Even in 2017, hopelessly lost in a deadening creative malaise – the prospect of John Cena and Rusev feuding two years later, having undergone zero in the way of character development in the interim, is bloody depressing – WWE still excels at entrance themes.
Bobby Roode’s ‘Glorious Domination’, penned by the excellent CFO$, is the aural translation of the word “epic”, performed by what can only be described as a choir of warriors. With it, WWE managed in ten seconds what TNA failed to do in ten years: present Roode as a genuine superstar. Shinsuke Nakamura’s ‘The Rising Sun’ blast beats/violin fusion is the sound of the language barrier being annihilated. Asuka’s ‘The Future’ is a three minute-long cruel taunt. The booking may be criminal, but the entrances are blessed.
There is much to life outside of the WWE bubble. More expressionistic – often far superior – wrestling matches. Shows promoted in a more logical, sports-oriented context. And, ironically, more variety with nary a stipulation in sight. This also extends to the all-important entrance theme, which, if used correctly, does as much to get a performer over as years of painful graft and painstaking fine-tuning.
Even WCW, rightly derided for its dime store bargain bin knockoffs of classic WWF themes and grunge anthems, was the proverbial broken clock…
Susumu Hirasawa is a legend within avant garde musical circles – so much so that a (tenuous) association with the wacky world of pro wrestling was one of the less weird things about him.
Hirasawa, who composed this synth-based masterpiece under a pseudonym, was not a fan of puroresu. This was his guess at what “wrestling sounds like”. If only it was. Hirasawa’s vision of it is both relentless and beautifully ambient – an evocation of a late night teenage Tokyo joyride, with its spectral synths and juddering precision drum machine. Choshu’s Revolution Army stable thundered through New Japan in the early 1980s. This, a bleeping, shuddering blast of hypersonic BPM, was the perfect soundtrack for that revolution.
Choshu was a hugely over hero of the youth movement in the mid 1980s. Though it may be a result of permanent millennial fascination with that decade, ‘Power Hall’ still sounds impossibly cutting edge in 2017. Imagine how cool, how futuristic, it must have sounded back then.
It works as a electronic masterpiece in its own right, with just enough swelling grandeur in the background to associate itself with the sport.
“May not have heard” might also be as much of a stretch as “epic” here, but this, the most brilliant so-bad-it’s-good wrestling theme ever penned, warrants inclusion here as civic duty.
Great wrestling themes – generally, there are exceptions, even here – must be immediate, attention-catching. The use of the “sting” – shattering glass, sirens, gongs – is not prevalent by accident. The intro to ‘American Males’, however, is thirty seconds long. The effect of this endless bubbling bass and revved engine guitar is one of sheer anticipation. It must be building to something of blow-away quality. It’s just so d*mn assured, like it’s unzipping itself because that bulge simply cannot be constrained any longer.
What it builds to, instead, is some squeaky-voiced sap droning “American Males! American Males! American Males! American Males! American Males! American Males! American Males!” Count it: that is seven times. The verse is something Trey Parker would consider too OTT even in the realm of parody. “When you see them comin’ better run for cov-ah! Girls you don’t need a weekend lov-ah – eurgh – American Males!”
The subsequent guitar solo is unintentionally hilarious. You’ll never in your life hear anything lower in the mix. It’s as if it’s embarrassed to be associated with the rest of the song.
Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger walked to the ring for his one-and-done NXT bow to the strains of CFO$’s ‘Thuhn-Der’. It was fine. It hit the right notes of Liger’s more famous New Japan theme without plagiarising them outright. It was frenetic and heroic, with just enough blippy anime bluster to convey to a new audience who Liger was.
As adequate as it was, it was no ‘Ikari No Jushin’.
The opening sting sparks compulsory air drumming before setting off in a synth-heavy gallop wholly befitting of Liger’s gutsy superhero act. There was an element of corniness (no bad thing) to Liger. His full body suit and ornate mask was an OTT revamp of Satoru Sayama’s Tiger Mask garb, itself directly fashioned after another anime hero. Ikari No Jushin ably complimented it with its rapid vocals and equally sudden and histrionic key changes.
The searing pace is what really captures Liger’s essence. Liger was one of the most influential junior heavyweights of all time, having innovated the still-jaw-dropping Shooting Star Press. ‘Ikari No Jushin’, a breakneck voyage of an entrance theme, could barely keep up with him in his pomp.
WWE has the market cornered on entrance themes, we’ve discussed that. Perhaps the only way of beating them at their own game is liberally borrowing a gem from their library and sprinkling a f*ck-tonne of F words over the top of it, much like TAKA Michinoku has done in Japan in recent years.
There is much to admire about its opening sting. The jukebox coin drop is why-did-nobody-think-of-it-before perfect – but requires an awesome theme to back up the balls-out bluster. TAKA subsequently lobs out the fruit as well as the two veg with a spoken word segment in which he confirms that “TAKA is coming…motherf*cker.” In brilliantly accented English, he also threatens to “kick you a**.”
And thus begins the familiar clipped shamisen, which, appropriately enough for a number that betters the original by utterly bludgeoning it, turns the old transitional distorted guitar riff up to 11. Up to 11 also go the hilarious spoken word interludes. “Hey you, a**hole. Listen to me. You know my name, do you know who I am? My f*cking name is TAKA Michinoku!”
What’s extraordinary about the theme is that TAKA portrays himself as this super-powerful specimen when in fact, the only physical change he has undergone since leaving the WWF is the creaking emergence of swelling dad bod.
That’s not a blight on the man; a slight Japanese performer must also have a f*ck-tonne of talent to stay relevant in the western mainstream for two decades.
One general rule of wrestling theme entrances thumb is: if you’re foreign, make d*mn sure everybody gets used to the idea within a matter of seconds, else you run the risk of not pigeonholing yourself through your ethnicity.
Eddie (Eddy) Guerrero was lumbered with a particularly stereotypical ditty in WCW – a lowriding bass number spiked with lazy mariachi leanings. Juventud Guerrera’s theme was similarly region-specific. It’s a miracle he didn’t lead a bull to the ring. Trumpets also blared over the speakers when the Mexicools faction entered WWE arenas in the mid-2000s (though in fairness, their entire act was based on being Mexican.)
Happily, Penta El 0M has selected a far less cumbersome tune than his Mexican predecessors (and his recent enforced name change). ‘Thrill Switch’ starts inauspiciously with an anonymous guitar squall and drum fill, threatening to approach the generic hard rock territory into which so many wrestlers land – before settling into a wavy trip-hop bassline and an almost mournful synth pitying his opponents.
Wrestling themes have mastered the epic, the intimidating and the fabulously naff. This is a rare cool wrestling theme.
While CFO$ have continued Jim Johnston’s wonderful lineage of crafting awesome entrance themes, the best modern composition must be Ayumi Nakamura’s Kaze ni Nare, used by the psychotic Minoru Suzuki. It’s both epic in and of itself and perfectly suited to one of the most idiosyncratic performers on the planet today.
Suzuki is a freelancer, a status echoed by the introduction. The gust of wind is almost an anti-“sting”, heralding Suzuki’s arrival from the wilderness to reclaim his throne as the most vile sh*t-kicker in any given promotion. Once he materialises, the building is shaken by pounding drums and loud duelling guitars – one heavy and distorted, reflecting his relentlessly stiff offence, the other a picked western acoustic chord progression conveying his status as puro outlaw.
It’s a really a masterpiece; every arrangement is reminiscent of his multi-faceted character. The guitar gives way to delicate piano and beautiful, haunting female vocals. Suzuki has a sick sense of humour, kicking his ring boys off the apron with a sadistic leer – which might explain his theme’s sudden departure into the realm of the beautiful.
It’s blackly comedic irony; a masterful psychological touch lulling opponents and fans alike into false security.
The beauty of the Ravishing Rick Rude act is that there was so, so much to hate about him, all of which born from perhaps the most primal human emotion of all: jealousy.
Rude’s “stripper” WWF theme – heavily borrowed from, yes, “The Stripper” by David Rose & His Orchestra – was wonderfully sleazy, modernised for the excess of the 1980s with ridiculous wailing saxophones and sharp synths. Good as it was, it only really conveyed one aspect of his rounded personality. Rude was an aberration, in that he was a former WWF star who was better in WCW than he was up north, and didn’t need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into developing his character. He cut the mullet off. His musculature was still unbelievably impressive, even leaner. He was stripped of both the Stripper theme and the cartoonish connotations of it. This Rude, still a total p*ssy rat, was tougher and meaner.
“Simply Ravishing” was the perfect musical capper. It teetered dangerously close to a babyface theme, with its triumphant synths and awesome OTT soul vocals, but it just made you hate the man all the more, especially with lyrics subverting the cheesy bombast (“His body’s chiselled/Abs all in a row/You’d think he was sculpted by Michelangelo!”).
This impossibly brilliant a**hole just had to have the best music, on top of everything else.
The Fabulous Freebirds were among the first acts to popularise entrance music in the golden days of the territory era (Gorgeous George and Mildred Burke innovated the practise in the 1950s), flying to the ring to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern pride anthem ‘Free Bird’.
By the mid 1980s, using copyrighted music simply became too expensive, precipitating the age of in-house compositions but not prohibiting faction leader Michael ‘PS’ Hayes, an accomplished musician in his own right. He, in conjunction with James D. Papa, penned ‘Badstreet USA’ for use by the Freebirds going forward. It’s a shame that the song is synonymous with their faded force, for it is a sublime, early Van Halen-esque rock number dripping with the cool the Freebirds possessed at the height of their WCCW run with the Von Erichs.
It begins with a bass string-plucked heartbeat before the drums strut right up to the top of the mix, joined by a sleazy, arrogant guitar riff and growling, emulative vocals. This being the height of the 1980s there is, naturally, a caterwauling solo tacked on the end of it.
This wasn’t Hayes’ last contribution to the wrestling music sphere; he also recorded ‘Freebird Road’ as a tribute to his fallen Freebird comrade Terry ‘Bam Bam’ Gordy. You shouldn’t laugh – the inspiration behind it is as sweet as the harmonies – but Hayes does air guitar on Gordy’s grave in the video.