Where would any wrestler be without a good entrance theme?
Music has been an integral part of pro wrestling for decades. Adding it to a wrestler’s entrance gives more insight into the wrestler’s character and personality, and it helps a wrestler stand out more from their peers. Indeed, without a good entrance theme, a wrestler has a much harder time getting noticed by the audience.
In WWE, the man behind the music for many years has been Jim Johnston. Due to a self-admitted fear of large crowds and an overbearing case of stage fright, Johnston joined WWE in the pursuit of a career that would allow him to make his mark on the wrestling industry without having to be in front of a million cameras every night. The career he chose was to become WWE’s resident music producer and creator of some of the most memorable wrestler entrance themes in history.
For many years, Jim Johnston worked more or less alone on creating wrestler’s entrance themes. Needless to say that he has created hundreds of themes over the decades, and is responsible for adding a critical auditory element to WWE’s overall presentation.
Of course, no one is perfect, not even Jim Johnston. While he can be credited for making many thematic masterpieces during his time with WWE, he has also created several that left a lot to be desired. Some themes simply didn’t click with the wrestler they were associated with, while in other cases he simply made the wrong musical arrangements altogether. The point is, Jim Johnston has managed to create some very memorable wrestler entrance themes over the years, both good and bad. This article will look at his eight most spectacular musical blunders as well as his eight biggest masterpieces.
The Bad: The Undertaker – ‘You’re Gonna Pay’
While the Undertaker’s entrance has evolved many times over the years, not even he was immune to having to deal with some bad entrance themes at times. In his case, the theme he used between September 2002 and Survivor Series 2003 was a bizarre theme, to say the least. While it did keep the ‘Dead man walking’ opening sound that signaled the arrival of the Undertaker, this theme felt oddly out of place.
While his previous theme, ‘Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle) by Limp Bizkit exuded a power and energy that was capable of getting an entire arena to jump to their feet, ‘You’re Gonna Pay’ felt slow and lethargic by comparison. Furthermore, the Undertaker’s a kind of guy whose entrance themes don’t need that many lyrics, as we will see later with what happens when an instrumental theme does more talking without vocals. Put simply, this theme felt ‘wrong’ when used for the Undertaker.
7. Mark Henry – ‘Sexual Chocolate’
When watching a wrestling program, the last thing you’d want to hear is a cheap version of Barry White music accompanying a wrestler. After all, who’d feel comfortable cheering a self-admitted sex addict who’d sleep with any woman he came across, even his own sister?
That kind of confusion and discomfort is what followed ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Mark Henry when he was working this gimmick. The heavy sexual overtones and Barry White-inspired lyrics gave the impression that the listener was hearing the soundtrack to an adult film and not a wrestler’s entrance theme. If anything, ‘Sexual Chocolate’ was the epitome of the boundary-pushing excesses that defined the Attitude Era: it had little, if anything, to do with wrestling and was more about being controversial just for the sake of it.
Needless to say, no one with dreams of becoming a wrestler would EVER want to have this music play as they enter an arena.
6. Mr. Ass – ‘Ass Man’
When WWE decided to give perpetual tag team wrestler Billy Gunn a singles run, he was repackaged as ‘Mr. Ass,’ a man who, apparently, had an obsession with asses (not the animals), with an entrance theme that reflected that. The ‘Ass Man’ theme contains all kinds of weird lyrics accompanying some kind of faux rock tune. His obsession with asses was never fully explained (apart from his love of mooning the audience), nor was the meaning of his entrance theme. After all, what does it mean when he says ‘I love to flood them?’
Possible homoerotic undertones aside, the theme was a far cry from the more popular New Age Outlaws theme that he entered to during his initial one alongside Road Dogg. It’s clear that when listening to this theme, you can tell that Jim Johnston was dealing with too many demands at once; after all, trying to make a theme attention-grabbing, controversial, and catchy all at once can yield mixed results.
5. Big Show – ‘Big’
We get it, the Big Show is big.
If I were trying to create an aura of magnetism around the Big Show, I would do my best to create an entrance music that made him feel terrifying. Something that would intimidate the audience and the Big Show’s opponents just as much as his physical stature already does.
Sadly, that kind of vibe isn’t felt when Big Show’s entrance music is played. Giving off a slow, old-time rock feel, ‘Big’ feels more like one big (sorry) fat joke than it does an entrance theme. None of the lyrics or instrumental components to anything to improve Big Show’s stature. In fact, some of the elements (like the old countdown clock and the repetition of the words ‘Big Show’ seem like they were added without any planning whatsoever.
Needless to say, if there was ever one wrestler from Jim Johnston’s glory years that got the short end of the stick, it was Big Show.
4. Brodus Clay/Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller/Tons of Funk – Somebody Call My Momma
Dancer gimmicks are always a gamble; you never know when they’ll work and when they’ll flop. Too Cool worked in part because they had a simple theme song with few lyrics that allowed their dancing to do the talking. Tons of Funk, on the other hand, had such an over-the-top and cheesy theme that you couldn’t help but cringe at their segments. Never was WWE’s pandering to the PG demographic more apparent than when ‘Funkasaurus’ Brodus Clay would invite children to dance with him in the ring.
As for the chorus of ‘Somebody Call My Momma,’ that must be one of the most ridiculous things you could ever say when a wrestler is making their way to the ring. Even with the old disco-inspired instrumental work, this theme leaves a lot to be desired, and left many more viewers reaching for the mute button.
3. Fandango – ‘Peña Flamenco’
Fandango’s second entrance theme was all kinds of wrong. After disappearing from TV after months of being something of an internet fad, Fandango returned with a (supposedly) new attitude, new wrestling attire…and new (read: disappointing) entrance theme.
In giving Fandango a new theme that was admittedly more closely related to his dancing character, WWE effectively killed the one thing fans liked about the guy. It was his previous theme that the audience fell in love with, and it was this first theme that led to fans ‘Fandangoing’ whenever he entered the arena. Taking that away from the fans led to instantaneous apathy towards the Fandango character, killing off any sympathy or intrigue fans had for him.
Though this theme proves that Jim Johnston can create a fitting theme for a wrestler’s character when necessary, it also proves that WWE have a terribly capability of reading their audience’s interests & predicting fan reaction to sudden changes.
2. Jack Swagger – ‘Get On Your Knees’
Listening to this theme, you’d think that Jim Johnston hired some college rock band and asked them to come up with a wrestler’s entrance theme, but they were so nervous that they simply started belting out whatever lyrics they had in mind. That’s the impression one gets from listening to this odd theme.
The song is supposed to accompany a tough, All-American wrestler with natural grappling talent. Instead, the lyrics and somewhat bland instrumentals accompanying them are all about forcing someone to their knees which, as many commentators have pointed out over the years, has a not-so subtle sexual implication.
This song came out when WWE was trying many different sounds with their wrestlers, but stuck with the generic rock sound most of all. Swagger was one of many wrestlers during the late 2000s who was forced to work with mostly nonsensical music that didn’t mesh with his character, proving that even the most skilled of music producers make mistakes more often than they’d like to admit.
1. Right To Censor – ‘Censorship’
There’s nothing more annoying than listening to an irritating siren blaring non-stop. Actually no, there is something worse than that: listening to an irritating siren blaring non-stop with an electronic voice shouting ‘Warning’ non-stop as well. And that, dear readers, is what Jim Johnston gave to the Right To Censor stable.
This is one of those entrance themes that you just wish would end as soon as possible, as it’s so annoying to listen to. If you didn’t have a headache before these blaring sounds started echoing throughout the arena, then you’d definitely have one by the time it ended.
Perhaps, however, that was the intention; to hate these wrestlers as much as possible, as they were directly associated with this impossible-to-listen-to theme. Of course, the RTC was an obvious jab at the PTC, which may explain why Johnston created such a terrible sound to associate with the people who were trying to force change on the company he worked for.
The Good: Goldust – ‘Gold-Lust’
Despite playing a character that was supposed to be a perverted, androgynous, living Oscars statuette, Goldust had one hell of an awesome entrance theme. This is Jim Johnston’s musical composition at its finest: several flourishes and string movements transition into a catchy beat and even more classical music movements that allowed Goldust to distinguish himself musically in a world filled with rock music and ‘aggressive’ sounds.
Indeed, Goldust’s entrance was sometimes more exciting than his actual matches. Walking down the aisle to this classical music-inspired theme in his gold robe with his gold wig, the WWE production team would give off the impression that Goldust’s entrance was a film in itself. In doing so, they created a fantastic entrance that helped immortalize Goldust in the annals of WWE history.
7. Vince McMahon – ‘No Chance In Hell’
Vince is a simple man. He doesn’t need complex musical arrangements or ominous power metal to play him to the ring. All he needs is a simple lyrical composition that gradually leads to a loud crescendo of the words ‘NO CHANCE IN HELL’. That is more than enough to further the story he’s trying to tell: that he’s a ruthless and stubborn overlord who will always get what he wants while his enemy, whoever that may be, has…you can figure it out.
This is one of those themes that transcends time and is still fun to listen to whenever Vince makes an appearance. Seeing him ‘power-walk’ his way to the arena with a wicked smile on his face is one of the most iconic images in WWE history. It’s also one of the few themes that has both a title and a chorus that are both wildly appropriate descriptions for almost any situation…especially regarding WWE superstars trying to argue with Vince himself.
6. Kane – ‘Burned’
This was the theme song that played at Badd Blood 1997, and it immediately created a superstar out of the debuting Kane. From those signature opening riffs to the following instrumental arrangement throughout the theme, you got the impression that Kane was something very different from the other wrestlers on the WWE roster at the time.
This was the very definition of a ‘scary’ theme: creepy organ music, heavy guitar riffs, subtle chanting in the background, all of it came together in a masterful piece that made Kane really seem like a monster. It was absolutely perfect for Kane; he didn’t speak, so his music was void of vocals as well. He was an intimidating monster, which was an image that was amplified by his theme. The theme was even titled ‘Burned,’ and one actually got the impression that something along those lines actually happened to Kane from listening to this music.
5. Mankind – ‘Schizophrenic’
Mick Foley became one of the most memorable characters of the WWE’s Attitude Era. But unlike his other characters, Mankind was a complex and deep character that seemed more of a tortured soul than a bloodthirsty maniac.
This entrance theme, titled ‘Schizophrenic’ amplified that character’s ability to tell stories many times over. The classical piece sounds oddly depressing, almost akin to Samuel Barber’s famous arrangement ‘Adagio for Strings.’ That kind of atmosphere did wonders in helping elevate Mankind’s character. It would play at times during his interviews and non-wrestling segments, which would help the character tell the story of how he’s such a bizarre, twisted soul.
It’s this kind of musical storytelling that shows why Johnston is and was a genius: crazy Mick Foley and Cactus Jack get the rock-inspired themes, Dude Love gets the hippy-esque cheerful music, and schizophrenic Mankind gets the ominous classical piece that makes him seem like a tragic character. It’s musical genius at play.
4. Gangrel/The Brood – ‘Blood’
Opening with creepy whispers and ominous organ-like sounds, the theme quickly transitioned into a catchy beat with heavy grunge-inspired instrumentals, ‘Blood’ was a cool theme that further accentuated fan interest in The Brood. This was further accentuated with their signature entrance of rising from underneath the entrance ramp before being surrounded by a ring of fire. And to think that all of this work went into a midcard group.
To this day, ‘Blood’ remains one of the most underrated yet popular WWE entrance themes on the internet. Even if Gangrel’s WWE career wasn’t the best, he is still immortalized for coming down to the arena to this tune. It shouldn’t be a surprise that, if you watch the 1999 Royal Rumble match, the entire front row opposite the card camera is dancing to this tune as Gangrel makes his way to the ring. His theme song is indeed that cool.
3. Brock Lesnar – ‘The Next Big Thing’
Few wrestler entrance themes are as synonymous with badassery as Brock Lesnar’s. Composed of an opening guitar riff that’s followed by a heavy and pounding drum sequence, Lesnar truly looks like the ‘Next Big Thing’ when you see him walk down the entrance ramp accompanied by this music. Those short drums and percussion create an aura of danger and intimidation, both of which further amplify Lesnar’s star power.
Brock Lesnar being paired with this entrance theme is like pairing a wine with a specific dinner dish: the combination has to be perfect for it to work. In this case, the pairing is indeed perfect, as that opening guitar riff and subsequent theme was the sign that somebody was about to get mauled at the hands of Brock Lesnar.
This proves once again that sometimes wrestlers don’t have to change themes at all, because the composers get things right the first time. Hearing that music and seeing that Titantron video were all that it took for many wrestling trunks to be stained out of outright fear of what was about to happen.
2. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – ‘I Won’t Do What You Tell Me’
Also known as the ‘glass shatters’ theme, it’s one of the most recognizable entrance themes in wrestling history. That initial sound of glass breaking has been connected so deeply to Steve Austin that you don’t even have to listen to the rest of the theme to know that the legendary ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin was about to come down and whoop someone’s ass (and drink beer afterwards).
This entrance theme is all badass. The epitome of WWE’s love affair with rock music during the late 1990s and early 2000s, this theme compliments Austin’s character in every way. As soon as that glass shattering sound was heard, audiences everywhere would jump out of their seats to see Austin destroy someone while showing his contempt for The Authority.
This was yet another example of Jim Johnston’s perfect musical instincts. He knew what arrangements to make to create an aura of badassery for Stone Cold, and he delivered perfectly.
1. The Undertaker – ‘Rest In Peace’
There is no wrestler entrance theme more masterful, more powerful, and more iconic than the funeral dirge that signals the arrival of the Undertaker. In fact, the Deadman’s entrance has taken on a life of its own, sometimes taking up more time than other wrestlers’ matches.
This theme song, and the famous gong that comes before it, are all that it takes for an entire arena to come unglued and cheer as loudly as they can. Fans, wrestlers, and commentators alike have all spoken at length on how powerful an effect this theme has on the atmosphere in an arena. The orchestral funeral dirge, combined with dark lighting, ominous fog and other supernatural elements like fire and lightning, create an otherworldly feeling that defines the Undertaker as a one-of-a-kind wrestler.
Everything about this theme is utter perfection in that it magnifies the already enormous presence of the Undertaker a thousand times over. It’s because of themes like this one that Jim Johnston does indeed deserve a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame one day.