Seeing how Bruce Springsteen’s greatesthits collection has ridden high on the charts for two months now since he released it, I guess he’s not looking for any career second-guessing from me, especially since it looks like, one way or another, something big’s about to happen with him.
The denials about a reunion tour with the E Street Band have gotten milder and milder lately as reports continue to leak about a possible late summer or fall tour.
Springsteen appeared on David Letterman’s show with the band a few weeks ago. But what’s not so widely known is that Springsteen and band performed a secret concert before the show that was videotaped and broadcast overseas. Besides old favorites such as “She’s the One,” the set included live versions of the new songs “Murder Inc.,” “Secret Garden” and “This Hard Land.”
It’s also been confirmed that Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemmons have dropped off Ringo Starr’s All-Starr tour for this summer. Apparently they’ve got something better to do.
The buzz has built to the point, though, that a group of promoters reportedly approached Springsteen’s management recently to find out exactly what he had in mind so that they could plan their concert season, according to Gary Bongiovanni from Pollstar, the concert trade magazine. No word on what the outcome was.
“They play their cards real close to the vest,” Bongiovanni said of Springsteen’s camp. “It wouldn’t surprise me if suddenly there were an announcement, with dates already booked.”
With the greatest-hits package in place, Springsteen could easily justify a tour playing the new songs along with old classics and rarely heard favorites. And there’s enough spare material in the can that he could likely put out three or four new albums if he chose.
As fun as such a tour would be, it kind of leaves you scratching your head. For a career that used to embody spontaneity, Springsteen sure been playing it safe in the past few years.
Bootleggers overseas have actually put together a couple of quick, easy career compilations that, on the whole, are a lot more interesting to stick in your CD player than putting in “Greatest Hits” to hear “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” yet again.
They also serve to remind how spontaneous and prolific Springsteen used to be.
The first of these discs is something Springsteen’s people should have done themselves.
“Another Side of Bruce Springsteen” on Italy’s Red Robin label compiles 19 B-sides and extra tracks that have been officially issued from 1980 through last year.
Even Prince, no longer His Royal Badness so much as King of Career Suicide, had the sense to put a third disc in his greatest-hits collection last year, compiling all those hard-to-find but oftenbrilliant songs, from “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” to “Shockadelica.”
Had Springsteen coupled an obscurities disc with his own greatest-hits piece, it would have stood up with any work he’s ever done. In his creative peak, his throwaways were stronger than most artists’ hit singles.
Singles from “The River,” “Nebraska,” “Born in the USA” and “Tunnel of Love” all featured nonalbum flipsides that were often stronger than some of the tracks that made the albums.
“Shut Out the Light” is one of his most vivid character studies, a look at a returning veteran that was filled with tiny details and haunting harmonies. “Be True,” “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” and “Two for the Road” are achingly beautiful love songs, written over the course of a decade.
“Roulette,” “Lucky Man” and “Part Man/Part Monkey” are the other side, three harrowing looks at society, love and isolation. Toss in highenergy romps such as “Pink Cadillac,” “Stand On It,” and “Viva Las Vegas” and you’ve got an album that’s as rich and varied as the legitimate greatest-hits piece.
You don’t have to depend on bootleggers to pull this together. You can track down all these cuts individually, in used record/CD shops, import stores, compilation albums and other places. But to get them all in digitally perfect sound like this, you’d have to spend more than $220 to collect all 19 songs; many were available in digital sound only on pricey imports or promoonly discs. Springsteen, on the other hand, could have issued this for about $10.
So even at bootleggers’ prices of $25, “Another Side of Bruce Springsteen” is a package well worth finding. And all in all, it’s easier to track down than one of the songs it contains - “Thirty Days Out,” never issued in the United States and near impossible to find in the import bins.
“Another Side” hasn’t been the only Springsteen item to keep disc makers overseas busy. Bootleggers also have reissued some classic Springsteen shows, including “Roxy Night,” a three-disc set of the complete July 7, 1978, broadcast from the Sunset Strip club.
The sound’s still radio-rough, but it’s truly one of his all-time classic performances with endless guitar solos on “Prove It All Night” and a lovely, acoustic piano rendition of “Independence Day.” It’s worth buying just to hear a startled Cynthia Fox, from the defunct KMET, quickly cut off the Eagles “Life in the Fast Lane” to go back to the Roxy. The show had ended, but Springsteen and band retook the stage for a final “Twist and Shout.” True glory days.