Here are some interview highlights from former WWE music composer Jim Johnston, who worked for WWE for 32 years until he was let go in 2017. The interview was conducted by Vice, who asked him about five classic wrestling theme songs. Should Johnston be in WWE’s Hall of Fame one day? I sure think so, but that’s not what this is about.
Johnson talked about how difficult it has been to get work after his run with WWE:
“There’s still this stigma against professional wrestling only being a bunch of muscly buffoons. People assume I can only do that aggressive glass smash sound and not a lot else.”
Johnson described what it was like to come up with the “No Chance in Hell” theme song for WWE’s boss Vince McMahon, who used the evil Mr. McMahon character for many years.
“When I was writing Vince’s No ‘Chance In Hell’ entrance theme, I had been really upset with him about something at work. I found myself thinking: ‘You’ve got no chance against this guy!’ He’s got the power, the money, and in terms of pro-wrestling, he was pretty much the only game in town. I had written the guitar groove much earlier, and I found myself singing ‘No Chance…No Chance’ over that groove. Rather than a song about one man, I wanted it to be about ’The Man’.”
“The song is about the work system that imprisons us all. It’s got a thrust of someone who’s kind of like marching like they’re the kind of ‘big I am’. What I loved about Vince was how he liked to be surprised. He let me take risks and if I surprised him with something and it was good then he would be delighted. But if it wasn’t good then boy he would tell you about it! I will always class him as a friend. We were creating something entirely new as the business Vince had bought from his dad didn’t have any music for the wrestlers. Our work together radically changed things and made it so much more theatrical. I’ll always be proud of that.”
Here’s what Johnston had to say about the glass breaking theme song of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“I think the reason Stone Cold Steve Austin resonated so much with the people is because the general public love characters who stand up for what they believe in.”
“Steve sold that idea incredibly well and was an amazing actor. No one could outsmart him on the mic because of that intensity he had. He wasn’t the most technical wrestler, but he wrestled with so much heart that you couldn’t take your eyes off him. So many people aren’t able to tell their boss to go fuck themselves but Austin, through his rivalry with [WWE boss] Vince [McMahon], could do that every single week, which was exhilarating. He was standing up to the man! I wanted the music to reflect that freedom.”
“The way my guitar parts play off one another is something I got from my love of funk music. I went through tonnes of sound effects for smashing glass, but none of them popped how I wanted. I ended up combining a glass smash with car crash noises, explosions, and even a bass note. The Stone Cold glass smash is a combination of all those things. When you hear it in an arena it’s like an on and off switch, just like the Ultimate Warrior’s theme used to be. The crowd’s energy changes as soon as you hit that switch. Had the WWE used Austin’s music to advertise pick-up trucks then they would have sold millions; the music has this resilience that says it can stand up to anything that you throw at it.”
Those are Johnston’s thoughts on two of the songs. The article also has Johnston talk about the theme songs for The Rock, The Undertaker and Degeneration X as well.
Back in 2016, WWE had Johnston talk about some of the iconic theme songs he helped create. I’ll include all of them that are from WWE’s Youtube channel.