmas magic's brought this tale to a very happy ending.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.