Extreme: More than metal -- How the hard-rock back made it big with the folk ballad

”Even my mother knows Extreme now,” says Bryan Huttenhower, director of A&R at A&M Records. And that, for a hard-rock band with an obscure history, is a neat trick. Extreme’s 1989 debut album fared decently with the metal crowd but never captured a mass market. And until a few months ago, the group’s current Extreme II: Pornograffitti seemed headed for the same fate: The first two hard-rocking singles, ”Get the Funk Out” and ”Decadence Dance,” got limited radio play and on MTV were confined to the network’s metal show, Headbanger’s Ball. What finally reversed the album’s slide off the charts was ”More Than Words,” a simple, almost folkie ballad using just two voices and a single acoustic guitar. Not only was the sound completely new for Extreme, it did without two of the band’s four members. ”More Than Words” went to No. 1 on the charts in June and helped turn the album platinum.

The band now has so much momentum that everyone — most notably radio stations and A&M — is jockeying for credit. ”We had always heard ‘More Than Words’ as a hit,” says Russ Mottla, program director at WIYY in Baltimore. ”And we’re not the kind of station to wait for the label to push us.” But the first push may well have come from the band’s audience. Says drummer Paul Geary (one of the two members of Extreme who don’t sing or play on the song): ”Even before it was released as a single, when we played it in clubs, people went crazy just from the first few notes.”

All four members of Extreme show up in the video: Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt and vocalist Gary Cherone harmonize, while Geary and bassist Pat Badger laze on couches and flip through magazines, in one joking moment holding cigarette lighters aloft, as fans do at concerts. ”We did it that way,” Geary says, ”so people wouldn’t think we were Simon & Garfunkel.”

The next single, which debuted last week on MTV, is ”Hole Hearted,” again an acoustic song, but this time backed by the rhythm section. ”We have to show people we’re wider than ‘More than Words,”’ Geary says, ”but we don’t want to shock the radio programmers. ‘Hole Hearted’ takes us halfway toward the other end of the spectrum.” If Pornograffitti keeps going strong, A&M will probably rerelease ”Get the Funk Out,” as well as Extreme’s other hard-rock titles. And when that happens, maybe everyone’s mother will know Extreme.