When Columbia Records announced that Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" album would be released this fall, the news surprised--and delighted--diehard Boss fans and record industry observers, most of whom expected a much longer wait for the LP.
Now it's Columbia's turn to be surprised (and annoyed), because some of those fans apparently got their hands on copies of the closely guarded record more than four weeks before its scheduled release.
Though the album isn't due out until Oct. 5, taped copies have reportedly been circulating among a small network of Springsteen fans and critics for more than a week.
Columbia Records--which, true to form for an LP from the usually secretive Springsteen, has not authorized the release of any tapes--is clearly upset by the leaks. But a New York spokeswoman for the label, while acknowledging Columbia's distress, said Wednesday the company would have no formal comment on the matter.
There also have been reports of radio stations playing cuts from the unreleased album as well as play at nightclubs and even at a Venice clothing store that advertises itself as welcoming "Visa, MasterCard and all Bruce Springsteen fanatics."
According to Charles Cross, editor of Backstreets magazine, a Seattle-based national Springsteen fanzine, clubs in the rock singer's stomping ground of Asbury Park, N.J., played the album last weekend.
Marilyn Laverty, Columbia's New York spokeswoman, said there have been reports that tracks from the LP have also been played on a few unnamed radio stations around the country.
"It seems like everyone on the East Coast has heard the record," quipped Cross in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The extent of the circulation of "Tunnel of Love" became apparent with Tuesday's edition of the show business trade paper the Hollywood Reporter. It carried a front-page story that reported the leaks and then described and reviewed the album track-by-track.
"The fact that it was an exclusive (story) gave us the impetus to run with it the way we did," said writer Jeffrey Ressner, who acknowledged that he did not receive his tape from Columbia, but did receive an angry phone call from the company after the article appeared. Ressner declined to say how he obtained the tape.
Ressner compared his article to "putting a pin prick" in the record company's "carefully orchestrated publicity and promotional campaign" and added that he felt justified running the early review because he understood that others in the media also had copies of the tape.
"I've spoken to people at Columbia, at other publications and at other record companies who have it," Ressner said. "And The (Los Angeles) Times wrote about one of the songs on Sunday."
(In Sunday's Pop Eyes column in Calendar, The Times printed some of the lyrics to "Ain't Got You," a song from the album.)
Although record companies frequently send tapes of an album to critics and radio executives well before the official release date, labels in a few instances--usually involving top-selling artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson or Springsteen--have not made tapes available until the LP is virtually in record stores.
While some stations have been known to jump the record companies' official release date, rarely by more than a day or two, the flap surrounding the new Springsteen LP is unusual because the release date is still weeks away.
Said one local critic who has a copy of the Springsteen tape: "The suspicion is that a group of hard-core Springsteen fans who trade bootlegged copies of his concerts and even outtakes from recording sessions have sources within the record industry pipeline."
The critic speculated that the tapes originate from the record company pressing plant because the quality "is as good as the record."