Springsteen's Holding Out On Country, Hip-Hop Discs

As his fans enjoy new, 66-song archival set, rocker tells Time about still-unreleased projects.

Even as his fans are just digging into a mother lode of previously unavailable Bruce Springsteen songs, courtesy of his recently released 66-cut Tracks retrospective, the Boss says he's got albums of hip-hop, country and other, more typical material still in the vault.

In the Nov. 16 issue of Time magazine, Springsteen reportedly said he was holding on to new albums of acoustic and electric songs, as well as a country album and -- in what surely comes as the biggest surprise to many -- a collection of hip-hop-influenced work.

"He's so prolific that he can just have an inspiration and, I'm sure, go in his room and write a great song every day," said Ed Thacker, a producer who mixed 35 of the songs on Tracks, the four-CD collection that stretches back 26 years. "Everybody I've talked to who's recorded with Bruce has always said that. When he's on a roll, it's just so easy."

While the notion that blue-collar songsmith Springsteen -- the quintessential American rock 'n' roller and an acclaimed folk artist as well -- has made almost a full album of hip-hop-flavored work might be jarring to some fans, it's less startling in light of the fact that his Oscar-winning 1994 song "Streets Of Philadelphia" (RealAudio excerpt) was awash in hip-hop influence.

Springsteen told Time writer Christopher John Farley that he recorded other hip-hop-inspired work around that same period. "I got together a lot of samples and loops and started to put this album together," the magazine quoted him as saying. "It was fun; I enjoyed doing it, but I needed two or three more songs, and for some reason, I never got around to writing them. So I put it away."

The 49-year-old rocker also was quoted as saying he'd finished an album of "roots country and West Texas swing music" at the same time he recorded 1995's folky The Ghost Of Tom Joad album, which features the eponymous title track (RealAudio excerpt).

The idea of the Boss working with booming beats "could be fascinating," Chris Phillips, editor of the Springsteen fanzine Backstreets, said. "When you think about 'Streets Of Philadelphia,' it's not as crazy as it sounds. Obviously that song did better than anything else he's done in a while."

If Springsteen were to release his own hip-hop-style album, he wouldn't be the first roots-oriented musician to dabble in the electronic arena. Earlier this year, Robbie Robertson, the former guitarist for the Band, issued the electronica-influenced Contact From The Underworld Of Red Boy -- which featured the song "The Code Of Handsome Lake" (RealAudio excerpt). Robertson was assisted by techno producer Howie B., who also worked with Irish rockers U2 on the dance sounds of their Pop (1997) album. More recently, heartland singer John Mellencamp issued a self-titled disc with hard dance grooves on the song "Break Me Off Some."

"Bruce is very aware of what's going on around him and in the world," Thacker said. "He's not isolated at all. He's influenced by the same kind of musical trends that find their home in various artists' repertoire."

Despite Springsteen's assertion in Time that he's "going to find a way to get this music out to people," Thacker advised fans not to hold their breath just yet. Some of the songs on Tracks sat for a full 25 years before Springsteen was ready to issue them.

"He's selective," Thacker said. "I don't think he'd do it if he didn't think it was coming from the heart. And I know he wouldn't do it if he didn't think it felt like the right thing to do for him at the time. That's why some of the Tracks material has waited so long, because it just didn't seem like the time."

Thacker added that Springsteen never mentioned the hip-hop or country albums while work for Tracks was under way last summer. In an interview published in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, the Boss reportedly told writer Robert Hilburn that particular material was never under consideration for Tracks.

"I only wanted music [on Tracks] that related to a record that I had released," Springsteen was quoted as saying. "If the music was for a new project or for a project that never became an album, I put that aside."

While Backstreets' Phillips says he'd be excited to have any album of new material from the painstaking Springsteen, he's just as intrigued about a possible country record as the hip-hop work.

"In the late '70s, [Springsteen] used to talk about country music, and how country artists are able to age more gracefully than rock 'n' roll artists, and that there's not a model in rock to write more mature themes," Phillips said. "I'd love to hear a full-blown country record from him."