Thanks to a funky, hard-rocking sound and a virtuosic lead guitarist, Boston natives Extreme earned critical praise early in their career; what the band lacked, though, was exposure. A surprise hit ballad changed that, and their second album, 1990’s Extreme II: Pomograffitti, became a double platinum smash. But the band refused to rest on its laurels and went on to produce an ambitious “concept album,” III Sides to Every Story. By then, however, as Musician pointed out, the band’s previously stated wish to trade some of its critical kudos for bigger sales seemed like a Faustian contract and “out came the knives. “Despite this critical backlash, Extreme has become a major player on the rock scene, melding carefully crafted pop tunes with pounding rhythms and the cutting-edge leads of guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, dubbed the band’s “all-around musical guru” by Entertainment Weekly.
Bettencourt’s family arrived in the U.S. from the Azores in the 1970s; Nuno himself was born in Portugal, the youngest of ten children. He told Guitar Player that he was primarily interested in sports in his youth, played
Members include Pat Badger (born ? 1967), bass, vocals; Nuno Bettencourt (born in Portugal, c. 1966), guitar, vocals; Gary Cherone (born c. 1961), vocals; and Paul Geary (born c. 1961), drums.
Group formed in Boston c. 1987; signed with A&M Records, 1987; released debut album, Extreme, 1989.
Awards: Triple-platinum record for Extreme II: Pornograffitti, A&M, 1991.
Addresses: Record company —A&M Records Inc., 1416 North La Brea Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028.
some drums, and responded only tepidly to encouragement from his brother to play guitar. Eventually, however, he sat down and learned a song from beginning to end on the instrument—it was the Moody Blues’ orchestral pop epic, “Knights in White Satin”—and thereafter became a six-string fanatic: “After I quit school, I started learning every record and tape I could get my hands on,” he recalled. Bettencourt has cited such influences as heavy metal icons Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen but also progressive jazz master Al DiMeola.
Bettencourt met singer Gary Cherone while the two were in separate bands on the Boston music scene. They discovered they had a lot in common—“for instance,” the guitarist explained in Musician, “his favorite record was Queen II, which was my favorite record”—and, in Bettencourt’s words, “got good vibes from each other.” The vocalist asked Bettencourt to join his band without hearing him play. “He said, ’I don’t need to hear you play.’ It was a real weird thing.” The two become something of a songwriting factory, creating enough material together to fill several records.
Like Bettencourt, Cherone came from a working-class background, as did drummer Paul Geary, who barely escaped a prison sentence for a credit card scam before dedicating himself to earning an honest living and spending every spare moment at his drumkit. Bassist Pat Badger, according to People, had spent a semester at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and was customizing guitars for a living when he joined the group. Extreme then began gigging steadily, paying their dues in clubs and building a following; they won a video contest sponsored by MTV and eventually secured a contract with A&M records. Musician noted that the label took a long time to release the band’s debut, and that the self-titled album “met with decidedly weak support and relatively minor sales.” Indeed, Bettencourt joked in Billboard that the album “went formica.’” Some critics, however, saw something special in the quartet. Kim Neely of Rolling Stone called Extreme “an extremely good listen” and had particularly kind words for Bettencourt, naming him “the deadliest weapon in Extreme’s arsenal,” comparing him to guitar wizards Van Halen and Joe Satriani, and deeming some of his lead work “spellbinding.” Neely also found “a fair amount of wit” in Cherone’s lyrics.
Bettencourt got a bit attention from guitar devotees for his fretwork on Janet Jackson’s hit single “Black Cat.” Thus hopes were high that Extreme II: Pornograffitti, with its more mature songwriting, choirboy harmonies, and listener-friendly production—not to mention even more expansive guitar work by Bettencourt—would lead to a commercial breakthrough; Billboard described A&M’s elaborate marketing plan, “a two-tier promotion” designed to raise public awareness of both the band and its latest recording. An Extreme-proclaimed “funked up fairy tale,” the album included the raucous numbers “Get the Funk Out” and “Decadence Dance,” the infectious pop confection “Hole Hearted” and the sugary ballad “More than Words.”
It was the latter song that, after many months of limbo, finally catapulted Extreme and its sophomore effort into the mainstream. An acoustic Cherone-Bettencourt duet outfitted with a sweetly whimsical black-and-white video, the song hit the Number One spot in June of 1991. Suddenly, Extreme was huge, and “Hole Hearted,” too, made a successful run on the charts. As Badger noted in People, at the time, “the whole rock star thing fell on us like a ton of bricks.” Rolling Stone’s Neely declared the album “a stunner.” “Pornograffitti doesn’t have to be cranked up to be loud; even at low volumes, it pierces,” wrote Rob Tannenbaum of the Village Voice.
Extreme took its time producing the follow-up to Pornograffitti. Released in late 1992, /// Sides to Every Story represented an even more ambitious period in the band’s development. Comprised of three discrete groups of songs—the last actually forming a “suite”— and making use of sweeping orchestral arrangements,/// Sides divided critics. Entertainment Weekly’s Greg Sandow awarded it a “B+” and termed it “a masterpiece of musical craft,” but he conceded that “the artrock finale sounds willful, even puffy,” blaming the final section for an overreaching quality he ascribed to the entire work. At the same time, Sandow called Cherone’s lyrics “derivative and far too naive.” Other reviewers were less impressed. “For all its prog-rock weightiness, there are few intriguing moments,” opined Mike Gitter in Pulse!
Deborah Frost’s Musician review even touched off something of a feud between her and Bettencourt; slamming the group for letting “15 MTV minutes go straight to their poodle-tresses,” Frost chided Extreme for imitating seminal 1970s art-rock outfit Queen without possessing the revered English band’s sense of “camp,” ridiculed Cherone’s lyrics and “rapidly expanding ego,” and ultimately recommended that Bettencourt, whose guitar prowess she grudgingly acknowledged, work with different musicians. Bettencourt blasted Frost in an interview with the same periodical a few months later and even called her a “bitch” in a British profile. Frost fired back in BAM, qualifying her criticisms of the band and labeling Bettencourt a “moron.” Musician’s Jack Baird counseled the band by saying “Hey, welcome to the big leagues.”
Despite these skirmishes, Extreme continued to grow, prospering from heavy MTV rotation of their expensively produced videos for the singles “Rest in Peace” and “Stop the World.” The album reached the Top 10 its first week out, reported People, and had sold three million copies within about a month. Extreme soon kicked off a tour in support of /// Sides. Katherine Turman of the Los Angeles Times compared the band’s appearance at the Universal Amphitheater to a “three-ring circus,” a Las Vegas revue, and “a Broadway musical” but admired Bettencourt’s “dexterity” and Cherone’s “tightly wound energy and fancy footwork,” comparing the singer to Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. That year Bettencourt also worked as a producer on the debut album of rapper John “Word Man” Preziosa, who had rapped on the/// Sides song “Cupid’s Dead.” The guitarist emphasized in Musician his desire to break down the stubborn racial boundaries plaguing popular music. While critics have chided him for his ambition, Bettencourt and his bandmates have tried to keep their focus on the music. “I think music is one of the last tools we have capable of crossing over and breaking down labels and barriers,” said the guitarist in an A&M press release. “Hopefully these three sides [of the band’s 1992 release] will show people that music is just to be loved—regardless of what kind it is or who’s doing it.”
On A&M Records
Extreme It: Pornograffitti (includes “Get the Funk Out,” “Decadence Dance,” “Hole Hearted,” and “More than Words”), 1990.
/// Sides to Every Story (includes “Rest in Peace,” “Stop the World,” and “Cupid’s Dead”), 1992.
(Contributors) Super Mario Brothers (soundtrack), EMI, 1993.
BAM, February 26, 1993.
Billboard, November 10, 1990; June 15, 1991.
Detroit Free Press, February 12, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, October 2, 1992.
Guitar Player, April 1991; February 1993.
Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1993.
Musician, November 1992; January 1993.
People, December 21, 1992.
Pulse!, December 1992.
Rolling Stone, July 13, 1989; October 4, 1990; April 18, 1991.
Village Voice, September 25, 1990.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from A&M Records publicity materials, 1992.
Formed: 1985, Boston, Massachusetts; Disbanded 1996
Members: Pat Badger, bass (born Boston, Massachusetts, 22 July 1967); Nuno Bettencourt, guitar (born Praia da Vitoria, Terceira, 20 September 1966); Gary Cherone, vocals (born Malden, Massachusetts, 26 July 1961); Mike Mangini, drums (born Newton, Massachusetts, 19 April 1963). Former member: Paul Geary, drums (born Medford, Massachusetts, 2 July 1961).
Genre: Heavy Metal, Rock
Best-selling album since 1990: Pornograffiti (1990)
Hit songs since 1990: "More Than Words," "Hole Hearted," "Rest in Peace"
Of all the 1980s pop metal bands influenced by Eddie Van Halen's dazzling guitar work and David Lee Roth's sexually charged attitude, Extreme was originally the most obvious imitator. The ability of guitarist Nuno Bettencourt to take lightning-quick, classically influenced riffs and make them palatable for mainstream rock put him on a par with Van Halen. Yet the group's early, testosterone-fueled lyrics seemed contrived and juvenile. They escaped irrelevance by broadening their musical palette, writing socially and politically conscious concept albums and scoring two Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.
After a local Boston television station claimed the rights to their name, the Dream became Extreme in 1985. The group consisted of vocalist Gary Cherone and drummer Paul Geary. Soon Bettencourt left the band Sinful to join them, and in 1987 he recruited bassist Pat Badger, who had been making custom guitars in a music shop.
Their self-titled debut album was released at the height of the pop metal explosion in 1989. The sexually predatory lyrics of "Little Girls," "Flesh 'n' Blood," and "Teacher's Pet" barely distinguished them from their contemporaries. They did, however, establish themselves as exceptional musicians, particularly Bettencourt. The album's final track, "Play with Me," displayed his blistering speed and technical proficiency on the guitar and was featured in the hit comedy film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Extreme's sophomore release, Pornograffiti (1990), was a daring concept album that challenged many of the genre's norms. Thematically, it addressed the need for genuine love in a decadent society full of greed, corruption, and misogyny. Musically, it incorporated funky horn parts in "Lil' Jack Horny" and "Get the Funk Out," a rap intro in "When I'm President," and piano and strings in the loungelike "When I First Kissed You." The scope of the band's ambition was relatively foreign to their genre.
The album's first single and video, the hard-rocking anthem "Decadence Dance," received modest MTV airplay but failed to generate a mainstream radio buzz. Several months later they released the stripped-down ballad "More Than Words." With only an acoustic guitar to accompany Cherone and Bettencourt's sweet harmonies, it was a commercial smash, peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Though it was commonplace for heavy metal bands of the era to have massive mainstream success with lighter songs, Extreme reached a new audience with "More Than Words." The song crossed over to the Adult Contemporary chart and climbed all the way to number two. This move was unprecedented for a rock band and inherently at odds with their core audience. "Hole Hearted" followed as the album's third single. It, too, was light, acoustic, and a big hit. Pornograffiti was their most successful album, selling more than 2 million copies.
III Sides to Every Story (1992) was another bold concept album that tackled the politics of war, philosophy, and spirituality. Though the pro-peace anthem "Rest in Peace" was a strong and successful lead single, the album failed to match the sales of Pornograffiti. The rock landscape had changed dramatically, and the bombast of heavy metal had been ousted by the more earnest Seattle grunge sound. The band was tackling heavier topics and was courageously experimenting with their sound, but they still represented an era that had just passed.
Miffed and confused by the public's changing tastes, Extreme struggled with the direction of its fourth album. Waiting for the Punchline (1995) was an angrier and simpler effort that attempted to assimilate to current trends. The album's poor showing led to Bettencourt's departure from the band for a solo career. Extreme officially broke up in 1996, and shortly thereafter, Cherone replaced Sammy Hagar in Van Halen, becoming that group's third lead vocalist. He recorded one album with the band before departing in 1999.
Extreme was one of the most talented and ambitious pop metal bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Had the group's career started a few years earlier, it is likely they would have sustained a longer run of success. Instead, their rise to fame occurred shortly before the genre fell from prominence, and their time in the spotlight was brief.
Extreme (A&M, 1989); Extreme II: Pornograffitti (A&M, 1990); III Sides to Every Story (A&M, 1992).
ex·treme / ikˈstrēm/ • adj. 1. reaching a high or the highest degree; very great: extreme cold. ∎ not usual; exceptional: in extreme cases the soldier may be discharged. ∎ very severe or serious: expulsion is an extreme sanction. ∎ (of a person or their opinions) advocating severe or drastic measures; far from moderate, esp. politically: their more extreme socialist supporters. ∎ denoting or relating to a sport performed in a hazardous environment and involving great physical risk, such as parachuting or white-water rafting. 2. furthest from the center or a given point; outermost: the extreme northwest of Scotland. • n. either of two abstract things that are as different from each other as possible. ∎ the highest degree of something: extremes of temperature. ∎ a very severe or serious act: he was unwilling to go to the extreme of civil war. DERIVATIVES: ex·treme·ly adv. ex·treme·ness n.
extremes meet opposite extremes have much in common. The saying recorded in English from the mid 18th century, but is found earlier in mid 17th-century French, in Pascal's Pensées, ‘les extrèmes se touchent [extremes meet].’
So extremity XIV. — (O)F. or L.