Wednesday, 6 November 2013
And That's My Opinion...by Dave Green
#1 - Entrance music
Hello. I’m Dave. I’m a fan of wrestling. I want to stress that right away. I am a fan. I do not claim to be an expert in any of the elements that make a pro wrestling match. I have my opinions and preferences, yes, but I do not claim to be an expert.
I do not have a particular favourite style of wrestling. While I generally tend to appreciate the technical side of the sport mixed with high impact moves and high flying, I am usually just as happy watching a pure comedy match. I do tend to stay away from death matches. While I am not squeamish, I just don’t understand why people think it’s worthwhile to use light tubes, barbed wire and chairs to the head when we know what we know now.
I am also a music fan. I do not have a particular favourite style of music. While I generally tend to appreciate rock of the indie variety with a side portion of electronica and folk, I am just as happy boogieing with my hospital radio co-host to some cheesy disco. I do tend to stay away from modern day R&B and pop. While I am not squeamish, I only just recently saw a recent Miley Cyrus video (no, not the wrecking ball one, the other one) and I kind of worry about the future generations if she is a role model. Plus twerking makes me feel quite ill.
It has occurred to me over my many years on this planet how important music has become to pro wrestling. To a fresh pair of eyes watching a wrestling show for the first time, it helps establish the performer in many ways, ways in which I would to chat about to you right now.
A brief history lesson...
I believe I am right in saying that the first wrestler to use entrance music was Gorgeous George. During his heyday in the 40’s and 50’s, he entered the arena to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” (also the music used by Macho Man Randy Savage). In the late 70’s, the Fabulous Freebirds were the first to use rock music for their entrance, first using “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and then the Michael Hayes composed and performed “Badstreet USA”. Then of course the Rock & Wrestling Connection took place in 1984 that involved the WWF and MTV, which brought in Cyndi Lauper as a major cross promotion for the first Wrestlemania and really set the wheels in motion for the wrestling world as we now know it.
Initially the WWF and NWA only used entrance music sparingly for the bigger stars (i.e. Hogan and Flair). But over time, more and more of the wrestlers had their own themes. Jim Johnston and Jimmy Hart were the main names that set about the task of composing theme music for each WWF superstar and tag team, a herculean task, but one yielded memorable results. Every fan of the 80’s and 90’s WWF had their favourite entrance music: Demolition, Hart Foundation, Shawn Michaels, The Honky Tonk Man, Ultimate Warrior, Legion of Doom, just to name a few. Jim Johnston is still at it today – surely a Hall of Fame honour is on its way to him in the near future. With in-house musicians creating the music, it certainly helps on copyright and the distribution costs. It always breaks my heart when I watch a DVD of an old WWF ppv to find a treasured entrance theme has been replaced by something else just to avoid paying royalties – “Sorry Jimmy Hart, your theme for Dusty Rhodes may be one of the best of all time, but instead of paying you, we’re just going to use the theme from Wheel of Fortune instead.” (Note – this is no joke, that’s what they actually use!)
But what makes a great wrestler entrance theme? My first thought on that is pretty obvious – the opening moment of the song. Now when I say moment, I mean it can be the riff, bassline, drum or vocal. Let’s face it, when watching wrestling on TV, it’s only the first 30-45 seconds of the music you ever hear. The pop of the crowd upon hearing the first few words of Randy Orton’s theme or the operatic tones of Santino’s can be infectious. It’s Pavlovian conditioning, at the end of the day. What better way to simultaneously produce excitement among children and hatred among men than playing the first solitary note of “My Time is Now”? Randomly, I think the one WWF/E wrestler that has benefitted the most from memorable rifftastic theme music is none other than Billy Gunn. A man that has had many themes to suit his various gimmicks, he’s always had memorable theme music - The Smokin’ Gunns shooting sound effects into the wild west rock, the New Age Outlaws chantalongability, “I’m an Ass Man”, Billy & Chuck’s boy band influenced pop – even “The One” Billy Gunn gimmick had a great riff. Only “Rockabilly” escapes my memory, and I think the man himself would have it no other way!
Special mention must go to Mankind. As suggested by Mr Foley himself, Mankind entered to a creepy, sinister string section like something out of a Hitchcock film. But after he had destroyed his opponent, he had different music for his exit, a beautiful piano piece, as if calming Mankind down so he did not do any more damage. It was highly original and I am not aware of anyone who did this before or since.
Not being much of a viewer of WCW during its peak time, I do not know a lot of their theme music, though of course the nWo theme is widely regarded as one of the best due to its individual sounding nature. Goldberg also has music had fitted the grandiose nature of his entrance, so much so the WWE didn’t bother to adapt it too much when they brought him in 2003. TNA could really do with some better music for their acts. Aside from Jeff Jarrett’s, The Beautiful People’s and maybe Kurt Angle’s, there’s no entrance music on Impact that makes me immediately recognise who is coming out.
Another reasonably important part to an entrance theme is the lyrics, if there is any. The lyrics need to reflect the wrestler(s) they are singing about. This can veer from the good (Demolition – “Here comes the Ax and here comes the Smasher / We’re Demolition, Walking disaster”, lyrics even Low Ki himself recited on an edition of NXT) to the downright awful (Beer Money – He’s from the country/He’s from the city/Watch your money/And your alcohol!). If you get the words right, you have a song that many fans will recite from memory better than any song on the radio.
A wrestler performing their own entrance music has become more popular in recent years. Aside from the aforementioned Freebirds, the earliest performance of an entrance by the actual wrestler I can recall would be the Honky Tonk Man. But of course, he didn’t perform that live as he entered the ring (and I don’t count that abomination at Wrestlemania 6 – and neither should you!). The Mountie very proudly performed his own song, which was everyone’s guilty pleasure, and often sung it to the camera as he made his way to the ring. Actual live performance was few and far between. The earliest of that I can recall would be “The Real Double J” Jesse James, who performed “With My Baby Tonight” on his way down the aisle. Now that was a song that could easily have been in the charts (so we wrestling fans liked to tell ourselves to lend some credibility to the gimmick). Mr James wouldn’t stop there though, as he brought K-Kwik to the mass audience to “Get Rowdy” in late 2000 and then as part of the 3 Live Krew in early TNA. Oh, in case you don’t know, K-Kwik went on to become Ron “The Truth” Killings and then R-Truth, who’s still rapping his way to the ring to this day. Yeah, thanks Jesse. In Dragon Gate in Japan, Rich Swann has taken the live singing gimmick to the next level. He beatboxes his entire entrance. Not really sure what it tells me about him as a wrestler or character, but I certainly took notice when I first saw him. And standing out is what it’s all about, right? And no one stands out in their entrance more right now than Aiden English. NXT's resident artiste serenades his way to the ring to a different piano accompaniment every week, extolling his virtues to us through the medium of musical theatre, before rounding off with a huge "Double U Double U EEEEEEEEEEEE". Sounds ludicrous - and it is. But he pulls it off so well, to the point where the audience at Full Sail constantly ask for an encore and throw roses into the ring when he graces us with one. Not bad for a newcomer and particularly not bad considering he's always slightly off key.
Of course, if the company doesn’t have its own musicians, then wrestlers will need to find their own music. The use of music on the indie circuit has become even more integral to establishing a character. If your image isn’t on the TV, then this entrance may be the first time a crowd is seeing you and getting the entrance right always makes a good first impression. I first saw Tommy End at Progress Chapter 9. I’d never heard of him before I got into the building when they announced him as a substitute for Jimmy Havoc. His music was a quite intense metal riff which I had not heard before, but before I could even attempt to recognise it, out he came, stomping to the ring, no pausing for applause, just out the door, onto the stage, down the steps, into the ring, ready to fight. No pomp or ceremony, just straight forward to the point. The entire entrance with the music summed up his character to me right away – he’s in that ring to do business and wrestle. He’ll accept the plaudits from the crowd if and when he earns them after the match. At Revolution Pro “Uprising”, two different characters were established using almost the same music. Zack Sabre Jr entered to the LDRS techno theme as has been established over many years on the indie circuit. His recently turned heel LDRS team mate Marty Scurll entered later on to a slower, darker version of the same song. Both of them were introduced as “one half of the LDRS of the New School”, however if you weren’t aware of the change of attitude of one of the members, it was certainly established by the dark tone of the second of the two entrances. On the negative side though, the dark version of the same song only reminded me of the unfortunate Sin Cara vs Sin Cara storyline of a few years back.
I remember going to see Progress for the first time, first wrestler out was Noam Dar. His music – “Morning Glory” by Oasis. This gave me a good first impression mainly due to being an Oasis fan, so in my mind he had good taste and I cheered his entrance. Then I realised he was a heel. And I realised that Oasis was a great band to use due to the cocky swagger of Dar very much emulating one Liam Gallagher, a character the majority of the world loves to hate. My most recent viewing of Dar was at the previously mentioned Revolution Pro show at York Hall recently. There he came out to a different Oasis song, “Live Forever”. If I hadn’t seen him before, I would not have made the connection, but the change of song made me wonder if he had a change in tune with his character having just come back from a four month injury lay off. Then I saw he was the same cocky git, so maybe not.
Through all the differing rock music offerings that indie wrestlers use to establish themselves, it seems strange that the best entrance in indie wrestling at the moment comes from a tubby Scotsman that enters to the sounds of the Queen of Pop. Grado’s entrance at Progress Chapter 9 was an event. His reputation preceded itself as nearly everyone in the room knew who he was, but this was my first experience of him live. His entrance involving dancing to the ring to “Like a Prayer” by Madonna makes him stand out from the pack and gets everyone involved in the fun aspect of his character. It may not be for everyone, but no doubt it’s an impactful entrance. On ICW’s YouTube channel, there is a great match between Grado and Mikey Whiplash. At one point, the entire crowd sings “Like a Prayer” to spur on Grado. How many times have you heard a crowd sing a wrestlers entrance in that way?!
The use of popular music has certainly made its way back to the mainstream in recent years, and there’s money to be made from it now. During the Attitude Era, the likes of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit reared their ugly heads to provide music for The Undertaker. Motorhead finally gave Triple H a decent theme to enter to. Various rap and metal bands collaborated with WWE on full albums of differing quality. Vince McMahon has understandably been hesitant to use other artists’ songs for his wrestlers’ theme music, but it has provided memorable moments. The use of Alter Bridge’s “Metalingus” provided Edge with the music he still uses to this day. Tatu’s “All the Things She Said” gave the world an immediate impression of Victoria’s crazy character when she debuted. And, of course, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of “Cult of Personality?” That song not only establishes CM Punk’s character, but gave Living Colour themselves a new lease of life. So everyone’s a winner, right?
Now of course, over the years, WWE brought in many music stars as special guests for various Wresltemanias: Run DMC, Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Willie Nelson to name a few. These were only for live performances and they were all of varying quality. Though none quite as bad as the DX Band at Summerslam 1998. However, WWE took a long time to realise they could make some money from their own music. They seemed to think the album “Piledriver” and a few ill-conceived Simon Cowell influenced singles (Slam Jam, Wrestlemania) would suffice for their fans. Finally realising the popularity of their music, WWE finally put out anthology albums. Now themes are immediately available to download. Themes for the current crop of superstars can be given instant gratification if they are popular and well received enough for people to want to buy them. I guess the wrestlers themselves have to make sure that their theme isn’t so popular it eclipses them (Hi Fandango, I’m looking in your direction).
But what if your theme is established and you want change? If it’s a change in character, then it is probably necessary. Remember when Eddie Guerrero turned on Rey Mysterio? How foolish would he have looked if he’d come out the next week to the same “Lie, Cheat, Steal” music?! Again, getting it right is a matter of timing and character. When Daniel Bryan returned at Summerslam to face Nexus, he came out to a dirgey rock riff that had no personality whatsoever. He even stated that in an in-ring promo! The next week, he came out to Rise of the Valkyries, with a bemused Edge looking on. The ridiculousness of the vast sounding orchestral symphony soundtracking little Daniel Bryan to the ring was a funny image, but one that worked because you could see Bryan was loving it. It established a slightly geeky character, but one that was fun. Of course, in the ring was another matter. As we all know, he still uses the same tune but just a little bit rocked up.
Two famous instances when a change of theme took place involve two very well known themes with rather different results. In the weeks after Money in the Bank 2011, Raw ended an episode with John Cena beating Rey Mysterio and becoming WWE Champion, replacing the champion that had just left the company with the title belt. Then a guitar riff cut in, one that no-one recognised. Of course we all now know that riff as the intro of “Cult of Personality” and out came CM Punk. Now the argument of whether he came back too early and that entire storyline has been beaten to death and I’m not about to start that up again. But the new music (replacing a perfectly good theme itself) immediately established the new CM Punk.
The other instance occurred at Wrestlemania 21. JBL enters to a chorus of boos. His WWE title on the line against the challenger. John Cena. The newest face on the main event scene. A man whose popularity was sky rocketing. He'd made his way out of obscurity to the Wrestlemania main event in just over two and a half years. The crowd are waiting for the first sound of his theme music. The arena is ready to erupt. It hits...and the crowd goes mild. The crowd were wanting "Basic Thuganomics", they got a hitherto unknown tune called "My Time is Now". The change for John Cena's theme was necessary. He was slowly changing from his rough around the edges hip hop character to the squeaky clean babyface we know today. To make the change before the biggest match of his career on the biggest stage of them all was a bold move. Sadly it took the crowd slightly out of the moment and I don't think it achieved the desired effect. The fact that what followed was an intensely uninspired bout with a damp squib of an abrupt ending didn't help matters.
So all in all, a wrestler's theme music, be it an original composition or an established piece, needs to have the following - a memorable hook, an impactful opening and a style that suits the wrestler that it is for. Bearing all that in mind, here are my personal top 5 wrestlers entrance themes
5: Bray Wyatt - "Live in Fear" by Mark Crozier. Apparently discovered on a licensing for television website. Says the man himself: "As soon as I heard the bass line of this one, a spark happened. It was magic. He was able to capture a mood in a melody. The mood is very eerie. The song and Bray Wyatt come together so well because Bray is an enigma."
Couldn't put it better myself
4: Hulk Hogan - "Real American" by Rick Derringer
Come on, it has to be in there. So good, Hogan stole it from Windham & Rotunda, who were using it in the first place as the US Express. Strange to think of a younger me singing along "I am a real American", not very patriotic but demonstrates perfectly how a catchy riff and cheesy lyrics can make a memorable entrance.
3: The London Riots - "Diesel Power" by Prodigy
The best tag team on the UK scene in my opinion (other teams may have great wrestlers in them, but these two are a true team), they enter to a mashup of various news reports about the riots in the capital a few years back before the belting bassline pounds out. Perfectly encapsulates the brooding and scary mood the Riots bring to their matches.
2: The Brood - "Blood" by Jim Johnston
Absolutely the best entrance of the Attitude Era. You can keep your glass smashing, bell tolling, cooking smelling - the Brood's theme just had IT. Combined with the amazing sight of three men coming up through a ring of fire, the eerie voices whispering at you before an actually simple instrumental with strange grinding guitars were something no other theme had. Gangrel still uses it to this day. Not sure if WWE know that though.
1: Madison Rayne - " Killa Queen" by Dale Oliver
Yes that's right - my favourite entrance music in all of wrestling comes from a TNA Knockout. Everything that makes a great theme is here. Immediate impact with a pounding guitar riff right away. A catchy lyric on the chorus (only four words, I know, but still...). And perfectly encapsulated Madison's character, that of the arrogant female that was at the time on the roll of her life and defeating everyone that TNA put in front of her. On a disappointing One Night Only Knockouts ppv that TNA put out recently, Madison's theme hitting at the end of the night to present Gail Kim with her prize for winning put the biggest smile on my face.
So there you go - a retired TNA Knockout has the best entrance music in all of wrestling
At least that's my opinion
Hope you enjoyed my first column. Follow me @dagreeno and give me suggestions for future columns. The more random, the better.