WWE: What makes entrance music iconic?
From the simple stuff like fulfilling the one-second rule to the little nuances, what makes an entrance theme one for the ages? What made them so integral to wrestling?
One second. That’s the amount of time it should take for you to be aware of what wrestler is making their way into an arena once their theme music starts. If you don’t know within one second, the music has already failed its most important test. How can a crowd react if they don’t know who is about to walk out? It is the “one-second rule” that illustrates the importance of entrance music to the world of sports entertainment.
Of course, just qualifying under the one-second rule isn’t always enough to make an entrance theme iconic. At times, the music itself sounds as if only the first second was given any true creativity or work while the rest of the song falls flat. Other times, the music simply doesn’t fit the superstar it has been given to. For so many different reasons, entrance music can be instantly forgettable or forever memorable.
As much as many of us love great wrestling matches, it’s the moments that we remember forever. An iconic entrance theme is the spark that helps us remember the icons of the industry, and it makes their legacy capable of being reignited in a split second. How did we get to the current state of music within wrestling? How did entrance themes become so crucial, and what makes them good or bad?
The history of entrance themes
Music, whether it be entrance music, an event’s official theme song, a track used in a video package, or any other form, is integral to professional wrestling. It wasn’t always that way, though. It’s genuinely difficult to imagine professional wrestling without entrance themes. Decades ago, prior to the 1940s, it wasn’t the norm for wrestlers to have music of some kind playing while on the way to the ring.
Like any other aspect of an industry, there’s always a pioneer. When it comes to the usage of entrance music, it’s still up to debate precisely who and when entrance music first appeared in the world of wrestling. When it comes to knowing who popularized the practice, no one man revolutionized things quite like the legendary Gorgeous George.
If there was any single person who helped push wrestling into the realm of sports entertainment, it’s Gorgeous George. While innovators after his time helped bring things to a new level, it was Gorgeous George who bucked convention by becoming an egotistical bad guy. He accentuated femininity in his character, whether it be his long blond hair or flashy robes, and did so long before American society was ready for it.
George’s oddities and attitude made him the era’s quintessential villain. He was easy to hate, and boy did the fans love to hate him. With a pre-Nature Boy strut, Gorgeous George was serenaded on his way to the ring by the classic “Pomp and Circumstance.” While the song would later be associated with Randy Savage (as well as almost every high school and college graduation in the United States), it was George who was the first to use it on the way to the ring.
Despite the early use by Gorgeous George, both Michael Hayes and Sgt. Slaughter have separately claimed to be the first to use entrance music. Slaughter used the Marines’ Hymn as entrance music in Madison Square Garden in the 1970s, but the game truly changed when The Fabulous Freebirds used Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” to enter arenas in the 1980s. They’re widely credited as the first to use rock music and thus usher in the inevitable connection between professional wrestling and rock ‘n’ roll.
The Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection
In hindsight, it’s almost surprising that it took so long for rock music to hook up with professional wrestling. In the early 1980s, wrestling was experiencing an unprecedented level of success. Regardless of your opinion of the man he has become, Hulk Hogan changed the game when he was signed by the World Wrestling Federation in 1983. He had already gained mainstream popularity after appearing in Rocky III, and that only got cranked up to another level once he joined the WWF and the company began to set itself apart from the pack in the wrestling industry.
While Hogan played a crucial role in the latter part of the period, it was actually WWF manager Lou Albano who really got things rolling. Captain Lou, who is most remembered for his wild appearance and rubber band adorned facial hair, met Cyndi Lauper on a trip to Puerto Rico in the early 1980s. Lauper asked Albano to appear as her father in the music video for her single “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” It was the first domino to fall, and Lauper became crucial to the mainstream boom of wrestling during the period.
At the first ever WrestleMania, Cyndi Lauper was in the corner of Wendi Richter when she toppled then-WWF Women’s Champion Leilani Kai. By that point in 1985, music was integral to professional wrestling. Major stars had already begun using entrance music, and before long it was the standard around the industry. In 1985, the connection hit a high point as Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling began airing on CBS as part of their Saturday morning block of cartoons. The show continued for two more years, but the marriage of rock ‘n’ roll and professional wrestling was unbreakable by this point.
Jim Johnston: Professional wrestling’s Mozart
While Gorgeous George, The Fabulous Freebirds, and even Cyndi Lauper helped usher in the connection between music and professional wrestling, it’s impossible to overlook the impact of one Jim Johnston.
During the early 1980s when entrance music was becoming more prevalent in the industry, the issue of copyright began to pop up as many companies could not afford to officially license popular music at the time. Rather than forking over the money, WWE hired Jim Johnston and enlisted the talents at the time of then-manager Jimmy Hart. With their own crew composing theme music for both the talent and for events, WWE was able to avoid paying for licensing rights the majority of the time.
The influence of Jimmy Hart only continued during the mid-1980s and into the 1990s with his helping compose music for the Honky Tonk Man, Jimmy Snuka, Shawn Michaels, and even WCW themes for Sting, nWo Wolfpac, and 3 Count (just to name a few). While Jimmy Hart’s impact can’t be forgotten, it pales in comparison to the tenure and influence of Jim Johnston.
Finding an exact count of how many theme songs Johnston has composed during his tenure is nearly impossible, but even with a diminished role in the last few years, Johnston has composed 134 songs in the last decade that have been released via iTunes. That’s just a fraction of the total, as Johnston has been the primary driver in composing entrance themes and event music from the late 1980s to 2013.
The duties for entrance music began to shift to the group CFO$ in 2013, but Johnston has not ceased his work. CFO$ made their musical debut in mid-2012 as Kromestatik when their song “The Night” was selected as Raw’s official theme song at the time. The partnership bloomed over time, and CFO$ has composed over 150 themes (that have been released via iTunes) just since 2013. Their list of credits includes the beloved themes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Alexa Bliss, Bobby Roode, and countless others.
While Johnston’s role has been somewhat diminished in recent years, his genius when it comes to the art of music and professional wrestling is unparalleled. To get a glimpse of it, the following video shows his process in composing The Undertaker’s unforgettable theme song in the early 1990s. It remains one of the few themes to continue with the same general structure for such a long period of time. While it has been remixed several times, the tune at the core of the song remains the same.