Your grandmother probably gave you advice like “never judge a book by its cover”…mine certainly did.
That’s because sometimes people surprise us on the upside by doing the most astonishing things, making gestures of love and friendship that amaze us all.
The story of the Good Samaritan isn’t just a parable from ancient times…there are Good Samaritans selflessly helping people all around the world at this very moment, although we’ll never know more than a tiny fraction of the good deeds they do.
Of course, some people are more likely to surprise us on the downside. Look no further then elected politicians around the world…on all sides…and you’ll find plenty of material there from people who we might hope would take a stand on matters of principle now and again, but who mostly seem to prefer doing shady deals for their own advantage where they can.
And rock groups surprise us sometimes too.
Thanks to The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Guns n’ Roses and many more, it’s pretty hard for a rock band to surprise us on the downside by their behaviour any more. The legendary tales of drunken debauchery, trashed hotel rooms and drugged-up groupies means that the bar has been set pretty low for the standard of behaviour expected from a rock band on tour.
So today’s green tea-sipping, alfalfa sprout-munching stars with riders insisting on only organic food in their dressing room would need to fall quite some way from grace before the crown of, say, Keith Moon on the road would be under any threat.
But still, surprising on the upside is just as hard for a rock band as it is for any other profession.
That’s why hard rockers Extreme made such an impact with their second album, Extreme II, back in 1990. It went double-platinum in the US and was a big seller around the world…
Indeed I bought a copy myself…on cassette tape —in my defence, it was a long time ago…
Alongside rock tracks with a range of rather suggestive titles, there nestled an entirely unexpected surprise…a track which would be released as a single and go on to reach Number One on the Billboard Hot 100…the tender and romantic “More Than Words”.
Given the content of the rest of the album, I think I’m on fairly safe ground saying that “More Than Words” probably wasn’t nearly as romantically-intended as the world’s record buyers thought it was.
But, driven to a large extent by the popularity of “More Than Words”, the Extreme II album marched off the shelves in astonishing quantities.
Who’d have thought that a band like Extreme would have come up with such a tender song, with words that ache for understanding on a level that goes much deeper than a heavy metal bands would normally consider…
Words help get the message across. Without them you can’t begin to communicate. But words on their own aren’t enough…I guess that’s why most of us need more than words to make sure we’re on the right track, and that other people mean what they say.
Thankfully, for those of us interested in the lyric-writing process, you’ve got to start with words, even if you do need to follow up with actions later to show you really meant what you said.
The words in a well-written song aren’t selected at random or plucked from a dictionary following some formula. What sets really good songs apart from the humdrum, everyday music you find knocking around the pop charts is that the words they use are the key to your emotions.
The magic of lyric writing is to choose the perfect combination of words to get your point across and somehow burrow the message of the song straight into your heart. If you can do that even once or twice a year, they’ll be lining up the Grammy’s for you to collect in pretty short order.
And burrowing into your heart is precisely what the lyrics of “More Than Words” do…
Saying “I love you” is not the words
I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be
To show me how you feel
More than words
Is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say
That you love me
’Cause I’d already know
Words are great. But not just for their own sake. You need the right words to unlock the listener’s emotions, whether that’s in the context of the lyrics to a song, or you’re trying to tell a special person in your life exactly how you feel about them.
And there’s something about the lyrics of “More Than Words” that gets to me every time. It’s a hard song to listen to without feeling a lump in your throat at some point. That’s the magic of great lyrics…and in this case, a particularly well-considered delivery too. Together, they unlock all the emotions you need to make a connection with another human being.
“More Than Words” was a huge hit in the UK and a US number one in 1991. It comes with a great video too, with the symbolic switching off of the amps at the beginning as the band moves into its acoustic set and some ironic lighter-waving by the bandmates who aren’t required for this musically very simple song…
In fact that simplicity is part of the song’s own special magic. It means you get to spend more time listening to the lyrics as there’s very little else going on.
For all those reasons, I can’t think of a better example of why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover than the day back in the early 1990s when Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt put pen to paper and wrote a song as touching as “More Than Words”.
Although credited to Extreme, only Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt had anything to do on this track…unless you count the ironic lighter-waving from the rest of the band…
Here’s Extreme with the very beautiful “More Than Words”…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/4npgZHPUKjWn6ipv6wl66Q
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.