Most bands--no matter how long they've been around--get one shot at the big time. Seniority doesn't mean squat in the music business--you're only as good as your last charting single.

Take the BoDeans. The band was named "Best New American Band" by Rolling Stone in 1987, following the release of their second album. Yet they didn't have a hit until 1995--and even then, it was a complete fluke, and turned out to be their first and last brush with the big time.

The beginnings of the BoDeans reach back to 1979, when singers/songwriters/guitarists Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann started playing together in their hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin while still in high school. The band later added a drummer and bassist and in 1985, signed to Slash Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. and entered the studio with famed producer T-Bone Burnett (Counting Crows, The Wallflowers). The debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams was released in 1986.

Their sophomore effort, 1987's Outside Looking In managed to reach a broader audience. With the Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison (Live, Crash Test Dummies) at the helm, the band broke into the big time, opening for U2 and breaking into the Top 100 best sellers album charts.

Home and Black and White followed in 1989 and 1991 respectively and were met with mixed reviews, but it would be 1993's Go Slow Down that would eventually help break the band to mainstream pop radio--eventually being a key word here. Hooking up once again with producer T-Bone Burnett, the group decided to return to a more acoustic folk-rock sound. The album was released in October of 1993, and, while being critically acclaimed on its initial release, didn't fare much better than their previous works commercially.

The single may have had something to do with it. On an album filled with great pop-rock songs, the band released "Feed the Fire," a standard rock song that has "'90s alternative" written all over it. Pained howls, tremolo-ed backing vocals, a coda repeated to the point of annoyance. It's what I call "Collective Soul rock"--music that sounds like a Seattle band and hits all the right notes a Seattle band might, but ultimately is lacking. It's made by guys who don't get it--which isn't good, since, in my opinion, that type of Seattle rock--with a few exceptions--is pretty damn boring to begin with. "Fire" isn't a bad song, but it sounds more like a filler track than a hit single, and it's far from being the best representation of the album.

But a funny thing happened--two and a half years after the release of Go Slow Down, the producers of the uber-'90s Fox primetime soap Party of Five selected the lead track, "Closer to Free," for the show's theme song.

NOTE : Matthew Fox's awesomely floppy hair.
Why he doesn't sport that on
Lost, I will never know.

"Closer to Free" was a driving, jangly pop song in a similar vein to '80s R.E.M. and was indicative of other folk-based college rock that became popular in the post-grunge rock scene (Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Traveler, etc.). Slash Records released the song as a single--there had never been a follow up to "Feed the Fire"--and thanks in no small part to its weekly presence on the show, the song became a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (#16), Top 40 Mainstream (#6) and Adult Contemporary Top 40 (#3)--nearly three years after the album's release. Oddly enough, it didn't chart on either the Modern Rock charts or the Mainstream Rock charts, where the band had charted five times before.

To capitalize on the success of "Closer to Free," the BoDeans headed back into the studio and released Blend in 1996, led by the single "Hurt By Love." "Hurt" is a fine ballad, and sounds a bit like a slowed down version of "Closer." With its jangly guitars and emotional vocals, it could easily pass for a Gin Blossoms song. The problem was, the popularity of that brand of catchy college rock was starting to fade (except from colleges, where the BoDeans continue to do a business). Had the record company given the BoDeans the same kind of push even a year earlier, their success might have had a chance to continue. The song was a minor hit on Top 40 (#39) and the AC Top 40 (#33). It is their last charting single to date.

In the late 90s, Neumann and Llanas decided to take a break and make time for solo projects. Their next release wasn't until 2001--a greatest hits compilation called Slash and Burn followed two years later by The Leftovers, a rarities comp. During this time they also found themselves in a three year long court battle over their contract with Warner Bros. Their next album, Resolution, wasn't until 2004--a full eight years after Blend. It was released on the independent label Rounder.

2005 saw the release of a 2-disc live album and DVD, Homebrewed: Live from the Pabst--fittingly, the set on the live disc ends with "Closer to Free."

The band continues on--touring occasionally, usually using an acoustic set up after losing their upteenth drummer (shades of Spinal Tap--lets hope it wasn't spontaneous combustion). They released their latest album, Still, in 2008.

I think it's fitting to end this post with the opening of Party of Five's mercifully short-lived spin-off 1999's Time of Your Life which featured the BoDeans covering The Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face."

Now if someone could just tell me what the hell a BoDean is, we'd be all set.

FIRST SINGLE ("Closer to Free"): A-
SECOND SINGLE ("Hurt By Love"): C+

Random Single: ("Feed the Fire"): C

Download: BoDeans - "Closer to Free"
Download: BoDeans - "Hurt By Love"
Download: BoDeans - "Feed the Fire"

Visit Bodeans.com and buy BoDeans stuff


Murgs said...

The BoDeans originally stated (years back) that their name came from Bo Diddley and James Dean...two of the coolest people to ever walk the earth...

Thanks for the post...they've been one of my favorite bands for the last 30 (YIPES!) years...


Chuck and Jean Anne said...

Another great write-up Steven. Gotta give the BoDeans props for writing "Only Love". A great song that sounds great LOUD!

The Second Single said...

Thanks, Murgs, that's an interesting explanation and about as good as any, I suppose.

And thanks Chuck, I'll give that one a listen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your write up of Da Bodeans.
I first heard them in the late 80's and saw them in '89 and I've seen them at least 4 times since then. Great live band with great music!

hfs fan said...

A very strong band. Some great songs. Nice choice.

Captain Stuben said...

This could have been Buffalo Tom. If only they had parlayed their association with "My So-Called Life" into some more tangible success. I blame that damned Angela Chase.

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