Monday, June 30, 2014

Superstar Strains: The Rock

Rock and his music are inexorably linked
Photo Credit:
Since Glen Stride began the trend of wrestlers walking to the ring while music played way back in the 1950s, the idea of an entrance theme has evolved into an almost separate industry. Rather than solely use popular music - and be forced to pay the royalty fees for doing so - several promotions have also hired staff to write personalized themes for their performers. Whether a wrestler's music is appropriated for use or created specifically for him/her, the point of the theme is to represent that character and assist the audience in understanding just who that character is.

Take The Rock, for instance. Over the course of his career, he has had numerous versions of what basically amounts to the same theme song, written by WWE composer emeritus Jim Johnston:

As you can see, this one is labeled "24th Theme Song," so even if the uploader is not 100% correct we'd still be dealing with a pretty sizable plethora of songs. Sticking with just this latest version, how does The Rock's theme enhance his character?

First, let's focus on the real meat of this one - instrumentation. For the most part, anything Jim Johnston writes is performed by a typical rock band - guitars, bass, drums, maybe a keyboard here or there. But what is one of The Rock's (other) nicknames? "The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment," perfectly personified with a simple instrument choice. Rather than a simple, clean guitar sound and/or a Fender Rhodes keyboard, Johnston chose a modest amount of distortion, commonly referred to as the "electric" guitar sound. By simply "electrifying" the composition upon recording, Johnston created a perfect theme for someone who refers to himself as the most electrifying anything.

Next, the actual music itself. Underneath everything in each incarnation of The Rock's theme is a simple, funk-based bass line. This is notable in several ways. As the bass line, it is the foundation upon which the rest of the music is built. It supports everything else in the composition. Did The Rock not support other competitors, or The Nation of Domination, or WWE in general? When he became a main event talent, it was The Rock's duty to help carry the company - five main event matches at WrestleMania and all his film work are just some examples how he helped support the company as its popularity rose in the early 2000s.

How about the funk influence? There are numerous ways to look at this. As a third-generation wrestler, the funk pays a bit of homage to The Rock's father, "Soul Man" Rocky Johnson. Musically, funk and soul often go hand-in-hand, so this is a logical fit. Additionally, while possibly a bit inappropriate to acknowledge, as a man with mixed lineage that includes African-American ancestry, perhaps the funk is just meant to play to that. It is WWE after all, never exactly known for racial subtlety or sensitivity.

Finally, we come to the fact that the theme is inherently simple - easy to sing back, and just about every wrestling fan could approximate how The Rock's theme sounds. Did you ever notice that the actual character of "The Rock" is a fairly simple one? He can be viewed as a simple stock character - The Jock, as a former football player. Things don't get much simpler than the stock characters, but that doesn't mean they can't become popular. John McClane, Darth Vader, Dr. House are all stock characters. One of the things that make them so adored is their quick wit and ability to turn a phrase. The Rock is no different; an entire article can be written just on his catchphrases, if ya smell what I'm cooking.

The use of theme music is an integral part of today's wrestling landscape. Do all themes epitomize the superstars who use them like The Rock's does? No, but there's a good number that do. Make sure you pay close attention to the music the next time you watch or attend a show. Musicians are people, too.