August 7th, 2015 marks 25 years since the release Extreme II: Pornograffiti.
The rich, musically complex, multilayered album broke big as an instant timepiece that crystallized a very specific moment in commercial hard rock, right between hair metal and the grunge-spawned alternative movement that dominated the ensuing Lollapalooza decade.
Pornograffiti also transformed Extreme from also-ran Boston longhairs to major players on the mainstream stage, establishing frontman Gary Cherone as a star of such wattage that Van Halen would tap him to sing a few years hence (and, yes, we know how that turned out), and shining a spotlight on the original, complex, funk/prog/jazz wizardry of lead guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.
Of course, Pornograffiti also gifted the universe with the supreme ’90s acoustic power ballad, “More Than Words.”
Coinciding with the advent of MTV: Unplugged and groundwork-laying hits like “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” by Nelson and Tesla’s cover of “Signs,” Extreme’s irresistible, Everly Brothers-like confection hit huge on radio across a vast array of formats, while MTV went nuts for the song’s famous black-and-white video that depicted Gary and Nuno harmonizing while the other Extremers sat nearby, looking on in amusement.
“More Than Words” hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart, ending up at #7 for the year. It’s since spawned covers by everyone from David Cassidy to Ruben Studdard and the TV show Glee, it’s performed in the stage show and film version of Rock of Ages.
Beyond direct tributes, though, “More Than Words” ignited the final gold (record) rush of metal’s pre-alternative changeover: power ballads that toned down the power, and way upped the ballad.
So for the song’s quarter-century anniversary, check out a playlist of lovely, infectious hair-metal-in-transformation hits that arose in the direct wake of “More Than Words.”
Are we stating that all of these songs exist only as a result of artists directly copying “More Than Words”? No. Well, not all of them….
Regardless, now’s the time to fire up your Bic lighter and wave it slowly back and forth accordingly. In black-and-white.
“I Still Think About You” – Danger Danger
Teased-up and preening by way of Queens, New York, Danger Danger scored big on the L’Amour rock club circuit prior to issuing a well-received self-titled debut in 1988.
Internal issues plagued the Double-D almost immediately, delaying their bluntly monikered follow-up, Screw It!, until 1991.
One thing the members could definitely agree on was that a sweet, stripped-down love song would be their quickest ticket back to stability. “I Still Think About You” resulted, and it gained the group MTV play and extended their run for a few years.
Today, “I Still Think About You” remains one of a handful of Danger Danger song titles that’s most likely to be pulled out of the air by anyone who is, on the spot, capable of pulling any one of a handful of Danger Danger song titles out of the air.
“Where You Goin’ Now” – Damn Yankees
The supergroup Damn Yankees combined Motor City Madman Ted Nugent with bassist Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Ozzy Osbourne, Styx vocalist and guitarist Tommy Shaw, and drummer Michael Cartellone, who went on to join Accept and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
For all that firepower, Damn Yankees somehow specialized in what future “as seen on TV” compilation CDs would label “Monster Ballads!”
“Where You Goin’ Now,” from 1992, was Damn Yankees’ last hit and it definitely does sound as though these erstwhile hard rock mega-beasts heard cash registers cha-chinging away in between each gorgeous note of “More Than Words.”
More power (ballad) to them.
“Every Time I Look at You” – Kiss
“Kiss isn’t a rock-and-roll band,” lead-tongue Gene Simmons has famously declared (whenever and wherever possible). “It’s a rock-and-roll brand!”
With that in mind, Gene and Paul and their rotating compatriots both in and out of makeup have always rolled with the rock changes, adapting through trends from ’70s disco to ’80s hair metal to the acoustic-mania of the 1990s.
“Every Time I Look at You” is Kiss’s 1992 absorption and Kiss-ification of “More Than Words. As a result, it became one of the group’s few songs to garner adult-contemporary radio attention since “Beth.” It also cleared the path for their triumphant MTV Unplugged two years later.
“I Saw Red” – Warrant
“Cherry Pie” aside (and with cream on top), Warrant’s best-known nugget is the 1989 power ballad “Heaven.” It’s a full-blown electrified combination rip-roarer and tearjerker, in the vein of its contemporaneous hits such as “I’ll Be There for You” by Bon Jovi and “Something to Believe In” by Poison.
“I Saw Red” features a warm, Beatles-like melody that’s catchy enough to have come from E’nuff Z’nuff (if not quite Redd Kross). The original version of “I Saw Red” also contains flights of electric overwhelm.
Alas, given the post-Extreme climate, Warrant re-recorded the song and released it as a single titled, very accurately, “I Saw Red (Acoustic).” That one was the hit.
“To Be With You” – Mr. Big
Mr. Big debuted as a fairly standard issue pop-leaning hair metal outfit in 1989, and then changed their fortunes forever upon the advent of “More Than Words.”
“To Be With You,” Mr. Big’s signature 1991 smash, borrows so blatantly from the airy, enchanting sing-along structure of Extreme’s hit that it sounds almost like a direct musical tribute.
Officially, the two songs are not connected, but the ties are unmistakable upon hearing the two tracks back-to-back and knowing their chronology. You might also fall hopelessly in love with whoever happens to be closest to you in the room should you try that, so be careful.
That’s not to downplay what an absolutely killer romantic radio song Mr. Big crafted and delivered with “To Be With You.”
In fact, its lineage dates back to a tune frontman Eric Martin had been sitting on since he was a teenager. Collaborating with Mr. Big guitarist and pro songwriter David Grahame, Martin’s idea reached full bloom in the best possible manner at the absolutely best possible time.
“To Be With You” hit #1 in fifteen countries and endures, now and forever, as one of pop metal’s most gloriously seductive and invigorating spellbinders. In fact, it’s second only to one, and we think you can guess what that toe-tapping heart-thumper might be.