Thursday, 20 June 2019

WCW Slam Jam Vol. 1 (1992) - A Track By Track Review

WCW - Slam Jam Vol. 1 - Album Review - Album cover

In 1992, WCW and the WWF both realised that the words "Slam" and "Jam" rhyme, and rushed into their nearest music studio to take advantage of this fact.

The result was that the World Wrestling Federation gave us a catchy little single called Slam Jam which would be released later that year before featuring on the poptastic curiosity that was 1993's Wrestlemania: The Album.

Not to be outdone, World Championship Wrestling decided to go one bigger and lend the Slam Jam name to an entire album of theme music for their biggest stars, some of whom would continue using those themes for years afterwards.

While WCW's Slam Jam: Volume 1 album may not quite be as well known as Wrestlemania: The Album, I'd like to assure you that it is at least every bit as cheesy and is exactly what you'd expect from a pro wrestling album released in the early 1990s.

But don't just take my word for it.

Today, for your listening pleasure, we'll dive into a track-by-track review of this oft-forgotten album, containing gems such as Mr. Bang Bang and a song about how much Ricky Steamboat loves his family.





Slam Jam - The Game-Changing Music of Jimmy Papa

All eleven songs on this album were produced and arranged by a guy called Jimmy Papa, a man of whom little is known outside of his work with WCW and Michael P.S Hayes.

Papa is credited as a writer on all but one of the songs featured here and also played a key role in creating The Fabulous Freebirds' famous track Bad Street USA.

Back in 2013, Papa took WWE to court in a dispute as to the ownership of both Bad Street and the songs featured here on this album. Yet while that may be what the man is best known for, we here at Retro Pro Wrestling would like to argue the case for Mr. Papa being recognised for being way ahead of his time, at least in terms of pro wrestling theme music.

These days, almost all wrestlers' original entrance themes are "proper songs" that combine music with lyrics, yet back in the early 1990s, this simply wasn't the case. Most themes were instrumental tracks that somehow represented the wrestlers' character.

With Slam Jam, Papa basically ignored the norm and did his own thing, creating an album of eleven original songs with lyrics and vocals which were very different from what was around back in the day and which - though they may sound dated today- are still pretty catchy.

Very little may be known about Jimmy Papa, but at least you can say this - the dude was ahead of his time.

With all that out of the way, let's get into the music itself.

1: Ron Simmons - Don't Step to Ron 

"When I'm in the ring I'm a wrestling nightmare // Straight from Georgia // And if you don't think I'm hard // Ya oughta // Put on your trunks // Let's go to war // Straight up knuckle, Imma slam your hea against the turnbuckle."



Straight from Georgia, Slam Jam 1 gets underway with a catchy little number that tells us how much of a badass Ron Simmons is.

Combining catchy guitar hooks with hip hop vocals, the track sounds pretty much like how a lot of credible hip hop sounded at the time, and is actually pretty enjoyable.

The lyrics sound like the sort of thing Jim Ross might come up with if he decided to ditch BBQ sauce for beats and rhymes, focussing mostly on Simmons' football career and how that made him a dominant force inside the ring.

Though a little bland compared to some of the tracks on here, Don't Step to Ron is at least a credible song which, unlike others on this album, is by no means embarrassing to listen to.

2: Sting - Man Called Sting

"He does this, he does that // He big as bull and quick as a cat // He looks fine, he looks cool // He's own man and he's nobody's fool"



WCW got some good mileage out of this track. Sting was still using this track throughout 1996 and only stopped using it after he disappeared into the rafters to become Crow Sting.

On the one hand, you can understand why WCW played this one every time their franchise player made his way to the ring. With its scorching riff, driving beat and scintillating solo, this upbeat rock song perfectly encapsulates the kind of vibrant energy The Stinger was known for.

So far, so good, but did you ever stop and listen to the lyrics of this one? I mean, really listen to them.

I mean, the song  starts off by telling us that "he does this, he does that." 

I don't know about you, but I'm always intimidated by a guy who does such vague and unspecified things as "this and that"

Other lyrics highlights here include:

"Alll the kids, they go wild // And all the old people start to act like a child"

And my personal favourite:

"He's not like, anybody else // If his friends ever need him, he's there to help"

Because, you know, Sting is literally the only person in the world who helps out his friends.

All in all, this makes for very conflicting listening. The riff is actually pretty cool, at least for 1992, but the lyrics are so cringeworthily terrible it sounds as though a pre-school child wrote them.

Or may be it was an old person who turned into a pre-school child as soon as he saw Steve Borden?

3: Cactus Jack - Mr Bang Bang 

"He's not on a team or a member of a gang, he's Cactus Jack, or better known as Mr Bang Bang!"



At the start of this review, I talked about what a pioneer Jimmy Papa was for giving wrestlers' entrance themes some actual lyrics.

The more we dive into it, however, I'm starting to wonder whether we might all be better off if he'd left the lyrics in his notebook.

I mean, Mr Bang Bang is a seriously bad ass piece of music. Like Cactus Jack himself, like the character himself, the guitar riff is a little rough around the edges and comes with a certain bluesy-swagger that does a great job in making Mick Foley's alter ego seem like a total outlaw renegade - exactly the kind of image you'd want to create, right?

Yet the lyrics...oh man, the lyrics.

"A long career is not expected // but he really doesn't care, when he's in the circled square // he knows he'll eventually be ejected."

Ejected?

Ejected from what? The ring? Booted out of the arena? I almost imagine some spring mechanism in the "circled square" sending Jack flying from the ring and crashing through the roof.

Seriously, what does that even mean?

4: Jake 'The Snake' Roberts - Master of the DDT

"Jake the Snake, well he slithers and sldies // Jake the Snake, he's one of a kind!"



I mean, yeah...

While the story goes that his heat with Bill Watts was the reason why Jake 'The Snake' Roberts didn't last long in WCW, I prefer to pose my own theory:

He took one listen to this theme song and hightailed it out of the company before he was forced to use it.

In its own right, the song actually isn't that terrible. It sounds like something you might get if members of various Van Halen and Motley Crue tribute bands came together to write a song about a pro wrestler.

That would be great if Roberts were a brash, flamboyant superstar, but he wasn't.

He was, or at least was supposed to be, a dark, brooding, twisted and slightly sinister wrestler, something which really isn't reflected at all in this catchy, upbeat hair metal track.

Had they tweaked the lyrics and given this to Van Hammer or, you know, just about anybody else, it might have worked, but well,  I mean, just listen to it.

I swear the people who came up with the song had never actually seen Jake, they just heard his nickname and assumed that a rocking hair metal track about how "slithers and slides" would do just the trick.

5: Michael Hayes - Freebird Forever 

"I'm a Freebird forever, you can't change me, no not ever."



Michael P.S Hayes and The Fabulous Freebirds already a hit with Bad Street USA, but rather than include that here, Hayes teamed up with Papa to create Freebird Forever, which basically takes the Lynyrd Skynyrd song which gave the group its name and reimagines it as heartwarming ballad about how Hayes came to team with Terry Gordy and Jimmy Jam Garvin. 

It's a competently written song, but it seriously is just a Freebird rip-off, right down to the way it starts off all slow and mellow before finally cranking it up into some high-octane solo'ing down the final stretch.

The whole thing seems a little self-indulgent on the part of Michael Hayes yet at the same time its also incredibly bland and forgettable.

6: 'Ravishing' Rick Rude - Simply Ravishing

"He's simply ravishing he's happening, he knows that he's cool // All the girls go crazy, they don't know what to do. // He'll steal your girl and break her heart and leave you a fool. // He's simply ravishing, dazzling ravishing Rude."



I won't lie, this is hands-down my favourite track from Slam Jam Vol 1.

The ultimate ear-worm, I'll occasionally find myself just wandering around singing the chorus and jamming out to that catchy guitar hook.

OK, so it is absolutely a song of its time and wouldn't be well received if it came out today, but this ode to Ravishing Rick Rude and his adonis-like good looks is actually a pretty fun listen.

Rude's WWF 'Stripper' theme may be more famous, but Simply Ravishing is by far the best theme Rude ever had.

7: Johnny B. Badd - Johnny B. Badd

"Here comes Johnny B. Badd, and you don't wanna make him mad. He's as pretty as a picture, he looks just like Little Richard."



The lyrics above pretty much tell you everything you need to know about this Chuck Berry rip off: It tries so hard to remind us that Marc Mero's WCW character was not only tough but also pretty.

It makes sense, sure, but I can't think of the last time I was out somewhere and thought "Man, I better not make that guy mad, he looks just like Little Richard!"

Still, credit where it's due, this one of the album's more memorable tracks, even if it does sound way too much like the theme from Saved by the Bell.

8: Dustin Rhodes - The Natural

"He's the son of a son, and a son of a gun." 



Years ago, there used to be this guy who would write his own songs on what basically sounded like a MIDI keyboard, then bring them into our local bar and sing them on karaoke night.

They were terrible.

The Natural, a song about how Dustin Rhodes -a son of a son- was as natural as can be reminds me very much of that guy and his terrible songs.

Both were bland. Both had terrible lyrics. Neither should ever be listened to again.

It's almost hard to believe that the guy who had this boring steel-guitar filled slice of tedium would go on to become the ultra-charasmatic Goldust.

9: Ricky Steamboat - The Dragon

"I'm not saying that women don't fall all over him // but he don't give in // he's a family man."



I want you to remember that the name of Ricky Steamboat's theme is The Dragon. 

That makes you think of a kick ass, fire-breathing beast, right? Perhaps some mythical, magical creature that inspires shock and awe in all who see him?

Yeah, me too.

Not the makers of Slam Jam, though.

When they think of a dragon, they think of a guy who doesn't cheat on his wife.

I'm serious, The Dragon is basically four minutes of singing about how Ricky Steamboat loves his wife and son and "does the best he can."

There's nothing about what an awesome wrestler he is. Not even a single line about why they call him a dragon, just terrible lyric after terrible about what a nice guy he is.

It's supposed to make you root for Steamboat as a heroic, loyal babyface.

Instead, it makes you want to punch him in his stupid face.

The worst part is that it's all set to some horrible music that sounds like it got rejected as the theme song for some mid-80s sitcom...a really bad sitcom that got cancelled after one season because nobody cared about a guy who's only redeeming quality is his fidelity.

Honestly, this isn't just the worst track on the album, it's one of the worst wrestling themes of all time.

10: Barry Windham - He's Smoking

"He likes to beat people up // he likes to have fun // you know who I'm talking about // It's Barry Wind-um!"



OK, the lyrics are terrible, I'll give you that, but would you really expect anything less by now?

Besides, if you imagine the vocalists aren't singing terrible lyrics, this groovy boogie-rock track is actually a lot of fun.

If it sounds familiar to you, you're probably a fan of Boston and their song Smokin'. 

Windham's song is basically a straight rip-off of that song but hey, if you're gonna rip something off, at least rip off an absolute banger, right?

It's funny how He's Smoking is the least memorable track on the album yet is also one of the most enjoyable.

11: The Steiner Brothers - Steinerized

"Here's the story of two brothers, Rick and Scott // They don't use drugs and they're always on top"



The best part about Steinerized is that, for a brief period in the year 2000, Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner returned to using it as his theme song, sauntering down to ringside with his, erm, enhanced physique while the lyrics praised him for being drug free.

The theme was totally ill-suited to the Big Bad Booty Daddy at the turn of the millennium, but it was at least kind of fitting for the All American good boys that Rick and Scott were supposed to be for the majority of their babyface career.

I mean, sure you could argue that it was outdated when the brothers were using it at the same time that the edge New World Order was running wild, but then Shawn Michaels used Sexy Boy for years past that song's best-by date.

That's the kind of theme this is. It might not be perfect, but in its own way, Steinerized is kind of iconic. It's up there with Harlem Heat and DDP's Nirvana rip-off and the nWo theme as being one of WCW 's most recognisable themes.

Yet alas, like everything else on this album, it is entirely cheesy.


And so, that was that, a track-by-track look at Jimmy Papa's biggest contribution to the world of professional wrestling; eleven tracks of pure cheese, terrible lyrics, and the occasional catchy guitar riff.

Sure, I'd still rather have this than Wrestlemania: The Album, but I must admit, I'm really glad there wasn't a Slam Jam Volume 2. 


Thanks for reading. If you're looking for more pro wrestling album reviews, you might enjoy: 


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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.