Here it is – the controversy stirrer. Sure, the last 20 themes weren’t bad, but since your favorite wasn’t in there, it really wasn’t a big deal if it was ranked 13th or 17th. But you knew that your favorite was going to be #1. It had to be.
And I’m going to guess that it’s not going to be.
Looking over the list, I can think of one song I might have omitted that I shouldn’t have, but that’s about it. I’m happy with the rankings. I’d love to hear your feedback though – feel free to comment at the end of the article.
So, without further delay, the top 10:
10. Hulk Hogan – Real American by Rick Derringer
I have to give Hogan credit – he could have three theme songs in this countdown. Hogan’s AWA theme (and his early WWF theme) was Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger, working off of his role in Rocky III. Hogan, after joining the nWo during his WCW run, got Eric Bischoff to pony up the cash (reportedly a lot of it) to license Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child (Slight Return). But when it comes to identifying Hulk Hogan with theme music, Real American will always be identified with the red and yellow, torn t-shirt, “three demandments”, 24-inch python legdrop machine. The twist though was that Real American was never meant to be the theme song for Hogan; it was intended for the U.S. Express tag team of Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (on The Wrestling Album where the song debuted, the lead-in to the song introduces it as such). However Windham left the WWF unexpectedly before the album was released, breaking up the team. Hogan, who had new theme music on the same album as well, decided to use use Real American instead. The theme wouldn’t go to waste though, as it was used for the opening of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling cartoon.
But Vince wasn’t marketing to kids.
9. Taz – War Machine by Kiss
Back to back orange goblins! Anyway, if you want proof that Paul Heyman was a booking genius, look at Taz. The two of them took a guy coming off an injury and a silly gimmick and turned him into the biggest badass in a company full of badasses and anti-heroes. Billed at 5’9″ (yeah, right) and without any real gimmick except he was a miserable sonofabitch and wanted to choke everyone out, Taz gained the respect (and therefore heel heat) of the ECW crowd and became the perfect cornerstone for the promotion, mainly because he wasn’t an “ideal size” for the main promotions that saw smaller wrestlers as “junior heavyweights” and expected more high-flying moves from them. War Machine reflected Taz’s attitude at the time, with the thumping drum beat mixed with the hard guitar, telling everyone to watch out, because Taz was a war machine. When Taz eventually went to the WWF (gaining another “z” in the process), he lost Kiss to in-house produced music, but Jim Johnston (who composes nearly all WWF/E in-house themes) kept War Machine‘s basic beat (even opening with a heart monitor to mimic Peter Kriss’ opening drum beat) in creating his new theme.
8. Shane Douglas – Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple
There’s no reason why Perfect Strangers should be a good theme song on paper. It’s a song about a failed relationship and the singer telling the other person that they can no longer be together. But that opening guitar riff that gets everyone’s attention, followed by silence, then another riff leading into the song. Originally Chris Benoit’s theme in ECW, it became the theme music for the “Triple Threat” stable that included Benoit, Douglas, and Dean Malenko. Eventually Benoit and Malenko would leave ECW, but Douglas retained the theme as his own, even keeping it after signing on with WCW (Jimmy Hart created an instrumental version of the song) and later TNA (where his theme “Deep” was essentially another instrumental version.)
7. Triple H – The Game by Motörhead
Say what you want about Vincent K. McMahon, but the guy knows how to jump on an opportunity to make some cash. As the wrestling boom of the late 90s allowed teenagers and young adults to openly purchase wrestling merchandise without becoming a social pariah, the WWF (and other promotions) saw a market for their theme music, and began pushing CDs of it. The CDs sold rather well, with several going platinum (think about that for a second – a million copies sold. Of wrestling theme music.) While previously promotions had stopped using music from established musicians due to licensing costs, the WWF had come full circle and looked now to bring in established musicians to come in and record theme songs for the wrestlers. One of the first products of this was Motörhead’s The Game. While I’ve always thought “The Game” was one of the more stupid nicknames a wrestler has ever given himself, it works for the song. Lemmy announcing “IT’S TIME TO PLAY THE GAAAAAAAAAME!” and going into an evil Lemmy-like laugh brings a crowd to attention, and the song is a strong one as well, actually holding up on its own outside of being a theme.
6. Steve Austin – I Won’t Do What You Tell Me
As “Stone Cold” himself would say, “when you hear the glass, it’s your ass”. The last Jim Johnston-composed theme on the countdown (sorry Billy Gunn fans), Austin’s theme fit his gimmick perfectly – when you listen to it, you just want to look pissed off and stomp around, which is pretty much how Austin entered the ring every time he was introduced during the “Stone Cold” run. The glass shattering sound worked as a perfect interruption sound for interviews and signaled that Stone Cold was on his way down to ringside, usually causing not only an interruption but the end of whatever interview segment was taking place. The WWF – pushing the theme albums at the time – would attempt several remixes of the theme, but none ever stuck; the theme song and the gimmick went hand-in-hand.
5. Ric Flair – Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss
Or “the theme from 2001″ as (nearly) everyone calls it. Yes, I’ll get called out for this one too, since it is one of the most iconic themes for a wrestler of all time. Hell, I think more people in my age range – if they were asked what song it was – would say “Ric Flair’s theme” than reference 2001 (I’ve still never seen the movie). The theme was great in its time, especially when 2001 was actually a film that people had seen, because the connection with the majesty of the moment in the movie with Flair raised Flair to a higher level. It was to “greatness” what The Imperial March is to “doom”, but the more 2001 ages and becomes less relevant, the weaker Also Sprach Zarathustra becomes as a current theme, becoming more of a sentimental favorite than something that holds up over time.
4. Road Warriors – Iron Man by Black Sabbath
When I first got the idea to do this, I had this penciled in at #1. In the 80s, nothing said “oh shit – we’re going to die” quite like Iron Man did. Watching the Superstation on Saturday evening, seeing the Mulkey Brothers already standing in the ring awaiting their death, and then the opening cords of Iron Man playing and the Roadies sliding under the bottom rope and beating them before the sound clip ended as David Crockett screamed like a 12-year-old girl watching Justin Bieber brush his hair – this is what I grew up with.
3. Randy Savage – Pomp & Circumstance by Edward Elgar
What better entrance music is there than the original entrance music? The song played at just about every graduation to introduce the graduating class is also considered to be the first wrestling theme song, originally used by Gorgeous George in the 40s and 50s for his introduction. The WWF, upon introducing Savage, didn’t really have a flamboyant, over-the-top heel, so Savage adopted the role. Savage had the sunglasses, the sequin-filled ring robe, and the beautiful valet (who, as Savage was a bullying heel, was required to walk behind him), and used Pomp & Circumstance as his theme music. Savage would continue to use the music (or variations of it) through his entire career, and it became as identified with him as it had with George a generation earlier.
2. Rob Van Dam – Walk by Pantera
If you’re looking for personal bias in this countdown, you’ll see it in these last two songs since I got to see the impact of both of them in person, although this one was probably strongest. When Rob Van Dam started to get his ECW push, he was feuding with Sabu, and ended up taking on Sabu’s former manager Bill Alfonzo as his manager. The reasoning for the feud was that after a Van Dam/Sabu match that Sabu won, Sabu extended his hand but was blown off by Van Dam, who refused to show him “proper respect”. Respect became the key word, as Van Dam kept refusing to shake hands with Sabu, but in order to screw with him he would shake hands with his other opponents. Van Dam began using Pantera’s Walk as his theme, mainly for the chorus (in fact, ECW would later just loop the chorus as Van Dam came to the ring), which consisted of “RE… SPECT… WALK… WHADDYA SAY? RE… SPECT… WALK… ARE YA TALKIN’ TO ME?”
As RVD’s popularity grew, the crowd reaction to the theme was overwhelming. RVD would later team with Sabu (managed by Alfonso) and the team would play into the crowd participation aspect of the song. Alfonso would make a gesture representing each of them for each beat of the chorus, pointing at the sky to represent Sabu (who as one of his trademarks would get on his knees and point to the sky), do a double thumb point to himself to represent RVD (who made that his trademark gesture), and make a chop at his palm to represent himself (Alfonso, whose gimmick was as a no-nonsense rogue ex-referee, was said to “call it down the middle”). The crowd would eat it up, and the volume of the crowd was as high as any exciting finish on the card. On the original ECW soundtrack album, the song was covered by the band Kilgore, whose version was used for the remainder of RVD’s time with the company.
When RVD later went to WWE, the company used the song One Of A Kind by Breaking Point as a theme, which had some of Walk‘s influences (especially the chorus).
1. Chris Candido – Back In Black by AC/DC
Chris Candido had been having a good run in ECW after leaving the WWF in 1996, and after Tammy Sytch was released from her WWF contract two years later, the two paired up again. There had been rumors of drug problems associated with the two (mainly Tammy), and by the end of 1998 the duo were off ECW shows. The longer they were off shows, the more questions it raised. A quick appearance by Candido & Sytch at the ECW Arena in January of ’99 where Candido was “taken out” before his scheduled match with Taz didn’t help matters – was the match changed because Candido was in no shape to wrestle? Why pay two workers to come in (with a limited budget as it was) for essentially no reason?
Cyberslam was an ECW convention that was held every year by the promotion. It wasn’t a pay-per-view, but it was always a strong card held at the ECW Arena in south Philadelphia, and they’d have a live Q&A before the card, with autographs and all that. It was ECW’s “thank you” show to the online fanbase that helped expose the company to a much larger audience. That night, Steve Corino was scheduled to face Taz for the ECW World Title. Corino came out and explained that he was injured and couldn’t wrestle, but that he had contacted a replacement that would step in for him.
With that, the opening chords of Back In Black played, and Tammy Sytch came through the curtain, followed by Candido. Tammy looked damn near pornographic, while Candido sure didn’t look like a guy strung out on drugs. Candido had a good match with Taz that went all over (and outside) the ring, including one spot where they kept going up the “TV bleachers” – the “best” seats in the arena if you wanted to get on TV since the stationary camera faced them – where they kept going until Candido bumped into a fan standing on the top bleacher and realized they couldn’t go any farther.
That fan was me.
There’s no question in my mind that Back In Black is a kickass theme song. It’s a great song to begin with, and the opening riff and bassline make it a great theme. But the lyrics seemed to fit Candido so well, almost to the point where it seemed like he was trying to prove them by coming back after repeated setbacks to let you know that you may have thought you kept him down, but he would keep coming back – “Nine lives. Cats eyes. Abusing every one of them and running wild.” It wouldn’t be completely accurate though; Candido would die in 2005 at the age of 33, after complications from surgery on a broken leg he received while wrestling for the TNA promotion.
I wanted to use the Cyberslam match as the YouTube clip, but the only one I could find has the ring music overdubbed (likely a rip from a DVD where for licensing reasons the music is overdubbed). However I’ve linked the Cyberslam match below for reference. It’s a good match – hit the clip at around 7:14 if you want to see me look like a total tool. I’ll be in the Yankees hat.