Jim Johnston said it all with his chest, didn’t he? For those who missed it earlier this week, WWE’s former music impresario said quite a bit as it relates to the current state of WWE music. In no uncertain terms, Johnston said it’s rather doo doo. What makes it particularly putrid, according to Johnston, is the fact the music and characters don’t really connect.
For the most part, he’s right,
Johnston’s themes were dope because he added to the character or brought things out of them. Either way, his music complemented the wrestler like peanut better and jelly.
Which brings us to this specific Top 10. These aren’t really Johnston’s best “songs” because some of his joints bang harder than others. Instead, think of it as the themes that best represent the wrestler.
Jim Johnston understood, probably better than anyone, just how necessary music is as part of the presentation to the audience and has little room for error.
These are the 10 times he was right on the mark.
1, “I Won’t Do What You Tell Me”— Stone Cold Steve Austin
I mean, come on. This list is all about the best marriages of music and wrestler. Austin’s theme is the best example of that in the history of the sport (shoutout to Schiavone). The theme inspired Austin’s performance to the ring and sounded as pissed off as he often looked.
The song was different than anything before it in WWE, which matched up with the man himself. The music is overly aggressive not just for a good guy, but for a bad guy as well.
Austin broke the mold each and every night. Johnston not only created the sound for a superstar, but the sound of an entire redefining era of wrestling.
2. “Bad Guy” —Razor Ramon
Razor’s theme has a lot in common with Austin’s. “Bad Boy” sounds like a slowed down version of the former, with the screeching wheels echoing the shattering glass. Like Austin, Razor was a different type of cat.
Both the character Razor Ramon and his music are inspired by Scarface. “Bad Boy”’s tinge of ‘80s Miami-flavor mixes with a synthesizer, mimicking the sound heard in the 1983 film. If it’s possible for a piece of audio to ooze cool and confidence, this is the one.
The song enhanced Ramon just through its aura and energy. Razor rarely ran to the ring or looked out of his element. He slowly strutted into every contest, perfectly in rhythm with Johnston’s theme.
The Bad Guy was never fazed, rarely broke a sweat, but maintained his edge—no pun intended. It’s easy for a character like Razor Ramon to get laughed out of the arena, so the music had to be great. Johnston went a couple steps above and made it perfect.
3. “Unstable” —Ultimate Warrior
While this isn’t my “favorite song” on the list, it’s hard arguing against it as a perfect blend of wrestler and theme. Seriously, who else could have this music? I’ll let Johnston talk about this one:
“Warrior was one of the easiest ever because he was so intense with the rope thing, and he just shot out from backstage. There was nothing subtle about it. He was just frenetic, you know, with the rope thing. That’s an obvious cue, you know, it’s like this [tapping on the table]. It’s just relentless, and that translates to a guitar. It’s very straight ahead, it’s what he’s doing [running].”
Yes to all of that.
4. “Know Your Role” —The Rock
Last I checked, The Rock has exactly one bajillion themes. The man may have the most themes of any wrestler in WWE history. And most are variations of one basic tune. This version is the best rendition for a several reasons.
Chiefly, the 1998 to early ‘99 version of The Rock is the purest distillation of that character. He’s a tweener with an emphasis on his heel tendencies, rocked those $500 shirts better than anyone in the history of this galaxy, and participated in one of the greatest long-term stories WWE ever produced.
Much like the man it accompanied, the theme maintains remnants of The Nation’s theme while building into its own thing.
And it’s the only version WWE refuses to release to the public in any way, shape, or form.
Pardon my French, but how f**king dare they.
5. “Psycho Dance” —Psycho Sid
Maybe it was the obvious call to make, but Johnston incorporating Bernard Hermann’s famous strings from Psycho into Sid’s theme is genius. Those strings are pavlovian; the audience associates them with any and everything psychotic. Before Sid dapped one fist on his way to the ring, his music said how unhinged he was.
He could be your best friend or your worst enemy at the drop of a dime, then laugh about it at the drop of another dime.
Sid was WWE’s horror movie killer. Sometimes the audience cheered his psychotic actions, and other times they booed out of fear of what he planned for his victim.
The music set it all off and told us Sid was the master and ruler of his own world with its own rules.
6. “Graveyard Symphony” —The Undertaker
This isn’t my favorite version of the Undertaker's music. No, that honor belongs to this Johnston’s 1998 tune. But this version and the latest incarnation are the tracks most-associated with the Dead Man. Like the character, his theme evolved over time. The one we’re running with for the sake of this list is what Taker used during his rise in the mid-’90s. With his black suit, the purple tie, purple gloves, and Paul Bearer by his side, I wager this is the guy most people think of when they envision The Phenom.
Chopin’s “Funeral March” always fit the character. Much like adding Psycho’s strings was a layup, this too feels like a no-brainer. Johnston turned the volume up by several decibels and made a legend in the process.
7. “Break it Down” —D-Generation X
Jim Johnston hit his stride in the Attitude Era. “Break it Down” was a sign of things to come as he went against the grain to create something brand new. Let’s keep it real: DX doesn’t work without this music. Shawn Michaels and Triple H, while real-life best friends, were still figuring out the on-screen dynamic and what their group would be. The music helped establish what D-Generation X was, what the group stood for, and why the audience needed to pay attention.
The late Chris Warren does his best Zack de la Rocha impersonation to boost the group’s rebellious credibility. He bottled DX’s “sophomore class” energy, as J.R. once said so eloquently. While the music fit later incarnations of the group well enough, it never fit better than in 1997. The music was made for Shawn and Triple H at that moment in their lives and tapped into the same honesty they brought to arenas every single night.
Listen to Jim explain it all.
8. “No Chance in Hell”—Vince McMahon/The Corporation
Look, this list would feel weird without this song here. To this day, it fits Mr. McMahon. Kids who were barely a gleam in anyone’s eye during the ‘90s know when that bass kicks in, the boss is in the building.
There’s nothing more to say about it.
9. “Show Me How it’s Done” — The Godfather
This is a bit of a dark horse on the list. “Show Me How it’s Done” shows Johnston’s love for funk music, and builds off The Nation’s motif, just like The Rock’s theme(s). The song belongs on the list because of those opening notes. Johnston understood the most important part of any song are the first seconds. The audience is either with it or getting lost when those first notes hit.
The Godfather’s theme says a lot in a little bit of time. Much like Psycho Sid’s theme, it creates a primal reaction. I don’t know any pimps nor do I assume I ever will, but I know what those notes mean. And the wildest part about it? I can’t explain why.
That is the sign of a great theme.
10. “Snake Bit” — Jake “The Snake” Roberts
The bottom of these lists are often for wildcards. Who’s more of a wildcard than Jake Roberts? “Snake Bit” sounds like the soundtrack to a Western starring Jake as lead gunslinger. It’s not complicated, it’s not overly loud, and it’s far from showy. But it gets the job done every damn time no matter how many times the audience hears it.
So yeah, the song is a perfect fit for one of wrestling’s greatest talkers and ring psychologists.
*These are songs credited to Jim Johnston. As dope as “Sexy Boy” and “Hart Attack” are, they’re Jimmy Hart creations.
What say you, Cagesiders? Is this the best Jim has to offer? Sound off...