From Hulk Hogan’s patriotic “Real American” to the smell of what The Rock was cooking to the shattering of glass for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker’s iconic gong, a professional wrestler’s entrance theme music makes them instantly identifiable and sets the tone for what’s to come. But did you know that this wasn’t always the case?
From the origins of entrance music in the early 1900s to its modern-day evolution, dive into the rich history of wrestling music and uncover the secrets behind some of the most iconic tunes in the business!
The Untold Story of Pro Wrestling’s Earliest Use of Entrance Theme Music
For most of the early history of professional wrestling, wrestlers only had the sound of the crowd’s reaction to accompany them during their entrances.
There was a deadly silence when certain wrestlers entered the ring, while for some, like Bruno Sammartino, without a note of blaring music or hint of pyro, the barrel-chested powerhouse walked down the aisle in a plain pair of tights, and the building erupted in sheer joy, excitement, and pandemonium.
Entrance music didn’t become a mainstay in pro wrestling until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Before this, only the biggest stars and a few select others had entrance themes.
Interestingly, Gorgeous George is often wrongly credited as being the first to use theme music with his "Pomp and Circumstance" in the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s a theme today that is mainly associated with "Macho Man" Randy Savage and high school graduations.
Yes, he was one of the only wrestlers from that time to embrace entrance music as part of his gimmick. However, George borrowed the use of entrance music and other aspects of his gimmick from Lord Patrick Lansdowne, who portrayed a foppish British aristocrat replete with a fawning valet.
For bigger shows, His Lordship occasionally had live bands play “God Save the King” upon his entrance in the late 1930s, almost a century before Shinsuke Nakamura and others dramatically did the same.
It is interesting to note that while the origins of using entrance music in wrestling are not completely clear, it is widely believed that Lansdowne played a significant role in its early adoption. His influence on wrestlers like Gorgeous George helped pave the way for the use of music to enhance the theatrical nature of wrestling performances.
It’s easy to see why using “God Save the King” as entrance music would be an effective heel tactic in America during the early 20th century. It was a surefire way to get a hostile reaction from the crowd!
Back in the early Carnival days of wrestling, music played a different role. It was often used as a distraction tactic when there was trouble with a mark (a pro wrestling term used to describe the fans that believe the scripted story). The band would play really loud, and while doing that, they took care of business.
Meanwhile, Mildred Burke is the first female wrestler credited with using entrance music. Burke’s heyday in wrestling was from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. She was a former three-time women’s world champion. One of her championship reigns with the NWA Title lasted almost twenty years.
The Argentine Lucha Libre promotion Titanes en el Ring, which predominantly ran from 1962 until 1988, is documented as being the first to give all of its wrestlers music. There was even a popular album release of the themes.
North American promotions had yet to completely embrace music as part of wrestling culture. The United States wrestling scene wouldn’t catch on to this trend until much later.
Jerry "The King" Lawler is credited as one of the pioneers of using entrance music in Memphis and the NWA as far back as 1974.
A music video set to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce was used in his promo during the buildup of the match between him and Jack Briscoe for Lawler’s first challenge for the NWA Title that year.
It became commonplace for Lawler to use music videos for his promos, and entrance music followed not long after.
“Leroy Brown was a huge, burly man at 6’2,” 310 pounds, and in the 1970s, he’d come to the ring on L.A. television to the late Jim Croce’s hit, ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,'” Evan Ginzburg, Associate Producer on The Wrestler and 350 Days, fondly remembers.
“Smiling broadly and shaking hands, the song energized the Olympic Auditorium crowd. Theme music was unusual in that era at the time, and helped make him a star.”
You can hear “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” as wrestler Leroy Brown’s entrance music in the video below:
Entrance music exploded in popularity in the U.S. when The Fabulous Freebirds came onto the scene in 1979. The Fabulous Freebirds’ original theme song was the conveniently-titled "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The Fabulous Freebirds would also be the first wrestlers to have an original theme song in key member Michael Hayes’ song "Badstreet USA."
At one point, he also entered the ring to George Clinton’s funky “Atomic Dog.” It was one of the many ways JYD contributed to the pro wrestling industry. Entrance music was gaining traction.
Evan Ginzburg adds, “One of the most effective uses of theme music was by Jimmy Valiant in the ’80s NWA.
“‘The Boogie-Woogie Man’ would come down to the ring to The Manhattan Transfer’s ‘The Boy From New York City,’ and the combination of the wildly charismatic Valiant and the ‘joyful noise’ of that uptempo number never failed to pop a crowd.”
The First Use of Entrance Theme Music in the WWE
The legendary Sgt. Slaughter is the first to use entrance music in the WWF, now known as WWE. He came out to The Marine Corps Hymn in the early 1980s.
Hulk Hogan would soon follow with his “Eye Of The Tiger” entrance music by Survivor before moving on to his "Real American" theme.
By the late 1980s, most of the big stars of pro wrestling had theme music. This became especially true after WWE’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling campaign, which saw Cyndi Lauper and ‘Captain’ Lou Albano create an excellent crossover for pro wrestling and the MTV generation.
During this time, it was common for wrestlers to be featured in music videos, and music artists would regularly appear on WWE programming.
In addition, the popular children’s cartoon, also titled "Rock N’ Wrestling," featuring an animated Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, and other popular wrestling superstars, would air during this era.
By the early 1990s, entrance themes became as common in pro wrestling as a wristlock. Every prominent wrestler had a theme song from the territories to the national promotions such as the then WWF, now-WWE, and WCW.
First, The Sandman came out to "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. Next, you had the likes of Raven and Tommy Dreamer using The Offspring’s’ "Come Out and Play" and "Man In The Box" by Alice In Chains, respectively. It was a significant part of the popularity of the promotion.
Notable Wrestling Theme Music Composers
Former pro wrestler turned wrestling manager "The Mouth Of The South" Jimmy Hart famously composed many wrestling themes throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.
Hart has deep musical roots as a member of the band The Gentrys. The Gentrys had a top-five Billboard hit with their song "Keep On Dancing," released in 1965.
Hart and his bandmate, the late JJ Maguire, are credited with composing many wrestler entrance themes in WWF/E and WCW.
They created the themes for Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Jimmy Snuka, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Sting, nWo Wolfpac, The Rockers, The Hart Foundation, The Legion of Doom, "Sexy Boy" for "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, and many others.
JJ Maguire may not be as widely known as Jimmy Hart for his contributions. However, his story and legacy in the pro wrestling world are fascinating.
His story has been well documented in a piece written by Pro Wrestling Stories’ own Javier Ojst in his article "J.J. Maguire-1980s and ‘90s Wrestling Theme Song Master."
Many fans consider him the unsung hero of pro wrestling theme music, having created a remarkable 114 of them.
Jim Johnson was responsible for most of the themes in the WWE from the ‘90s until CFO$ took up composing duties for WWE in 2017.
Johnston’s themes were popular and designed to fit a wrestler’s character. WWE released several successful albums of wrestling theme songs during his tenure, starting with Full Metal: The Album in 1995.
In addition, Johnston has collaborated with several mainstream bands for variations and new versions of themes, including Disturbed, Kid Rock, Ice-T, Run-DMC, and even Mariah Carey.
CFO$- a songwriting and production team consisting of John Paul Alicastro and Michael Conrad Lauri- composed everything from AJ Styles‘ "Phenomenal" (a song originally written for James Storm in NXT) to Shinsuke Nakamura’s "The Rising Sun" and “The Demon” and regular versions of "Catch Your Breath" for Finn Bálor.
Since creating All Elite Wrestling in 2019, Tony Kahn has acquired the rights to many popular songs for entrance theme songs for the AEW roster.
From the iconic “Wild Thing” made famous by the film Major League to Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” for The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, and even Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” for Orange Cassidy, AEW’s music choices make for an even more enjoyable viewing experience for today’s fans.
AEW’s composer for their original themes is Mikey Rukus.
Rukus is one of the premiere names in walkout music for MMA and professional wrestling. He has also produced music for minor league baseball, motocross, and horror films.
Wrestling Entrance Music Today
Today’s pro wrestling fans love to sing along to the entrance music of modern stars like Seth Rollins and “The American Nightmare" Cody Rhodes or are raging at the first note of Roman Reigns’ theme. Venues all over the country echo with the serenade of the fans belting out every lyric of Chris Jericho’s "Judas" by his band Fozzy.
Wrestling fans cheer or boo, instinctively reacting to the first sound of every theme. A wrestler’s entrance music is as vital to his character’s persona as his ring gear or finishing move, with the tunes an extension of their gimmick.
Entrance music has truly integrated itself into the fabric of the pro wrestling industry.
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