Was Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend Album Nearly Thrown Out By the Record Company?
February 27, 2012 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Is it true that Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend album was rescued from the trash and/or "discovered" by a record label administrative assistant?

I love Matthew Sweet and his Girlfriend album has since the first time I listened to it been on my top 5 all time records.

A friend and I were recently discussing the record and its sheer brilliance and he said "did you know that it almost didn't get released?" And he went on to tell a too-good-to-be-true story about how Matthew Sweet had recorded this record and sent it in, almost fully formed, to the label. But whoever was evaluating it just kind of dismissed it and put the tape on the pile to get junked. But by pure chance an administrative assistant took it from the pile, popped it in at her desk, and loved it. She listened to it all the time, and one day a label executive walking by stopped to listen for a minute and said "hey that's great stuff." The record was thus "rediscovered" by the label, polished up, and released. The rest is history.

I doubt that this story is true, but it was so specific and wonderful that I hope it is. And I wouldn't put it past a record company to miss on a record like that. But Google doesn't turn up much of anything about the genesis of the record.

Does anyone know of an account of how Girlfriend was recorded, reviewed/received by the label, and released?
posted by AgentRocket to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Actually, it seems that Sweet had at begun work on Girlfriend while still with A&M. He was released from A&M, the album was re-worked and re-titled, and ultimately released by BMG/Zoo Entertainment.

I haven't been able to find any other references to that tale, though. You'd think, what with the twentieth anniversary of the album, someone would have mentioned that in an article somewhere.
posted by brina at 4:06 PM on February 27, 2012

This article quotes Sweet saying "at the time I didn't think the record was even going to come out", but makes no mention of sudden discovery, trash cans, OR the record company problem brina mentions above, which you'd think would have made it into the article as part of his "dark times."

Metaphorically, the album did get picked up out of the trash, but it's definitely not how he got his start and if it had literally happened it probably would have been quoted somewhere findable.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:16 PM on February 27, 2012

Best answer: Looked for more on the label dustup. Found very little, but there was this:
"In 1988, he signed with A&M Records and recorded his second album, Earth. Produced by Fred Maher and released in 1989, Earth again featured Sweet as a one-man band, augmented by guitarists Robert Quine (Lou Reed, Richard Hell) and Richard Lloyd (Television). The album failed to make any impact, and A&M dropped Sweet as he was working on his third album in 1990. Over the next year, he earned money by touring as Lloyd Cole's guitarist while shopping a demo of his album to various labels, with little success. Eventually, the president of Zoo signed him upon overhearing the demo in an office. "
To be clear, Sweet had by then already done two solo albums, one on Columbia and one on A&M, but it does appear that he had to shop Girlfriend around.

Here's a link to another sketchy "making of" story:
"Beset by personal crises—a divorce from his wife of six years and a flood in his Princeton, New Jersey, home that destroyed his guitars and records—he was also forced to maneuver through record-company politics; although Inside received such accolades as three-and-a-half stars from Rolling Stone and Earth was singled out as a "Platter dJour" by Spin, Columbia Records chose not to distribute the latter, and when Sweet’s A&R representative left A&M Records, which had picked up Earth, that label dropped him. "The year before [Girlfriend] came out was really hard," Sweet told Musician, though this hardship apparently offered considerable inspiration to the struggling artist. "I thought I might have to find another career or get a job at the 7-Eleven," he admitted. But when Zoo Entertainment offered Sweet a deal to produce and distribute Girlfriend, in 1990, Sony, which had acquired Columbia, was smart enough to re-release Inside, and Sweet’s popularity took off."
posted by brina at 8:12 PM on February 27, 2012

Response by poster: I think brina's last answer does it. I found this, which says it was the Zoo president overhearing the demo in his A&R chief's office, after they'd already officially passed on the record. And the demo was a year old at that point.

So my buddy's story is partly true. It was a nearly finished record, shopped to labels after A&M dropped him, first rejected by Zoo, overheard by its president, and brought back to life. Though he made it a bit more fantastical with the garbage heap and the assistant.

Still, pretty cool.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:25 PM on February 27, 2012

At the time, Matthew Sweet was a guy who had already had a few records out on a few different labels, but had never really sold much of anything. From the perspective of a record company weasel, he seemed like a good guy to sign if you wanted to lose money &/or lose your job.

Also, remember that this was right about the same time that Nirvana was breaking through and all eyes were on Seattle. Got long dirty hair, a distortion pedal and a flannel shirt? Sign right here, young man! Umm, yeah... not so fast Mr. Sweet....

When you think about it in that context, it isn't really that weird to think that he would've had a hard time getting another record deal. But luckily, in the end it all worked out. It's a great record that has really stood the test of time.

Incidentally, if I recall correctly, I think it was originally called "Good Friend" and got changed to "Girlfriend" after Zoo picked it up.
posted by spilon at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2012

I believe it was originally titled "Nothing Lasts." The title was changed in order to get permission to use the photo of Tuesday Weld on the cover.
posted by neilbert at 12:47 PM on February 28, 2012

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