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Record Collecting For Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time

Record Collecting For Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time

by Courtney E. Smith


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Record Collecting for Girls is an invitation for all of you stereophiles (who happen to be female), to make your own top-five lists, and then, armed and ready with the book’s fun facts, to argue their merits to the ever-present boys’ club of music snobs in your life.” —Sarahbeth Purcell, author of Love Is the Drug and This Is Not a Love Song

You never leave home without your iPod. You’re always on the lookout for new bands, and you have strong opinions when it comes to music debates, like Beatles vs. Stones. For years, you’ve listened to guys talk about all things music, but the female perspective has been missing. Until now.

Drawing on her personal life as a music enthusiast, as well as her experience working at MTV and in radio, Courtney E. Smith explores what music can tell women about themselves—and the men in their lives. She takes on a range of topics, from the romantic soundtracks of Romeo and Juliet to the evolution of girl bands. She shares stories from her own life that shed light on the phenomenon of guilty pleasures and the incredible power of an Our Song. Along the way, she evaluates the essential role that music plays as we navigate life’s glorious victories and its soul-crushing defeats. Finally, here is a voice that speaks to women—because girls get their hearts broken and make mix tapes about it, too.

“Courtney Smith has smarts and sass in spades. Her insights are as hilarious as they are thoughtful, and when you finish reading this book, you’ll feel like you just got home from a perfect night out with your best friend. And you’ll want to listen to Prince. At full volume.” —Megan Jasper, Executive Vice President, Sub Pop Records

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547502236
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/06/2011
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 261,977
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Courtney Smith has more than a decade of experience working in the music industry. She left MTV after spending 8 years as a music programmer and manager of label relations, where she was one of the executives who decided which videos went into rotation on all of MTV's 20 music platforms. She specialized in grooming upcoming bands and has worked closely with Death Cab for Cutie, the Shins, and Vampire Weekend, among others.

Read an Excerpt


If you’ve read the book High Fidelity or seen the movie, even
just for the sake of John Cusack, then you’ve been witness to the
art of the Top Five list. Music nerds everywhere delight in making
Top Five lists of obvious, obtuse, and obscure records tailored
to every categorization of music you could possibly imagine. I
am one of those nerds. When my mind begins to wander, I think
about what albums I could listen to if I were stuck on a desert island.
(Usually this train of thought ends with the realization that
I’d hate any album by the sixth straight year of listening to it.) Instead
of counting sheep to lull myself to sleep, I make a list of all
the songs I can think of about masturbation. (There are a lot.) I
keep a running tab of what I think are my favorite songs right this
minute vs. my most-played songs in iTunes vs. what’s accrued at
the top of my most-played list. I can’t seem to stop myself
from obsessively thinking about music.
      I’ve always loved music, but I wasn’t always a music obsessive.
That started when I was a college student and worked at a radio
station in Dallas. I fell in with a group of music snob guys who
regularly debated topics like Blur vs. Oasis and whether Cat Power
was the cutest indie rock girl or just the craziest. The guys carried
on conversations as if they were characters straight out of High Fidelity,
constantly judging and ranking music. It was obvious they
believed Nick Hornby’s adage that what you like is what you’re like,
and they were judging people based on their musical taste. Girls
were generally dismissed from their reindeer games. I can’t even
tell you the number of times I’d heard them say obnoxious things
like, “Yeah, she’s hot, but she likes Alanis Morissette, so you know
she’s kind of an idiot.” I didn’t want to be one of those girls who
was so easily disregarded, so I faked being knowledgeable enough
to pass muster. After listening to them make and revise their Top
Five lists, probably hundreds of times, I developed a list of shortcuts
for making a Top Five artists list. As time went on I added
requirements of my own, and before long I had a cheater guide
that helped me narrow in on my Top Five. When I don’t have the
whole history of released music at my fingertips, it makes my listmaking
more manageable, and the guidelines force me to take an
analytical look at my music collection.
      These are strictly my rules, so if you feel like adding new criteria
or ignoring one of my standards to better reflect your own taste,
knock yourself out.
      Except #3. Do not ignore rule #3. You’ll see why.
The most important thing is that your Top Five list reflects
your favorites and not what you think someone wants to hear. Dare
to be uncool.
      Here’s my Top Five artists list right now:

1. Elvis Costello — British post-punk artist who
developed into a multi-genre music maven
2. R.E.M. — A thens, Georgia, college rock band that paved
the way for indie-to-mainstream success
3. Sleater-Kinney — Portland, Oregon, riot grrrl rock
band with a feminist agenda
4. Stevie Nicks — ’70s and ’80s songwriter with the
world’s most amazing stage costumes
5. Fiona Apple — the songwriting port in a world full of
breakup storms

 Here’s how I got there . . .

Rule #1: You must own all the full-length albums
released by any artist in your Top Five.

The exceptions to this rule: greatest hits albums and anything
you’ve deemed to be a low point in an artist’s career. I see no reason
to clog up your record collection with either. Completists everywhere
just hissed through their teeth at me, but why would you
own a record you don’t enjoy, or multiple copies of songs you already
have? For decoration? When music collecting becomes obsessive-
compulsive disorder, it’s time for a new hobby.
      I was late in discovering Elvis Costello, both late in my life and
late in his career. I think the first time I heard of him was when I
saw his video for “Veronica.” It was inexplicable to me in 1989, the
halcyon days of Debbie Gibson and Poison, why the video for “Veronica”
was on MTV so often. Costello seemed old even then, and
his video was set in a nursing home, so in my eyes it didn’t hold a
candle to Madonna’s video for “Express Yourself.” The video got
less airplay than Madonna’s, or even Paula Abdul’s, but he walked
away with the 1989 Best Male Video award for “Veronica,” because
respect for the man was due. (Paul McCartney co-wrote the
song, so double the respect.) The melody was catchy, but the lyrics
were a mystery, and I memorized them all wrong. I couldn’t figure
out what he was talking about, because the idea of a pop song
about an old lady with Alzheimer’s was unfathomable and unrelatable
to me at age twelve.
      After “Veronica” in my discovery of Elvis Costello came “Alison,”
which had actually been released twelve years earlier — yes,
the same year I was born. I grew to love this one while listening
to my parents’ Elvis Costello greatest hits album, and if you don’t
know it, I recommend you buy it immediately. His unforgettable
delivery of the line “My aim is true” is a knee-buckler — the sort of
bittersweet sentiment that I dream of a guy writing for me in some
tragic soap-opera scenario where we can’t be together.
      My family and I were big perpetrators of the Columbia House
scam. It was a great way to build a collection, considering that my
allowance was a mere $5 a week. We would all constantly join,
leave, and rejoin various mail-order companies that offered eight
albums for a penny if you bought three at full price. In college I
ordered The Very Best of Elvis Costello & the Attractions from one
of those clubs and found myself really getting into his clever lyrics.
His songs are so easy to fall in love with.
      I went to the next level of Costello fandom when I bought the
Rhino re-issue of This Year’s Model. It was in the dead of winter at
the beginning of 2002. I had recently moved into an apartment in
Brooklyn and was consumed by a long-distance flirtation with a
boy in a band who lived in Dallas. He mailed me a loaf of honey
wheat bread (which was impossible to find in New York City) and
a packet of forget-me-not flower seeds, and he called me on the
phone nearly every day. I was totally crushed out. A few months
later, when his band toured through town, he explained to me that
it all meant nothing, that he was just a flirtatious person, and suggested
we should just be friends. It was infuriating, and I hated
him for stringing me along. Listening to the first track of This
Year’s Model
, “No Action,” while stomping the cold, mile-long
walk from the subway through the housing project near my apartment
was the only time I felt like a rational, thinking person rather
than a girl who had been turned into a chump and who secretly
still had a little crush. It’s frustrating when someone treats you horribly,
but being a jerk back to them just doesn’t seem worth it. Instead
I pretended to be sternly nice and above it, but that farce left
me with a lot of anger to work out. Power-walking to a collection
of songs full of venom, vigor, and a dash of bitter longing got me
through that romantic humiliation and the feeling of annoyance
with myself for not telling him off. I didn’t get the guy, but I did
get Elvis Costello.
      I quickly became a devotee. I still get chills listening to certain
turns of phrase in his songs. His album When I Was Cruel came
out the next year, and I tumbled head first into obsessively listening
to it, dissecting it. I saw him live three times. I worked my way
through most of his catalog over the next five years, first focusing
on his pop albums with the hits. I still discover new songs to
love when I re-explore those albums. Next I delved into his collaboration
with songwriter Burt Bacharach, his classical compositions,
and even his British TV program scores. The man has a giant
back catalog of material, and I’ll admit I cheated and put him
on my Top Five list before I owned everything. I’m still growing
into some of his work. I expect when I get older and tired of pop
music, Elvis Costello will still have something to offer me. I’m not
sure I can say the same for anyone else on my Top Five list.
      Elvis Costello is my number one with a bullet because I want
to own all of his work and can’t get enough of listening to him.
That is how you should feel about the number one on your Top
Five. Number one becomes your family, your boyfriend, and your
comfort food. It’s indispensable.

Table of Contents

Record Collecting For Girls 1

Top Five Lists 5

Where Have All The Girl Bands Gone? 25

interlude. My Scrobble, Myself 43

Making Out With Romeo And Juliet 47

Guilty Pleasures 67

The Smiths Syndrome 85

Interlude: Give It to Me For Free 101

Are We Breaking Up? 103

The Next Madonna 110

Interlude Music Blogs Are Just Dadaist Conversation 139

Our Song, Your Song, My Song 143

The Death Of The Record Collector 157

interlude: Adventures In Second Life 173

Rock 'N' Roll Consorts 179

Beatles VS. Stones 197

Final note Down The Music K-Hole 213

Acknowledgments 225

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