By Paulo Camacho
The deafening roars of a capacity crowd. The preponderance of pyrotechnics blazing by the Jumbotron. Larger-than-life characters entering a 20-foot-by-20-foot ring, preparing to put their bodies on the line for the entertainment of their adoring fans.
These are the sights and sounds of your average World Wrestling Entertainment live event. However, there is one component to moments like these — when performers enter the so-called “squared circle” — that truly defines the raw emotion, palpable excitement and z associated with the WWE, and professional wrestling in general:
The blaring of a pro wresling superstar’s entrance music.
No event makes this as abundantly clear as the one that will take place next Sunday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas: WWE’s annual Royal Rumble. The main event features 30 superstars, with the sole purpose of being the last man standing in the ring. The match starts with two men in the ring, and superstars are brought out, one at a time, every three minutes, until all 30 have been brought out. The order is unknown to the audience, which creates the initial intrigue. And when the buzzer sounds, signalling the next superstar, it is the wrestler’s theme that heralds their arrival. Depending on the superstar, the crowd reactions can be glorious:
But, regardless of the occasion, the use of entrance music in the WWE has been a fundamental part of the professional wrestling experience. It hasn’t always been that way — modern use of entrance music can be traced back to the 1950s, well after the recognized origins of the sports entertainment vehicle, itself. The actual origin is a bit hazy: claims from all over the internet have cited Glen Stride as the first wrestler to have used entrance music, though others have questioned the wrestler’s existence. Others have cited women’s champion Mildred Burke, back in the 1950s, as one of the first performers to have used entrance music. Other sources, still, cite famed wrestler Sgt. Slaughter as pitching the idea of entrance music to former WWE owner and CEO Vince McMahon Sr. — particularly, using the Marines’ Hymn as his entrance music, to fit with his military gimmick.
Interestingly enough, and much to the surprise of non-wrestling fans, classical music has had a long-standing history with professional wrestling. One of the most recent examples belongs to retired WWE Superstar, current general manager of WWE Smackdown Live, and adored fan favorite, Daniel Bryan. In 2010, when Bryan began a second stint with the company, he entered stadiums to the famed opera theme, “Ride of the Valkyries”. During the height of his popularity, Bryan’s theme was modernized, and used to this day, as “Flight of the Valkyries”:
The same goes for WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair. He uses the famous “Dawn” section from Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra — best known as the famed theme heard in “2001: A Space Odyssey” — and has used it for the majority of his 45-year career. Flair was famous for his boisterous, pompous personality. He was known for calling himself “The Stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun!” The theme was passed on to his daughter, Ashley Fliehr, better known in the WWE as Raw Women’s Champion Charlotte, in a more modernized form:
While some famous professional wrestling themes were taken from commercial popular music — one of the most famous examples being CM Punk, who began using Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” shortly after his notorious bout with John Cena at Money In The Bank 2011 — the vast majority of WWE’s memorable theme songs came from the company, itself.
Jim Johnston had been WWE’s main composer since 1986, and had come up with some of the most iconic entrance themes in professional wrestling history. Whether it was the sinister bell and thunderclap that heralded the Undertaker, the 80s hair band-themed drums and wild screaming that signaled the Show-Stopper Shawn Michaels, or the aggressive guitar riff that foretold the coming of Triple H, a vast number of Johnston’s entrance themes were incredibly important to shaping the personalities that made the WWE the powerhouse sports entertainment company it was, and still is today.
Take Johnston’s collaboration with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, back when The Rock began his rise to WWE superstardom. Injected with his patented catchphrase, “If you smell what The Rock is cookin,’” The Rock’s theme, entitled “Electrifying” (after his self-proclaimed moniker, “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment”), captures the disruptive, no-holds-barred attitude of the WWE Superstar:
Perhaps there was no WWE Superstar that encapsulated pure contention and unadulterated attitude than one Stone Cold Steve Austin, nicknamed “The Texas Rattlesnake” for his ability to strike his opponents with his patented finishing move, the Stone Cold Stunner, at any moment, and his wild unpredictability within the WWE Universe. Johnston’s aggressive entrance theme for Austin, heralded by the recognizable sound of glass shattering, mirrors the latter’s larger-than-life in-ring persona:
While Johnston has been involved with WWE’s iconic music over the past three decades, the company recently brought in new blood to compose many of the entrance themes for both developmental and established talent within the company. Their names are John Alicastro and Mike Lauri, but they call themselves CFO$:
That was, most likely, the composers’ most notorious entrance theme — their collaboration with uber-popular WWE Superstar John Cena, “My Time Is Now”. This is just a sample of the music they have created for professional wrestling in recent years, mostly responsible for the theme songs of the WWE’s so-called “New Era”. Whether it’s the no-apologies attitude of Sasha Banks, the supernatural danger or Finn Balor, or the ready-to-fight bloviating of Enzo Amore and Big Cass, CFO$ executes their main goal in composing their various superstar themes. Said Lauri, in an interview with WWE.com:
[…] to capture what makes that person a Superstar. It’s to capture their persona in the music and amplify it so the guy in the back of the arena, just as much as the person in the front row, can feel it when that Superstar comes out.
You can hear that attention to detail in this theme for popular NXT and WWE superstar Bayley — a woman whose combination of bubbly personality and underdog strength, both in and outside of the ring, has appealed to young women across all demographics:
Johnston and CFO$ have contributed much to both the sports entertainment and popular culture worlds with their plethora of entrance themes — not just in capturing the emotion of the wrestling world, but by forging new personalities with their music. With the Royal Rumble only days away, perhaps those who have not followed wrestling in the past can take a listen to some of their entrance themes, and give it a chance.