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October 31, 1996

An Informal History of Wrestling Music: Part 1

by Jeff Yelton

Editor's Note: This issue of Solie's Wrestling Newsletter is devoted to the music used as entrance themes by our favorite sports-entertainers. As a professional musician I should know more about this subject but must confess that I have never given it much thought. It is therefore with great pleasure that I introduce Solie's newest contributor, Jeff Yelton, to educate us all about this fascinating subject.

Are you as irritated as I am when Lex Luger is introduced and he comes out accompanied by this awful guitar drivel that sort of takes the wind out of his sails? Or when Arn Anderson walks out, with this slow annoying country music riff escorting him down the aisle? It seems like the guys don't care what they walk out to anymore, that the music is an afterthought.

Music is a big part of the atmosphere of professional wrestling. Remember how the opening notes of a wrestler's theme could send chills up your spine, as you wait in anticipation of your favorite wrestler making his appearance?

Well, it seems as if somebody forgot about this when making up Lex's theme. I know they had to do it on short notice, since he abruptly signed with WCW one day after appearing on a WWF show,...but that was 14 months ago. Couldn't they have found something better to bring him out with than that din?

Close your eyes and go back to 1988. What music accompanied Lex down the aisle? Right. It was a nasty guitar ripping through two stanzas before being impaled with a single crash of a cymbal, after which the whole band would join in. Simple, effective, menacing, that was Lex Luger. And the music fit him like a glove.

How about AA? Arn never used music until 1990, when he and Barry Windham used a ZZ Top-knockoff to come to the ring, which was pretty good. But after Ric Flair left, Arn teamed with Larry Zybysko in a great team known as the Enforcers. And his music was perfect. Cold, with a nasty bassline punctuated by a pizzacato plucking of the guitar strings at the end of each fit Arn's personality and work ethic perfectly.

But lately, it seems that music doesn't fit particularly well. Mark Merro had to get a theme and a gimmick quickly in the WWF. But now that he's no longer a wild-eyed nut case and Sable is no longer a leather-clad whip-wielding bimbo, why does he have the same music? It took Steve Austin a long time to get a theme befitting his "Stone Cold" personality. And Vader's theme, while it is good,....where have I heard that guitar line before? Could it be from the Demolition theme?

WCW is no better, of course. Sting had a tremendous theme starting in 1988. It was fast and furious, just like that of his one-time tag team partner, the Ultimate Warrior. But the music fit him! You'd hear that opening with its frantic ripping riff punctuating the fast-moving rhythm section, and it would send everyone off. Sting would come down, a look of intensity on his face, jumping around like a 10-year-old, eager to please his fans. Just the thing to get the pumping! And it fit Sting's punk-rebellious style.

Now we have "A Man Called Sting", a serviceable song, and now a testament to how far down on the ladder Sting has fallen. This song, along with others, replaced the stock music WCW used courtesy of the Turner music library. I wish they'd kept the stock stuff. You see, this song, with its laid-back (dare I say it?) Hogan-esque style has sapped some of the energy from the fans and from Sting as well. It's hard to get behind a guy with a theme that doesn't fit him. And Sting's presence doesn't have the same effect since then. The old stuff painted Sting as a super-hero type, while this thing just puts him in the "been there, done that" category of wrestler, which is just what Sting has become.

And nobody gets it! I emailed WCW on their page a week ago. I don't guess they cared enough to reply,...or change it. They're too busy trying to print up 50,000 more NWO shirts to notice.

Wrestling themes used to serve a purpose. They used to paint the picture aurally. Watching a pro wrestling card, better yet seeing it live, should be a non-stop thrill ride. It should be a pleasure for your eyes and ears. (I won't comment on your nose,...) You should feel a bit like you're in a wind tunnel. It should have that rock-concert enthusiasm to it. And the music plays a big part in that sensation.

I'm sure many of you got cold chills when you heard "Real American" (written originally for Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo) and saw Hulk Hogan walk down the aisle, or felt like going, "Whooooooo!" when "2001" played, Ric Flair styling and profiling and strutting his stuff. Not to mention when Randy Savage came out to "Pomp and Circumstance", Liz in tow. Today, the Undertaker theme does the same thing (of course the light crew helps). Unfortunately, it seems as if today's wrestlers themes aren't as defining as those mentioned above.

I don't know who started using music as introduction accompaniment. Some say it was the Freebirds, some say it began with Jerry Lawler in Memphis, some others would point to Hogan, or the Von Erichs. Regardless of who started it, it has become a part of the wrestling experience. Everybody has a theme today, and it is because of those seeds sown in the early 1980's.

Of course, the previous decade is the one in which the straight press suddenly started paying attention to what people were really listening to, and pop culture became mainstream. Wrestling, as it filtered from being a cult art form played out on low-caliber UHF TV station, broadcast very fuzzily on 10" black-and-white TVs to the mainstream accepted show that it is today, embraced music to introduce its wrestlers, and for the most part, it was via commercial pop hits. The Freebirds used the Lynyrd Skynyrd tune that they took their name from, while all the Von Erich kids had music. David had ZZ Top's "La Grange" and Tanya Tucker's prophetic "Texas", which has the line "If I die, I don't wnat to go to heaven. Texas is where I want to stay." (or something like that; I haven't heard the song in years) Kerry had Blondie's "Call Me"(?) before wisely settling on Rush's "Tom Sawyer". Kevin used Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold", an odd choice for such a good guy.

As we go forward in the 1980's, we find that Memphis was a hotbed of wrestling videos. The Rock and Roll Express did one to Kiss' "I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night", Jerry Lawler did one to the other King (Elvis) warbling "My Way", the Fabulous Ones did a "Sharp Dressed Man" video, and Austin Idol was accompanied by Joan Jett's cover of a Gary Glitter tune "Do You Wanna Touch Me?" which is hilarious. Jimmy Valiant, after turning face in 1983 (and what a face to turn!) used the Manhattan Transfer's cover version of a 1960's tune "Boy From New York City", sending out this hillbilly wannabee with a long beard and long white hair to kiss unsuspecting people in the crowd, high-five everybody, go into the ring for 30 seconds and beat some scrub with two lame elbow smashes for the pin. After which, he would try to kiss the referee. The crowd loved it, of course.

1984 was really the golden year of bringing music to all wrestling organizations. That was the year that Vince McMahon nationalized the WWF and Verne Gagne, in response, nationalized the AWA with the help of Jim Crockett (who ended up stealing Verne's business). It was also the year that music took over. About half of current professional wrestlers entered the ring unaccompanied, but the number was dwindling weekly as wrestling promoters used more and more fast-paced matches. World Wide Wrestling didn't use ring announcers. Instead, they just got you right to the action. And since, the guys were coming on your TV screens unannounced, many of them used theme music to make their grand entrances. Remember how "Sharp Dressed Man" would blare on World Wide, and the crowd would at first scream, then go, "Awwwwww" because instead of a good guy coming out, it was that stuck-on-himself heel, Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin?

Grand theater, this was. (to be continued...)

Jeff Yelton lives in Westminster, Maryland and has watched wrestling for 23 of his thirty years. He holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland. In his spare time Jeff collects wrestling tapes (he owns over 60 of them) and baseball cards, surfs the net, watches TV, and helps manage the Global Wrestling Alliance, an e-mail fantasy wrestling fed, which is in its fifth year in Cyberspace.

Watch for Part 2 Next Week!

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