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

by Courtney Smith

Former MTV music programmer and MTV blogger Courtney E. Smith delivers a humorous and edgy look at the world of music from the female perspective.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547502236
  • ISBN-10: 0547502230
  • Pages: 240
  • Publication Date: 09/06/2011
  • Carton Quantity: 24

About the book
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
About the author
Courtney Smith

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.



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 littl...

"Girl music nerds have been debating Beatles versus Stones and curating their collections for as long as male music snobs, but that perspective has been on low rotation; hail, hail, Courtney E. Smith’s Record Collecting for Girls, a mix tape of female rock history, playlists for getting busy and coping with heartbreak, and essential info such as how to decode a dude’s CD collection (Yo La Tengo = romantically hapless; Leonard Cohen = asshole)." —Vanity Fair


"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. Full volume." —Megan Jasper, Executive Vice President, Sub Pop Records


"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 "Insightful and hilarious...Smith easily blends her own musical coming-of-age narrative with rock history...This is a book for anyone whose day has a soundtrack and for whom music reigns supreme." —Publishers Weekly

"A melodious road map...There is much here that is both interesting and infomative." —Kirkus