As the facially hirsute in your social circle may have told you, April 18 was Record Store Day across the United States. There was a surprising amount of wrestling material scattered among the White Stripes and Bob Dylan special releases. Is wrestling now a hipster pursuit on the level of glasses with non-prescription lenses and, well, vinyl records? Perhaps not, but Wrestling Record Store Day spanned the quality continuum.
The Good: Beat the Champ (Special Edition LP) by The Mountain Goats
While this isn’t technically a Record Store Day release, I waited to buy it on Record Store Day because I knew I was already going to be at (say it with me…) The Exclusive Company. Boy, was it worth it.
Lead singer John Darnielle is the most under-appreciated singer-songwriter of this generation. His love of professional wrestling isn’t current (though he did enjoy a recent CHIKARA show), but his band, the Mountain Goats, have released a tribute to the Territory Era that would bring tears to Jim Ross’ Bill Watts-loving eyes.
The album opens with the melancholy Southwestern Territory, an ode to the “golden age” of childhood as much as it’s an ode to the Territory Era. The first LP continues with Beat the Champ’s first single, The Legend of Chavo Guerrero. The elder Chavo was a hero of Darnielle’s at the peak of his wrestling fandom. The upbeat tune is a fitting tribute, not only to Darnielle’s hero, but also to the Guerrero legacy at large.
The kinda funky, brass-driven Foreign Object and inspired Werewolf Gimmick highlight the double LP. Foreign Object is rollicking sub-3 minute tune that sublimely conveys the chaos that goes along with a heel resorting to the dastardliest of methods. “I personally will stab you in the eye/with a foreign object,” Darnielle sings.
The manic Werewolf Gimmick is arguably the most fun song on the entire album and tells a story of a wrestler saddled with a gimmick that’s, generously, a bit crap. But he goes all out for it. He takes it a little too far, to be honest. The werewolf, not Darnielle.
The dark horse on the album is Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan. The tragic tale of Bruiser Brody’s murder reminds me of Dylan’s Hurricane, but about seven minutes shorter. It’s too bad, I’d have listened to the Mountain Goats tell me Brody’s story for hours.
Beat the Champ is a must listen, and not just for wrestling fans. This is a legitimately great album. It’s probably even a must buy if only for the gorgeous green-marble vinyl that the second LP is pressed onto.
BONUS: If you can find the limited edition LP, pick it up (I got the last one at my local record shop). The bonus track Blood Capsules, a tribute to independent life on the road, and Dub Capsules, the far out reggae remix of Blood Capsules, are more than worth the extra couple of bucks.
Listen to the album via Spotify:
The Bad: The Wrestling Album and The Wrestling Album II: Piledriver
These are not great albums. They’re actually terrible. But the artwork is almost worth buying them.
WWE and Epic Records re-released both the Wrestling Album and the Wrestling Album II: Piledriver as a one-day-only reissue for Record Store Day. These both live firmly in the 1980’s Rock-n-Wrestling era, and should’ve probably stayed there. The original Wrestling Album is actually somewhat historic, somehow. The Hulk Hogan anthem Real American debuted on the album, albeit the track was explicitly dedicated to Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda. We’ll chalk that transition up to another instance of Heel Hogan.
The first Wrestling Album also contains the legendary Tutti Frutti, performed as only Mean Gene Okerlund can perform it, and the I’m-sure-it’s-racist-but-not-sure-how Grab Dem Cakes by the Junkyard Dog. Yes, most of the songs are by the wrestlers themselves and none of them appear to be trained musicians. Rowdy Roddy Piper doesn’t even play the bagpipes, and that has to be the biggest missed opportunity of the entire album. The less said about the rest of the album, the better. Somehow the only semblance of realism throughout the entire thing is Jesse Ventura’s heel commentary. He said what I was thinking almost every time. The WWF of the 1980’s was a weird, weird place.
Speaking of WWF being weird in the 1980’s, THEY MADE ANOTHER WRESTLING ALBUM. Save our souls. I should watch what I say, I’m the one who bought the damn thing.
Piledriver is, in many ways, a direct copy of The Wrestling Album. There’s one real song, Demolition on Piledriver and Real American on The Wrestling Album; there’s one patronizing I’m-sure-it’s-racist-but-not-sure-how song, Jive Soul Bro on Piledriver and Grab Dem Cakes on The Wrestling Album; and Mean Gene sings another song with a title that has too many vowels, Rock and Roll and Hoochie Koo is his Piledriver track.
Like most sequels, Piledriver is even worse than The Wrestling Album. The one thing Piledriver has going for it is Vince McMahon’s Stand Back. Stand Back represents the first glimpse that wrestling fans would get at the performer McMahon would become in the 1990s and inspired one of the greatest music videos and GIFs of all time.
Piledriver and the Wrestling Album don’t even fully fit into the campy, nostalgia lovefest we sometimes have with old wrestling. The Attitude Era was great, right? We had the peaks of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock and tons of great matches in all kinds of styles. Week to week, though? The Attitude Era doesn’t hold up. Those RAWs are cringeworthy most of the time. WWF in the 1980’s introduced the spectacle of WrestleMania and gave us both Piper and the Macho Man Randy Savage, but these albums are cringeworthy.
The Ugly: Hulk Hogan’s jealous eyes on the cover of Piledriver.
You got jealous eyes, Hulk: