How Ugly Kid Joe Came Out of Nowhere With ‘As Ugly as They Wanna Be’
Ugly Kid Joe became an overnight sensation when As Ugly as They Wanna Be, rocketed to No. 4 on the Billboard chart, becoming the first extended-play disc to go double-platinum. All of it happened thanks to an insolent smash hit called "Everything About You," which signified the intersection of fading hair metal and rising grunge by combining the former’s optimistic sound with the latter’s pessimistic lyrics.
In other words, Ugly Kid Joe found themselves in the right place at the right time when this introductory EP arrived on Oct. 15, 1991. It's entirely fitting, in retrospect, that Palo Alto, Calif., natives and childhood friends Whitfield Crane (vocals) and Klaus Eichstadt (guitar) started the band as a satirical vehicle. Their very moniker was a parody of L.A. hair metal outfit Pretty Boy Floyd, while their EP's title was clearly played off 2 Live Crew's hit album As Nasty as They Wanna Be.
But after Mercury Records took the band's demos seriously enough to sign them in the early months of 1991, Crane and Eichstadt realized they had better assemble a functioning lineup for Ugly Kid Joe, recruiting rhythm guitarist Roger Lahr, bassist Cordell Crockett and drummer Mark Davis, when the tour offers began pouring in. Meanwhile, "Everything About You" was taking over MTV and radio, roaring up those charts (it also went to No. 3 in Britain), and was later used in the Wayne's World movie, to boot.
All of the other songs on the EP maintained a humorous tone, to some degree: the Disneyland-citing "Madman" would find its way (along with the single) onto the following year's America's Least Wanted full-length, but the utterly forgettable "Too Bad" went absolutely nowhere over a seemingly interminable six minutes. "Whiplash Liquor" was the mandatory funk-metal number and their cover of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" also eventually devolved into a Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk-rocker called "Funky Fresh Country Club." Finally, a 25-second thrash-out called "Heavy Metal" sounded like a dry run for Tenacious D.
But none of that really mattered in light of the single's inexorable success. "It was exciting times. All of a sudden, we had this record deal," Crane told Songfacts' Greg Prato. "You're very excited. You're a kid. You're not quite sure what you got yourself into, and you've got your dreams. You have no idea of the true math if your dreams are going to come true, because statistically, that shouldn't happen. But we believed wholeheartedly that everything was going to go down."
Addressing their hit, specifically, Crane added, "'Everything About You' is a song about Farrell T. Smith, our childhood friend - and still our dear friend, now. ... Farrell is a very cynical man and he's very good at it. He's not mean-spirited by any means, but he can sure pick apart any situation. And he always had that charm about him. So when we were kids, there was Farrell, and all of a sudden, there's Klaus with this song. Klaus wrote that song on piano in Palo Alto at his parents' house. I think it's a good song and a lot of it has to do with truly what surrounds you, because I'm sure everybody has similar surroundings - it's just about tuning in and using that."
Dissatisfied rock critics had little time for the band or the EP, as exemplified by the Chicago Tribune's Brenda Hermann's concluding that "the single, which has a novelty-song kind of appeal, pretty much sums up the entire 25-minute disc, which is a cacophony of funk, rap, lame choruses and old jokes."
Ah, but Ugly Kid Joe had the last laugh, riding this EP's momentum long enough to sell another two million copies of their debut album, tour with Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard and others, before amicably breaking up in 1996. Their subsequent albums never matched those early sales, but the band members were happy to pursue other interests until deciding to reform in 2010 and eventually recording a fourth album called Uglier Than They Used ta Be, their sense of humor obviously very much intact.