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“More Than Words” is a single from Extreme’s 1990 album Extreme II: Pornograffiti. It was written by Nuno Bettencourt & Gary Cherone.
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According to Nuno Bettencourt, the song is described as a warning that the phrase ‘I love you’ was becoming meaningless, stating:
People use it so easily and so lightly that they think you can say that and fix everything, or you can say that and everything’s OK. Sometimes you have to do more and you have to show it— there’s other ways to say ‘I love you.’
It began with Bettencourt strumming an acoustic guitar one day on Cherone’s porch in Malden, MA. He played it for Cherone who was then inspired to scribble down the phrase “More than words is all you have to do”. Bettencourt then insisted he finish the lyrics right then.
Originally their record label wanted them to turn the song into a power ballad, asking them to add drums and a guitar solo like Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home” but the band refused. While the band recorded it in the studio, Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach heard the song and predicted it would be ‘huge’ and become ‘a number one’.
Initially the record company resisted Bettencourt’s request to release “More Than Words” as the album’s third single. Its first two singles had made little impact in the US, so their label wanted them to begin work on their next album. However, the band informed the label that their audiences drowned them out by singing along to the song whenever they played it in concert. The band kept insisting that it be sent to radio, so to pacify them the label tested the song in one radio market – where it quickly became the most-requested song on the station. A test was done in another market and the same thing happened, so the label relented and officially released it as single.
The song became a number-one hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for a week in June of 1991 and was certified Gold by the RIAA. It also topped the charts in Canada, the Netherlands & New Zealand, and reached #2 in the UK. As soon as “More Than Words” was an international hit, the record company released the other acoustic track from the album “Hole Hearted” as the fourth single to cash in on their recent success – and it reached the top 5 in the US.
Being a hard rock band that scored two top 5 acoustic hits was both a blessing and curse for the band, the downside being Bettencourt felt it made the record company want to make them into something they were not:
Everybody got really greedy — the same people who thought an acoustic song would never work in the first place. And then on the next album, they were like, ‘Where’s an acoustic song?’ But we weren’t an acoustic band. I wrote a song on a porch and it became a hit. I wasn’t gonna try to write ‘More Than Words Part Two.’ It just doesn’t work that way.
Extreme is sometimes labelled as a one-hit wonder despite the fact their next single “Hole Hearted” reached #4 in the US and #12 in the UK.
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In 2014, Bettencourt shared with the Straits Times how “More Than Words” created two distinct types of fans of the band:
People who just like that song are not Extreme fans, they just like ‘More Than Words’. That’s cool, that’s nice, but the actual true fans know is we’re more than that song.