Ugly Kid Joe's Everything About You: a story of MTV, beer drinking and escaped sex dolls

Ugly Kid Joe in 1991
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

It was 1987, and for Californian teenager Klaus Eichstadt and his snarky circle of friends, the rock scene had gone soft. Raised on the hard-rock crunch of Judas Priest and AC/DC, Eichstadt and his gang no longer saw themselves reflected by MTV, where slick production values met titillation straight out of a lingerie catalogue. 

Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and The Scorpions were huge then, all doing these big ballads with hot chicks in the videos,” the guitarist told me in 2019. “There were so many love songs. We were kind of antithat. So with Everything About You I was like: ‘Okay, fuck you, everybody.’” 

As Eichstadt sat at the old piano in his parents’ house, fingering what would become the main hook of Everything About You (“It’s a total piano riff”), he began to formulate a lyric based on the biggest misanthrope he knew. Today, says Ugly Kid Joe singer Whitfield Crane, their mutual childhood friend Farrell T Smith is the battalion chief of a Californian fire department; back then he was a local hero and biting wit. “We were all masterful cynics, born to fuck with the world. And Farrell was just really good at taking the piss. That song is him.” 

Having recorded the bare bones of Everything About You on a little Tascam portastudio, Eichstadt drove to a party in his parents’ VW and played the song to Crane and Smith on the car’s cassette player. The song then sat in stasis for almost four years, during which time Ugly Kid Joe formed, got serious, and realised their set-list was too short. 

“So I said: ‘What about that song?’” Eichstadt recalls. “We probably learnt it in an hour in the rehearsal room.” 

Buoyed by the live response to Everything About You, the band included it on 1991’s debut EP As Ugly As They Wanna Be, by which point Eichstadt had added a flashy guitar solo inspired by Chuck Berry and Poison’s CC DeVille, while Crane improvised an outro rap that saluted the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “We loved [Chilis albums] Freaky Styley and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, had gone to see them in San Francisco, and just couldn’t believe what we were watching. We were so inspired. And of course we didn’t do it very good.”

Despite the gusto of his vocal performance, Crane admits he had reservations about singing Everything About You. “I wanted to be in Black Sabbath or AC/DC, and the song didn’t sound like those bands. Everyone surrounded me and said: ‘You gotta sing it.’ I think I came out with that gravelly note at the end just because it was funny.” 

The success of that EP took everyone by surprise, says Crane – “It was the first EP to ever go multi-platinum in the history of planet earth” – and the band soon found themselves in Hollywood’s Devonshire Studios, re-recording Everything About You for their debut album, 1992’s America’s Least Wanted, with producer Mark Dodson. 

“When we first met Mark,” Crane recalls, “he was sitting behind the board smoking Marlboro Reds, and we knew he was the guy. Not because of his drum tones, but because he knew Judas Priest. We drank beers all day in the studio. We had a giant wall of Budweiser cans that we spray-painted ‘Ugly’ on. But we also worked really hard.” 

Released as the band’s debut single, Everything About You was accompanied by a video that eschewed the glamour models of hair-metal and showed the band rocking out on Isla Vista beach and kite-flying a helium-filled sex doll. Unfortunately, says Crane – in a rerun of Pink Floyd’s airborne pig escaping from its moorings at Battersea Power Station during the 1977 cover shoot for Animals – the doll’s string broke, causing consternation for West Coast aviation. “They had to close down the Santa Barbara airport.” 

Everything About You reached No.3 in the UK and No.9 in the US, and adroitly bridged the gap between hair-metal’s musical exuberance and the nihilism of grunge. 

“We’re the missing link,” says Crane. “We were right before the grunge era. We were the last ‘smile’ band to get through the door before flannel and heroin. We were on tour with Scatterbrain, and all of a sudden the rooms started to fill up – and they were coming to see us. We didn’t know the video was getting played. This was before cell phones and computers, so we didn’t know shit. We went from a motorhome to a tour bus and an Ozzy tour. All of a sudden we’re landing in Australia, playing to eight thousand people, kicking ass.”

Ugly Kid Joe would chalk up further hits – a 1993 cover of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle made US No.6/UK No.7 – and build an eclectic discography that continues with this year’s fifth album Rad Wings Of Destiny. As such, Eichstadt and Crane admit, it has been frustrating at times to have their oeuvre boiled down to a single song. 

Everything About You is a double-edged sword,” considers the guitarist. “You get a lot of: ‘Oh, it’s that one-hit wonder band.’ At the same time, who knows what would have happened had we not had that song?” 

Shortly before the band’s split in 1997, says Crane, they would even drop Everything About You from their set, before making peace with the song for their 2010 reunion. 

“In 1995 we were playing soccer stadiums with Bon Jovi and Van Halen, and everyone was like: ‘Dude, you gotta play Everything About You.’ ‘Fuck no.’ I wanted to be in a heavy metal band, so I was being a pain-in-the-ass singer. I was out of line. And poor Klaus would say, ‘Can’t we just play it?’ What we agreed was that midway through the set, we’d meet at the drum riser and say: ‘Is this crowd being awesome?’ If they were, then we’d play it. These days my viewpoint is fuck it, let’s play ’em all. I’m not scared to play Everything About You, because it gives people joy.”

Rad Wings Of Destiny is out now.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.