Music in wrestling is a surprisingly recent innovation. It didn’t really take off until the 1980s when The Fabulous Freebirds co-opted Lynyrd Skynyrd’s signature song. Since then, it has become an essential part of the way wrestling is presented and broadcast.
At first the music primarily came from outside of wrestling, as with the Freebirds, or Hulk Hogan’s early ’80s use of Survivor’s “Eye of The Tiger.” But since the mid ’80s, when WWF/WWE CEO Vince McMahon saw a money-making opportunity in producing original entrance music for his stars, wrestling music largely became an in-house operation. As a result, it has been subject to the bizarre filter that all real things must pass through to become part of the wrestling world.
There are certainly notable successes. The Undertaker’s ominous theme is a huge part of his iconic character, and the glass shattering at the beginning of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s theme is likely instantly recognizable to most North American fans who grew up in the ’90s.
A lot of the rest of it is forgettable garbage, but every now and again wrestling music will veer off the rails into a realm of gleeful absurdity that is as difficult to comprehend as it is magnificent to behold. Below are some of the more notable instances.
Billy ‘Mr Ass’ Gunn – “Ass Man”
This, I think, must be where we start. It isn’t the first truly absurd wrestling theme but it might be the truest distillation of the genre. Every beat is hit, and with gusto. There is a generic and yet oddly well arranged hard-rock backing track. A strained, borderline nonsensical lyrical concept (in this case that the singer is a man who loves asses, loves to kick asses, and loves his own ass), delivered with tremendous conviction by a session singer who is really working for this paycheque.
The second verse is maybe the perfect wrestling theme lyric:
[quote]”So many asses
so little time
a little tight one can stop me on a dime
I’m a lover
of every kind
the best surprises always sneak up from behind”[/quote]
The tone here is the result of a favourite and always awkwardly handled wrestling trope: the bad guy who is a bad guy because he’s supposed to be extremely sexy. This is always undercut by the unsexiness of most wrestlers and complicated by the homosocial tension this gimmick generates, which they normally attempt to diffuse with non-sequitur assertions of heterosexuality (e.g. “you walk behind me/you feel the heat/that’s why the girls all walk behind me down the street”). In a sense the song addresses a conflict inherent in hyper-masculine ideation. Also it’s about asses. “I’M AN ASSMAN! WHOA OH OH I’M AN ASSMAN!”
The American Males – “American Males”
One of the more fun things about wrestling themes, and wrestling in general, is the weird funhouse mirror distortion of popular culture that they present. The American Males theme is a great example of the often jumbled results of this.
Accompanied by a Titantron video that looks sort of like an early ’90s Calvin Klein ad but with a weird Miami Vice graphic, “American Males” attempts to give off an ’80s jetset vibe that ends up sort of coming across like Huey Lewis singing the verses in a Devo song. If that has you thinking “that sounds sort of great” then a) we have a lot in common and b) you would be correct, it is sort of great.
Opening with an overlong synth intro that gives way to the “chorus,” a seemingly endless refrain of “American Males” delivered as an undeniably Devo-esque group vocal, it is followed by an impassioned ‘hard rock’ verse vocal that immediately recalls South Park. This song warns the ladies that “if [the American Males] try to talk to you you best not listen/you might wind up in critical conditioooon/ha ha, American Males!” Oh dear.
Hulk Hogan – “Real American”
Speaking of wrestling’s weird reflections of the broader culture, Hulk Hogan’s second theme, “Real American,” provides a comically exaggerated representation of the political climate of Reaganite America.
Backdropped by Reagan’s escalation of the Cold War and the Iranian Hostage Crisis, much of the ’80s WWF run that catapulted The Hulkster to international stardom posited him as an avatar of American virtue; a beefy, blonde, stars-and-stripes-bandana-ed muscle man who encouraged fair play, the consumption of vitamins and the vanquishing of grotesque foreigners. He feuded with The Iron Sheik, a deranged Iranian character, and Nikolai Volkoff, a Russian wrestler who would celebrate his victories by singing the Soviet national anthem, soundly defeating his alien enemies and thus demonstrating the obvious superiority of The American Way.
The “Real American” theme (written by Rick Derringer!) had originally been used by a tag team called The US Express, but when they left the WWF it was a perfect fit for Hogan. The song, which expanded into the public consciousness along with Hogan right around the time that the Iran Contra Affair was making headlines, reads as an unambiguous and full-throated endorsement of Reagan’s interventionist foreign policy. A sample lyric:
[quote]”I feel strong about right and wrong
and I don’t take trouble for very long
I got something deep inside of me,
and courage is
the thing that keeps us free
I am a real American
Fight for the rights of every man
I am a real American
Fight for what’s right!
Fight for your life!”[/quote]
The song’s video featuring Hogan (poorly) pretending to play an American flag guitar is really just the icing on the red, white, and blue cake. That Hogan turned out to be a horrific racist is… an example of his commitment to keeping kayfabe?
The Mountie – “I’m The Mountie”
Ah ah ah ah! I don’t know what to do with this one! It is hard to handle because it is so HOT. What a gimmick! What a theme! That Hulk Hogan gets a Rick Derringer-penned super rockin’ mega jam and the most conspicuously Canadian wrestler of the period gets THIS is maybe a perfect illustration of how a certain subset of Americans view their Northern neighbours.
The Mountie was only extant for about a year and was portrayed by Jacques Rougeau between two stints where his character was essentially “a man from Quebec.” As per wikipedia: “the Mountie was a corrupt, cattle-prod wielding member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who would often boast that he ‘always gets his man’ in the ring.”
The theme is utterly inexplicable. A weird, vaguely military, synth-led cartoon march with vocals, I can only assume contributed by The Mountie himself, that more or less describe the Canadian Mounted Police as I understand them. “I’m the Mountie/I’m handsome, I’m brave, I’m strong/I’m the Mountie/and I enforce the law!” That more or less covers it!
Delightfully, the WWF was sued in Canada by the actual RCMP over the character, and Rougeau was barred from performing the Mountie gimmick North of the border, though he would maintain his mountie-inspired costume. During his Canadian matches the commentators would disclaim “this man does NOT represent the Royal Canadian Mounted Police!”
It would be fair to assume that wrestling themes do not get sillier than this but that assumption would be wrong because….
Steven Regal – “Real Man’s Man”
This exists!!!! Oh yes it does!!! It is a real thing that a person made and likely dozens of other people who worked for a multi-million dollar entertainment corporation saw and heard and signed off on. The world is wonderful! I want them to play this song when they bury me.
Where to even start with this?
Prior to Regal’s first short WWE run he had largely played up his Englishness, playing one or another derivation of the arrogant foreigner gimmick. Here, they focused on another element of his background, that he had once been a dockworker, and presented him as a working class manly man, presumably in the hopes of showing him in a more sympathetic light.
The Titantron video features Regal, wearing a hard hat and a sleeveless plaid shirt, engaged in such traditionally manful activities as shaving with a straight razor, operating heavy machinery, chopping wood, carrying a bag of quicklime, nodding slowly while making a mean face and SQUEEZING A GLASS OF ORANGE JUICE WITH HIS BARE HANDS!
In place of the Springsteen-esque, heartland rock ‘n’ roll number that was surely supposed to go here is a lightly chiming electric guitar and a male choir endlessly repeating the song’s only lyrics, “he’s a man/such a man/he’s a real/a real man’s man.” The distance between whatever they could possibly have been going for and what they actually did is staggering.
Unfortunately, the song and the gimmick were short-lived as Regal’s run with the company was cut short by injury and his substance abuse issues, but the legend lives on. According to Regal the theme is still used as the hold music every time he calls WWE offices.
The Right To Censor – “The Right To Censor”
The Right To Censor brings it home nicely in that it is an example of one of the more experimental strains of wrestling music. The pull of generic hard rock is strong but from time to time a wrestler is put forth as so odious to right thinking people that their theme must push beyond the bounds of what we conventionally think of as music.
In the tradition of Isaac Yankem, an evil dentist whose theme was the whirring of drills layered over each other, The Right To Censor entered to a cacophony of sirens.
The group (or stable in wrestling parlance) were a collection of some of the more envelope-pushing characters of the time. The Godfather (here rechristened The Goodfather), who was presented as an over the top version of a blaxploitation film pimp, and Val Venis, who was supposed to be a porn star, were put together as a parody of the right wing organizations who had lobbied to expunge the airwaves of the WWF in the late ’90s.
It’s perhaps appropriate that, in the general assault on decency and good taste that wrestling and wrestling music has always embraced there is still a willingness to push into such abrasive territory. Maybe it’s a coincidence that a medium that is often considered lowest common denominator entertainment will occasionally find itself in a similar place to the avant garde. Or possibly Vincent K. McMahon is America’s greatest living artist.
It’s a coincidence.
Tyler Breeze – “#MMMMMMGORGEOUS”
Honky Tonk Man – “Cool, Cocky, Bad”
The Booty Man – “The Booty Man”