7. “More Than Words,” Extreme

For the second straight entry, I’ll use the word “unapologetic” to describe my affection for this song. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. You like it or you don’t. Life’s too short to feel guilty for deriving pleasure out of something.

It’s too short to deprive yourself of enjoyment just because whoever you might think is “uncool” likes it. Just like it. (Hey, did I just come up with a slogan for Nike’s Facebook page?)

At the risk of sounding like one of those people — you know the ones; the ones who say they loved Nirvana before Nevermind; the ones who say their favourite Beatle was Pete Best — I liked this song before you did (“you” being the masses who made it No. 1 on Billboard and in three other countries in the summer of 1991).

Extreme first hit my radar in 1989, with their school-sucks anthem “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today),” from their first album, which I taped off the radio (Buffalo’s Magic 102, because Canadian stations didn’t play it). Then, somewhere around November/December 1990 I heard “Decadence Dance” from their second album, and I was hooked. It wasn’t the same old hair metal. There was a different kind of groove to it, I could tell even at 17, as a kid with a decidedly pop-clouded mind. It was the funk. So, armed with a Christmas gift gift certificate, I purchased the cassette of Extreme II: Pornograffitti.

It was a revelation of funky metal, with blistering yet soulful Nuno Bettancourt guitar solos and searing, rangy vocals from Gary Cherone. I took it to my cousins’ house for a sleepover around New Year’s and we wore it out. My cousin Dave and I went skiing, singing “Get the Funk Out” on the ski lifts.

But there was that one song that stood out from all the noise on Side 1. That folky song. That song that I thought sounded like a Simon & Garfunkel song or something. I loved the whole thing: the sweetness of the lyrics and vocals, the harmonies, the finger-strummed guitar, the guitar-slap percussion, the crazy fast acoustic guitar solo near the end. Yes, there was a crazy fast acoustic guitar solo. But only on the album version, not on the radio version. I enjoyed it on my stereo, I enjoyed it inside my earphones, I enjoyed playing it on my guitar.

Then, about six months later, it was all over the radio — and everyone enjoyed it. Well, not everyone, of course. There was the inevitable backlash that comes with popularity. And Extreme got a reputation as a sensitive ballad band, especially after another acoustic song followed it and became a hit: “Hole Hearted.” There was a sensitivity to a lot of their music, though, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People are sensitive. There was also irony and ferocity and edge and virtuosity and social commentary. This is why they were called Extreme: they were whatever they wanted to be at any given time. There was a loungy piano ballad on Side 2 of the same album. They even had a three-movement symphonic piece on their third album.

But this doesn’t need to be a defense of a band or even a defense of a song. What it really reminds me of is that nascent time when I discovered a band that spoke to me on so many levels, that excited me and inspired me. It’s one of my favourite things in life when that happens, when I discover new music that really takes hold of me. And I’m sure I’ll write about other bands like that in this blog, when Shuffle brings the right song to my attention.

What about you? Do you remember when you first discovered one of your favourite bands?


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