Ever since Wrestlemania I, it has been a tradition to start off the show with a patriotic tune. Now, if you take a moment to think about it, it does seem like an odd way to start an event revolving around men in goofy tights with stupid haircuts flopping around pretending to be hurt. You don’t see that in the NFL.
Perhaps it was the WWF trying to give the wrestling show an air of sports-like prestige. While nowadays Vince would never admit to promoting a “sport” rather than “entertainment,” you don’t see the Grammy Awards, Guardians of the Galaxy, Mad Men, or Candy Crush Saga open with the national anthem, so draw your own conclusions.
It’s a wonder the tradition ever took off, considering the rocky start it got off to in 1985. Wrestlemania I featured a slew of celebrities – two slews, by some counts – including musicians like pianist Liberace and singer Cyndi Lauper, but Vince left it to Mean Gene Okerlund to perform the Star-Spangled Banner. Gene looked about ready to burst out laughing during his rendition of the national anthem; maybe he was thinking of showing his “rocket’s red glare” to Wendi Richter. Or Leilani Kai. Or Fabulous Moolah, for that matter. Anyone who’s seen Legends’ House knows that Mean Gene isn’t picky.
Gene wasn’t even trying here; he had the lyrics written down on a piece of paper and didn’t even bother to hide it from the cameras. At least the Rock and CM Punk wrote their crib notes on their wrists.
I guess we can cut Gene some slack for needing help with the words, as back in 1985, the Star-Spangled Banner was a mere 171 years old and not yet engrained in our national memory.
I half-expected to find the real singer tied up backstage, the victim of Okerlund’s Naked Gun-style ruse to prevent the assassination of the queen (which, in this case, would be Liberace).
After Mean Gene’s underwhelming performance, the WWF recruited some bona fide music legends to open up the next few Wrestlemanias with “America the Beautiful.”
Ray Charles was followed by Aretha Franklin…
…then Gladys Knight…
…then… Rockin’ Robin? How did that happen?
Well, she was named after a Michael Jackson song, so maybe Vince got confused about the WWF Women’s Champion’s vocal talents.
Not only did Robin miss her cue the first time the music started (the music having played everywhere but in the arena), but when she finally got down to business, she proved that not every robin was a songbird. Maybe she should have changed her name to the Warbler.
Remember that Seinfeld episode where the Miss America contestant has to sing at the last minute and completely bombs? I swear Larry David saw Rockin’ Robin’s performance and built an episode around it years later. Hey, they both even took place in Atlantic City!
Robin’s performance was so painful that Jesse Ventura, who compared Mean Gene’s run-through of the national anthem to Robert Goulet, told Jake Roberts’s half-sister not to quit her day job.
The Federation went back to recruiting big names in the next few years, namely the reputedly Okerlundesque Robert Goulet (who sang “O Canada”),
…Willie Nelson (who sang “America the Beautiful”)…
…and Reba McEntire (who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” but was not, as Bobby Heenan suggested, Tito Santana’s sister).
The steroid scandal and a downturn in business, however, meant that Wrestlemania IX was almost entirely devoid of celebrities. Fortunately, the one celebrity was Grammy winner Natalie Cole. Unfortunately, she didn’t sing — she just happened to be in the audience, which was actually much more impressive in retrospect; a famous person actually showed up to watch Giant Gonzalez vs. The Undertaker without being paid to.
Wrestlemania X broke the celebrity drought with Little Richard, whom Vince McMahon dubbed, “the original wildman of rock and roll.”
Mr. Penniman would sing “America the Beautiful”… kind of.
Think Rev Theory’s lip-syncing of Randy Orton’s theme song at Mania 30 was a new phenomenon? Twenty years earlier, Little Richard simply mouthed along to “America the Beautiful” when he should have been singing about the purple mountain majesties above the tutti frutti plains.
Richard might have gotten away with it, too, if he hadn’t peppered his vocal track with more lilts and “woo”s than he could remember to mime. Plus, his post-song thank-yous revealed his mic wasn’t even on.
Wrestlemania XI featured many influential celebrities like Lawrence Taylor (whose QB sacks changed the way football was played) and Jenny McCarthy (whose anti-vaccine efforts have paved the way for the comeback of measles). It was also slated to have two musical acts: Salt ’N Pepa, who performed LT’s entrance music (edited off video releases to avoid royalties), and alternative band Fishbone, who didn’t even make it to the Hartford Civic Center.
Maybe they got confused when they pulled up to a shopping mall in Hartford that day and assumed they’d been given the wrong address.
Whatever the case, the Federation had to put in a last-minute replacement to open the show and, with Mean Gene and Rockin’ Robin both long-gone from the company, that meant putting in some girl from the Special Olympics named Kathy Huey who, admittedly, was a far more talented singer than either ex-employee just mentioned.
Still, kicking off Wrestlemania with opera was an odd choice clearly made at the last minute, unlike the opening match, which, in a stroke of genius, pitted the so-called “Allied Powers” against two twins with Nazi tattoos.
It would be another three years before another patriotic song opened the WWF’s biggest event of the year, when Vince enlisted a more reliable band than Fishbone to perform what Howard Finkel called, “the alternative new wave version” of America the Beautiful and The Star-Spangled Banner. That band was the DX Band, fronted by Chris Warren, and their butchering of the classics set a new standard for negative crowd reactions. In some circles, the band’s performance is used as a figure of speech, as in the phrase, “Gee, that fart in church went over like the DX Band’s national anthem.”
The fans started booing mere seconds into the desecration of the country’s most patriotic anthems, which should be astonishing, considering this was pre-9/11 and during the Attitude Era, where fans were encouraged to be anti-establishment and literally give the middle finger to authority. Even so, the Rage Against the Machine knock-offs received unanimous disapproval. It was that bad.
So bad that the highest praise Jim Ross could muster for the debacle was, essentially, that it wasn’t illegal.
So bad, in fact, that it has been left off every
video DVD release of Wrestlemania XIV.
Needless to say, Boyz II Men’s rendition the following year was a bit more traditional, as was Lillian García’s “Star-Spangled Banner” the year after that.
Fun fact: Thanks to Nikolai Volkoff, the Soviet national anthem has been sung as many times at Wrestlemania as “The Star-Spangled Banner. ”
(and that’s only if you count the DX Band’s version)
(which you shouldn’t)
There was no opening song for Wrestlemania 17 in 2001, but later that year, 9/11 happened, and ever since then, WWE programming has been infused with patriotism and is chock full of tributes to the armed forces, as well as heels portraying America’s most nefarious enemies:
and the French.
It seemed like a no-brainer to have “America the Beautiful” or “The Star-Spangled Banner” open up the first post-9/11 Wrestlemania, but there was a hitch: Wrestlemania 18 was taking place in Toronto, Canada, and singing our national anthem in another nation would make about as much sense as holding our National Grammar Rodeo there. Rather than hearing the Canadian anthem, or both the Canadian and American anthems, fans in the Sky Dome were subjected to Saliva performing a Wrestlemania theme called “Superstar.”
And it wasn’t even the 1995 WWF Superstars theme! I can picture it now:
Stone Cold, Undertaker/
Kurt Angle, ankle lock/
Hogan tried to murder Rock!
Steph’s divorced from Triple H/
Federation’s owned by Naitch!
Kane substitutes for Sting/
Four teams in the ring.
Dudleyz, Hardyz, APA/
Chuck and Billy, straight or gay?
New World Order, past its prime/
Six titles on the line!
Are you ready? Are you ready to go?
Are you ready? Are you ready to go?
Main event’s a snoozer/
The build-up was a crock/
Everyone watching paid for Hogan-Rock!
Even more confusing than opening Wrestlemania with forgettable nu-metal was the Jack Black-esque lead singer urging Wrestlemania to get its ass up off its shoulders. Not only was Wrestlemania 18 the first pay-per-view to have both an ass and shoulders, but it was apparently more flexible than Lanny Poffo.
Now, if Saliva had performed a song called, “Get Your Ass off Your Shoulders” to the tune of Ontario native Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” then we could have seen a true Wrestlemania moment.
Since then, there haven’t been any truly awful musical openings to Wrestlemania. That is, until Jillian Hall gets inducted into the Hall of Fame…
…which we at Wrestlecrap sincerely hope happens soon.