It is difficult to imagine pro wrestling without music.

Since the days when Gorgeous George walked to the ring with Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” as accompaniment during the 1940s and 50s, music has become an integral and inescapable facet of pro wrestling’s presentation.

In the history of pro wrestling music, there is no one more worthy of induction into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame—or any pro wrestling hall of fame, period—than Jim Johnston.

The purpose of a wrestling hall of fame is to recognize the absolute best of this unusual sport. Largely this refers to the wrestlers themselves, but promoters, managers, bookers, commentators, and other non-wrestlers have all been inducted based on the strengths of their respective careers.

Looking at Johnston’s career as a pro wrestling composer, he is a slam dunk candidate.

Let’s start with the obvious: Jim Johnston wrote some of the most famous wrestling songs of all time.

The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Mick Foley, Brock Lesnar, The Ultimate Warrior, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Mr. McMahon, Jake Roberts, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton—listing all the names would be extensive and exhausting, but chances are you can recall their theme songs in an instant.

What made these songs so memorable (besides hearing them ad nauseam over the years)? To put it simply, Johnston was great at his job and took the craft seriously.

“With my work, I always tried to beam right into the emotions of a character,” Johnston told Vice in 2020. “I love [composer] John Williams and wanted to approach wrestling music in a similar way; it was all about making the audience feel something for the character. If you took John’s music out of Star Wars then it wouldn’t work as well and I feel like it’s the same thing with my music for the WWE. My music’s role was to give wrestling more heart for the audience to grab onto.”

Johnston understood that a wrestler’s music is more than an add-on; it can be an essential piece of their character that can help get them over.

Stone Cold Steve Austin elicited thunderous cheers for drinking beer, throwing up the middle finger, and giving a Stunner to whoever got in his way. Those same cheers could be heard as soon as the glass shattered in his entrance music. It perfectly represented his rough-and-tumble, take no bullshit persona.

The Rock became a megastar by oozing charisma out of his pores. What a surprise that his chest-puffing, catchphrase-heavy theme carried that same confident swagger in its melody and guitar solo.

Mr. McMahon was the ultimate corporate bad guy. All he needed to get booed was walk out, but an ominous drone and four simple words—no chance in hell—cemented him as one of wrestling’s greatest villains.

Johnston’s songs were just as important to the popularity of these characters as Austin 3:16, The People’s Elbow, or the McMahon strut.

But those are just three examples of his work. Three of many, because to call Johnston’s output prolific would be quite the understatement.

During his 32-year tenure at WWE (1985-2017), Johnston wrote, performed, produced, and recorded thousands of pieces of music: Entrance themes, television and pay-per-view themes, background music for video packages, albums, WWE Studios film scores. Looking up his name on Songview, which gathers ASCAP and BMI information, yields more than 5,100 entries.

In 2016, WWE began releasing a series of albums called Uncaged, compilations of Johnston’s songs that had never been officially released. That series alone has 14 installments with 254 tracks total, more than The Beatles’ main catalog. (A 15th volume has tracks by CFO$, Johnston’s successors.)

He occasionally collaborated with other musicians to perform his songs, particularly in the late 90s into the 2000s, but for the most part, Johnston was a one-man band. In an interview for Sports Illustrated in 2018, Justin Barrasso wrote, “Johnston played all the instruments in his music for WWE. If a song required an instrument he did not know how to play, he would simply learn it.”

His oeuvre was not limited to one genre of music. Johnston dabbled in all types of rock, heavy metal, pop, hip hop, dance, R&B, country, latin, orchestral, Celtic, East Asian, and reggae. If WWE needed a theme song for an evil circus clown, he made it.

If they needed a theme song for a guy named Mr. Ass who loved butts, he made it.

If they needed a theme that was just a bunch of annoying buzzers and sirens, he made it.

Sure, some genres were more suited to Johnston’s style than others (he somehow managed to get his guitars into seemingly every rap song he ever produced), but no style was ever out of reach.

I’ve talked a fair bit about Johnston’s creative success in the studio, but what about commercially? Yes, he succeeded there too.

From 1996 until 2010, WWE released 16 full-length studio albums with songs written, performed, and/or produced by Jim Johnston. For this section, I will look at the sales of the first eight albums released from 1996-2002, which will cover the beginning and end of the Attitude Era and the final peak years of physical albums before downloading and streaming took over. I will use data from the Billboard 200 charts, Recording Industry Association of America, Music Canada, British Phonographic Industry, and the MTV article “Got Charts? Wrestling With WWF LPs; Breaking Records With Celine.”

We’ll start with 1996’s WWF Full Metal – The Album. This was the first WWE album to solely feature theme songs, almost all of them composed and performed by Johnston.

  • Reached #184 on the Billboard 200 the week of October 26, 1996
  • Sold 173,000 copies in the U.S.
  • Certified Gold in Canada (40,000 copies)

1997’s WWF The Music, Volume 2 fared a bit better than its predecessor.

  • Reached #165 on the Billboard 200 the week of March 21, 1998 (16 weeks on the charts)
  • Certified RIAA Gold (500,000 copies) on April 21, 1999

The release of WWF The Music, Volume 3 in late 1998 was when the rocket took off.

  • Reached #10 on the Billboard 200 the week of March 6, 1999 (30 weeks on the charts)
  • Sold 1.21 million copies in the U.S.
  • Certified RIAA Gold on February 10, 1999; Certified RIAA Platinum (1,000,000 copies) on March 2, 1999
  • Certified Platinum in Canada (80,000 copies)

Johnston’s fourth collection of themes—November 1999’s WWF The Music, Volume 4—kept the pace.

  • Debuted and peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 the week of November 20, 1999
  • Sold 1.13 million copies in the U.S. (214,000 in its first week, the highest of any of the albums)
  • Certified RIAA Gold and Platinum on December 16, 1999
  • Certified Gold in UK (100,000 copies) and reached #44 on UK Albums Charts; Certified Platinum in Canada and reached #5 on Canadian Albums

WWF Aggression in March 2000 featured guest rappers and producers making hip-hop tracks based on WWF themes. Johnston served as executive producer.

  • Debuted and peaked at #8 on Billboard 200 the week of April 8, 2000; Reached #10 on Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums; Reached #6 on Canadian Billboards
  • Sold 640,000 copies in the U.S.
  • Certified RIAA Gold on May 8, 2000
  • Certified Gold in Canada; Certified Silver in UK (60,000 copies)

WWF The Music, Vol. 5, released in February 2001, was the last Attitude Era album and ended the period with another strong showing.

  • Debuted and peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 the week of March 10, 2001 (15 weeks on the charts)
  • Sold 640,000 copies in the U.S.
  • Certified RIAA Gold on April 17, 2001
  • Certified Gold in Canada and reached #5 on Canadian Albums; Certified Gold in UK and reached #11 on UK Albums

By the way, the album that Vol. 5 knocked out of the #2 spot? The Beatles’ 1.

The first album of the Ruthless Aggression Era, March 2002’s WWF Forceable Entry, saw an influx of rock and metal bands collaborating with Johnston to re-record his songs.

  • Debuted and peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 the week of April 13, 2002, WWE’s second highest chart debut (Spent 13 weeks on the charts)
  • Certified RIAA Gold on April 25, 2002
  • Reached #3 on Canadian Albums

The three-disc collection WWE Anthology released later that November proved respectable as well.

  • Debuted and peaked at #13 on the Billboard 200 the week of Nov. 30, 2002 (Spent 8 weeks on the charts)
  • Reached #1 on U.S. Independent Albums; Reached #2 on U.S. Top Soundtracks
  • Certified RIAA Gold on Dec. 16, 2002
  • Certified Silver in UK

Anthology was the final WWE album to get certified RIAA Gold in the U.S. The following three albums—WWE Originals, Themeaddict: WWE The Music, Vol. 6, and WWE Wreckless Intent—would still chart in the top 40 on the Billboard 200 (#12, #38, and #8, respectively). 2009’s Voices: WWE The Music, Vol. 9 also went to #11.

That’s the long way of saying Jim Johnston has ten Top 40 albums, two Platinum albums, seven Gold albums in a row, and has gone Silver, Gold, and Platinum outside the United States. His name and bespectacled face might not be plastered on the album covers, but those are still his songs that sold those records and kicked the Fab Four’s ass in the process.

The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame criteria is “a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling, as well as having historical significance in a positive manner. A candidate should either have something to offer in all three categories, or be someone so outstanding in one or two of those categories that they deserve inclusion.”

If amassing a gigantic, varied body of work with a plethora of iconic songs counts as “excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling,” Jim Johnston did that.

If using his musical talents to help wrestlers complete their characters and get over with fans counts as “historical significance in a positive way,” Jim Johnston did that.

And if selling millions of albums counts as “drawing power,” then Jim Johnston did that, too.

Put this man in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. Wrestling would have sounded a lot worse without him.

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