Top BoDeans Songs of the '80s

BoDeans generated plenty of critical excitement for a roots rock band from the upper Midwest, even becoming something of a darling artist for fans of college rock, heartland rock and mainstream rock alike. The group typically employed a guitar-centered, melodic approach to material steeped in old-time rock and roll, folk rock and several other roots-oriented pop music styles. Ultimately, the band remained largely a cult or underground draw during its initial phase but delivered plenty of quality music across three '80s LPs. Here's a chronological look at the very best BoDeans songs from the group's early years.

01
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"Angels"

Wisconsin roots rock band BoDeans flirted with mainstream success but spent the second half of the '80s as a distinctly underground college rock favorite.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Slash

Many observers feel that captures the BoDeans sound at its best, and the record certainly contains a number of organic, compelling tunes. In classic Lennon-McCartney fashion, Neumann and Llanas always share songwriting credits on BoDeans material even when one musician clearly takes the lead on a particular track. In this case, Neumann sets a welcome precedent for his typically lovesick yet hopeful lyrical themes, and the upbeat acoustic guitar energy of this song definitely stands out as an early BoDeans highlight.

In stark contrast to the distinctively nasal, ragged vocal style of Llanas, Neumann's clear, high tenor takes expressive soulfulness to a rewarding place: "We ain't gotta worry tonight, we ain't gotta run away, it's alright. They don't let no angels out at night."

02
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"Misery"

In general, Llanas-fronted BoDeans songs tend to display a noticeably angrier edge than the ones featuring Neumann's idealistic stamp. That's certainly the case with this dark tale of a spurned lover and his complete dismissal of his cheating former paramour. Llanas employs his near-growling style to near perfection, recounting the string of cheap, tawdry romantic infractions committed by the object of his ire.

Meanwhile, Neumann's distinctively rhythmic electric guitar riffing (he started off in music as a drummer) enhances the highly charged emotional tone on display in the cringingly candid confessional lyrics from Llanas: "Well, there was Billy on the second floor and Tommy at the liquor store. When you were givin' those guys a piece you were giving me nothin' but misery." Overall, a great throwback rock and roll song about lost innocence and the hard-earned wisdom of romantic experience.

03
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"Lookin' for Me Somewhere"

On the other hand, Llanas is also perfectly capable of presenting himself as a classic romantic full of wistful, universal longing. This lovely acoustic track demonstrates the potential for beauty in the tortured vocals of Llanas, as the narrator recounts highly specific memories of a dream girl who now seems far removed in time and accessibility but not from his heart and mind.

Like Wreckless Eric's cult classic "Whole Wide World," this standout track condenses specific thoughts and feelings into a universally affecting, white-hot point of genuine passion. As a result of hearing this song, the listener feels dynamically lonesome and yet somehow strangely comforted to an equivalent degree by the total relatability of its sentiments. Beautiful stuff.

04
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"Dreams"

Neumann argues for hope in the face of despair with this sparkling lead-off track from 1987's. Musically, the song certainly takes an increasingly mainstream rock approach, but the central melody is so soulfully rendered in the verses and so skillfully elevated in the chorus that the payoff is immensely satisfying.

Admittedly, the lack of roots rock earthiness on display here is not entirely welcome, but the effect created by the sublime harmonies from Llanas and Neumann makes up for any such deficiencies. BoDeans lyrics can at times be too hazy for their own good, but this is still a great '80s rock song for the ages.

05
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"Only Love"

This driving rock tune showcases Neumann at his best as an electric guitarist and also as a broadly appealing rock singer. That certainly doesn't mean he's particularly innovative or unique on either front, but the result is nothing short of passionate blue-collar rock and roll that puts a welcome spin on the earnest, dogged optimism of forerunners like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.

BoDeans music has never fit neatly into either the roots rock or alternative music genres that often harbored the group's most ardent champions. But that kind of eclecticism and honesty - all too rare in pop music of any era - helps promote this band effectively for those seeking out grounded, simple rock and roll.

06
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"You Don't Get Much"

Part of what has always made Llanas and Neumann work so well together as a living, breathing musical partnership is the constant contrast between not only their vocal styles but also their outlooks on life. For this reason, too many Neumann songs in a row can lead to a sort of mild listener stagnation even when the songwriting is undeniably solid.

While that's not particularly true of the stellar track spotlighted here, that sense of similarly themed sameness does begin to become apparent at least a little. That said, this selection (along with "When the Love Is Good" and "Good Work") helps to highlight Neumann's immense soulfulness as both a singer and alchemist of traditional American rock styles: "There's two boys holdin' stars for wishin', yeah one boy's sure, one says 'I don't know.'" Certainly a keen metaphorical description of universal, youthful uncertainty.

07
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"Far Far Away from My Heart"

If Neumann-sung BoDeans songs tend to specialize in helping the listener break free of despair and move toward an improved situation, Llanas tunes often opt to wallow in or at least linger on the throes of despair instead. That makes for some fine yin-and-yang balance that allows the personal nature of this song's dark self-examination to shine through and cut through the nonsense of everyday life.

Here Llanas turns his attention to the piercing, dull ache of loneliness and how such experiences can sap energy and joy from even the most steadfast human spirits. Neumann's arpeggiated guitars stylishly complement the unflinching internal emotional audit of the lyrics, leading ultimately to a refreshing, cathartic musical experience for the times when we all find ourselves "feelin' more and more like less and less."

08
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"Brand New"

Perhaps it's appropriate to finish this list with a Llanas tune that proves he can play the hopeful romantic as convincingly as his typically sunnier writing partner. The melodic build and utterly inspiring payoff of the anthemic chorus here accurately reflect the cleansing power of BoDeans music at its unfiltered best.

This is music that never quite verges into the bombastic realm of arena rock or stadium rock, primarily because it's so grounded in traditional rock and roll instrumentation. Even so, a song like this is tremendously appealing to any music fan who appreciates melodic, straight-ahead rock based in simplicity and genuine human emotion.