Sunday Stupid: Vince McMahon wants you to “Stand Back”!
The glory of professional wrestling isn’t the matches, the staged athletic contests where bodies are slammed and elbows are dropped from the top rope. It comes in the ephemera, the amped rigmarole that surrounds them. The pomp and pageantry, if you will. That’s where the fun is, in the promos, the interviews, the vignettes. Those are the things that draw people in and that they remember long after — the stuff that’s so dumb and out of this world, it’s great.
Today we have one of the dumbest and therefore great ephemeral moments in the history of the WWF/WWE: Vince McMahon performing his debut single, “Stand Back,” at a fake awards show for fake music made by fake athletes supported by a veritable who’s who of babyface wrestlers pretending to play musical instruments. George “The Animal” Steele on tambourine, fercrissakes!
This takes a second to set up, so let’s start at the beginning. The World Wrestling Federation surged and boomed in the 1980s, riding the shoulders of Hulkamania and aggressive business practices to become the first national wrestling promotion. Since its inception pro wrestling had been mainly a regional affair, with local wrestling organizations holding shows in local sportatoriums and having showcases on local TV stations. There was an unspoken truce amongst these groups: that none would infringe on the territory of the other. This worked out well until McMahon came along, surveyed the landscape, and realized that someone in this bunch should go nationwide. Go to the bigtime. And that promotion should be his.
So began the Golden Age of the WWF. Hulk Hogan. Macho Man. The Ultimate Warrior. Wrestlers were now a part of pop culture, cartoonish superheroes with slick media backing them. And McMahon missed no opportunity to hawk his brand while at the same time turning a buck. Many recall the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection, the alliance formed between the WWF, Cindy Lauper(!) and MTV for cross-promotion, in which Ms. Lauper became heavily involved in wrestling angles, most notably the War to Settle the Score at Madison Square Garden. But not so well-remembered is the actual music that spun out of it: The Wrestling Album, which contained tracks from established musicians like Rick Derringer and oft-grunted vocals by wrestlers like the Junkyard Dog and Nikolai Volkoff. The most famous song to emerge from this collection was “Real American,” the theme that has accompanied Hulk Hogan to the WWF/WWE ring for the better part of three decades (and was once riffed by our dear friends Beavis and Butt-Head). The goofiest was “The Land of a Thousand Dances,” which had a music video featuring the entire roster of the company, as well as Lauper and Meat Loaf(!):
If you watch the clip you may notice Vince himself amongst the gathered assemblage, displaying a level of goofiness that fans were unaccustomed to seeing from him back then. In those days he was the straight-laced play-by-play man for many events and a suited studio host. His over the top turn as perhaps one of the greatest in-ring personalities the business has ever seen would only come later in the next decade, as the antagonist to Stone Cold Steve Austin. So this was a bit of a shock. Seeing “Classy” Freddie Blassie acting the fool was one thing, Vince was another. But oh, he was only getting started.
The Wrestling Album must have made money, because there was a sequel record. Piledriver: The Wrestling Album II featured even more songs performed by wrestlers than the first time around, often with music videos to accompany them — to great comic effect. There was erstwhile pimp Slick singing the jaunty “Jive Soul Bro.” There was Hillbilly Jim crooning the tender ballad “Waking Up Alone,” sort of a companion piece to Journey’s “Faithfully” in its lament of life on the road. (I had this album on tape as a kid, and in my love of all things pro wrestling made my parents put it in the deck on every car trip of any length. They loathed it but tolerated it on my account. Though my mother said of Hillbilly Jim’s tune: “You know, this isn’t that bad.” Faint praise, but praise nonetheless.) There was “If You Only Knew,” once again featuring most of the roster in sort of a wrestling “We Are the World” — you know, with threats of violence instead of pleas to end famine. There was the title track sung by the parrot-carrying Koko B. Ware, which in one of the bluntest metaphors ever deployed in human history compared the act of love to, yes, a piledriver.
And Vince, no shrinking violet, had to have a track too. And what a track it was. “Stand Back” has stood the test of time.
Once again the buttoned-up Vince let his pompadour down and went wild. Supported by blaring horns and guitar riffs, his baritone unspooled lyrics that, in retrospect, are very much fitting. A titan of commerce running a billion-dollar concern, Vince has never backed away from crushing the competition, whether it’s doing away with the territories or buying arch-rival WCW, and from beginning to end the song is a summation of his hyper-aggressive defiance. It’s a musical warning to the Ted Turners of the world not to mess with him. “Stand in my way, I promise you’ll lose.” It’s fitting. Weird, but fitting, and a perfect mantra for someone who could take a sit-down interview with Bob Costas and make it extremely confrontational.
And then we come to the video at the top of this post.
How magnificent can you get, you know? Hell, the clip starts with Jesse “The Body” Ventura, former politician and current fringe conspiracy theorist, who’s bizarre enough in his own right. After all, how many states can boast an ex-Governor who has worn in public a tie-dyed shirt under a shiny purple coat — before they elected him. Anyway, Vince thought it would be a bright idea to have Grammy-ish awards shows for both albums, hence the Slammy Awards, which awarded prizes for other wrestling-related topics besides music. (My favorite? “Best Personal Hygiene.”) The second version held under the auspices of the fake “Academy of Wrestling Arts and Sciences” was billed as the “37th Annual Slammy Awards,” and featured live performances of many of the tracks, including the now-famous rendition of Vince’s opus.
The most spectacular part about it is, of course, the dancing, prancing, growling, gesticulating Vince. His barrel-chested steroid-pumped weightlifter physique moves and grooves around the dance floor with shocking elan, outshining the high-skirted bimbos orbiting him, satellites to his wide-collared, bevested grandeur. Perhaps the apotheosis of this routine comes at 1:52, when he wiggles his ass like he’s in a bawdy revue — perhaps a grim foreshadowing of the Kiss My Ass Club? Or maybe it’s at the 2:45 mark, when he starts bringing it all home with a shouted lyric of “Baby watch ’em drop!” and it looks like he’s about to drill his index finger through the stage floor. Whichever — you decide.
And then there are the background players. Randy Savage, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake and Jake “The Snake” Roberts pretending to play trumpets. (If you look closely you can see that Macho Man is wearing a white bib with a tuxedo bow tie superimposed at the top — glorious.) The Junkyard Dog and the Killer Bees pretending to play saxophones. The aforementioned turnbuckle-chomping, green-tongued George Steele rattling a tambourine like he’s in Josie and the Pussycats or something. And Hulk Hogan, the icon, laying down the bass line — an actual member of a band in his youth, he might be the only person onscreen with genuine rhythm and/or musical ability.
The WWE hasn’t tried to hide this clip in the intervening decades — this isn’t a case of George Lucas trying to consign the Star Wars Holiday Special to the dustiest, mustiest corner of a Skywalker Ranch basement. Once Vince took on his prominent ring persona as the evil heel owner trying to bend babyface wrestlers to his sinister will, this singular performance has been dredged up to embarrass him. Time. And time again. It’s a part of his legend.
Love or hate him, no one can ever say that Vince doesn’t go all out for his beloved company, even if it’s at the expense of his sizable ego. There aren’t many fabulously wealthy capitalists who would deign to have their hair shorn by Donald Trump or to pretend-wet their pants. (He’s never gone the full Brett, though.) We can thank that willingness for bringing us this video record of a performance that will cause great embarrassment to McMahons for generations to come. It’s 100-proof Sunday Stupid. Thanks, Vinnie Mac.