“Rock ‘n’ Wrestling”: In 1985, Hulkamania was runnin’ wild on this Saturday morning TV show

By on May 19, 2017

In this sports-themed episode of “Night Flight,” which originally aired on April 9, 1987 — it’s now streaming over on Night Flight Plus — we featured the memorable “Land of a Thousand Dances” video, performed by a stage full of celebrity pro wrestling WWE superstars who were called, what else?, the Wrestlers.

The video would also appear regularly on “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling,” a Saturday morning TV show (half-cartoon, half live-action) that first began airing on CBS around the same time the video was released, in the fall of ’85.

Read more about both below.

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The buffoonish “We Are the World”-style video — directed by Edd Griles, creator of the MTV Video Music Awards — featured Meat Loaf on drums (this was a few years before he made his big comeback with Bat out Hell II), and Rick Derringer and Cyndi Lauper (appearing incognito as her “Mona Flambé” character, in a brunette wig and sunglasses), both rockin’ out on guitar.

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They’re all backing up some of the big superstars in WWE wrestling at the time, including “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Freddie Blassie, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, George “The Animal” Steele, Captain Lou Albano, Nikolai Volkoff, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Mr. Fuji, The Iron Sheik, the Junkyard Dog and many more, all of ‘em mugging for the camera and acting the fool before breaking out into a big fight towards the end.

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It’s inevitable, of course, that the good guys and bad guys, standing together onstage — the video was filmed at a wrestling arena in Poughkeepsie, New York — would ultimately have to end up fighting; after all, the WWE wrestlers — in order to keep their fans thinking that they really didn’t like each other — would always try to keep themselves separate from each other, off-stage as well as on, even staying in separate hotels.

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WWE’s Vince McMahon — who hardly allows himself to crack a smile these days — is even in on the action in the video, wearing his then-famous tuxedo and red bow-tie, an outfit he wore well into the 1990s.

By this time, McMahon — still doing the ring announcing at the time — had already created WrestleMania, a wrestling supershow that aired on closed-circuit TV (subsequent editions were broadcast on pay-per-view) to showcase all his newly acquired talent.

McMahon is also joined by fellow ring announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund, who was well-known at the time as an interviewer, announcer and a former wrestler.

Noticeably absent onstage, though, is Hulk Hogan, who was probably the biggest WWE superstar of them all, but he’s barely missed amid all the grunting and over-acting from his wrestling compatriots, many of them dressed-up in costume.

The song “Land of a Thousand Dances” — first recorded by Cannibal and the Headhunters, a Chicano rockers from East L.A., and later a hit for several black R&B artists, namely Chris Kenner, Round Robin and Wilson Pickett — is a pretty good choice to cover, since it doesn’t require too much actual singing talent to pull off.

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“Land of a Thousand Dances” was the lead-off track on the imaginatively-named The Wrestling Album, released by Epic Records, which was just one of many ways that the WWE promoted “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling,” pairing up wrestlers and rock music in a further attempt to appeal to a younger demographic.

Most true music fans simply could not really wrap their mind around the idea of hearing their favorite wrestlers singing, however, so it should come as no surprise that most of the album’s material wasn’t considered much more than an elaborate joke or promotional marketing gimmick, even by some of the participants.

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Here’s a bit of history about the WWE: It was McMahon who would build professional wrestling into the entertainment-based, storyline-driven sport (?) that is today, founding Titan Sports Inc. in 1979, and then acquiring Capitol Wrestling Corporation, which was the holding company for the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF, in 1982.

Titan itself was renamed World Wrestling Federation, Inc. in 1998, and then World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. in 1999, before finally being re-christened World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) in 2002.

This happened mainly because the WWE lost a lawsuit against the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Cookie Jar Entertainment division of DHX Media, who barred the WWE from using the initials “WWF.”

Since 2011, the company has officially branded itself solely as WWE.

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Rock guitarist and producer Rick Derringer’s name lent legitimacy to the Wrestling Album project, and indeed he was involved with this album’s production, along with Jim Steinman — Meat Loaf’s longtime songwriting/producing partner — and Cyndi Lauper’s then-manager and boyfriend David Wolff.

It was Wolff, by the way, who came up with the term “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection.”

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Cyndi Lauper, by the way, appears as a backing vocalist on Derringer’s song “Real American,” and, using her pseudonym Mona Flambé in the credits, she also produced Captain Lou Albano’s track, “Captain Lou’s History Of Music/Captain Lou.”

By the fall of 1985, Cyndi Lauper was already a big part of the WWE world, which all began after she met wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano on a jet plane while flying back to the States from Puerto Rico.

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Wolff, it turned out, was a big wrestling fan at the time (Lauper wasn’t, not at first), and as a favor to Lauper, he thought Albano would be a good person to appear as Cyndi’s father in her new video, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” a song which went on to be one of her biggest hits.

The video was directed by Edd Griles, who would also direct the videos for Lauper’s hits “She Bop” and “Time After Time,” and, of course, he would be asked to direct the Wrestlers’ “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

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The producer of the video knew Vince McMahon, and so he and Wolff worked to get Albano to appear in the video.

Afterwards, Albano asked Lauper for a return favor, plugging pro wrestling on her “Tonight Show” appearances and agreeing to let her video (the one Albano was in) be played at Albano’s wrestling events.

Then, in June of ’84, Lauper appeared in a “Piper’s Pit” segment during a broadcast of Championship Wrestling and talked about her “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” video, but the segment ended with Lauper getting into a fight with Albano, who had showed up to take credit for the song’s chart success, complaining how he wasn’t being paid fairly.

Lauper flipped over a table and whacked Albano over the head with her purse in what turned out to be a very carefully staged kayfabe, which are staged wrestling events portrayed as real or true.

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This staged fight soon escalated into a full-on “feud,” which ultimately led to a WWE-promoted all-female wrestling match (“The Brawl to End It All”), which was broadcast on MTV in July ’84 in one of the very first “rock ‘n’ wrestling” cross-promotions.

A storyline was further developed that had Lauper owing Captain Lou record royalties and each of them also managing a wrestler, acting as their proxies, for a stage wrestling event, which both MTV and the WWE promoted.

Lauper backed wrestling babe Wendi Richter while Albano backed the Fabulous Moolah, the NWA World champ of the women’s division back in 1956 who hadn’t yet been beaten.

Lauper’s Richter won that battle, dethroning the Fabulous Moolah for the first time in twenty-eight years and drawing huge ratings for MTV. Helping in the promotion of the event were Liberace, Muhammad Ali and Mr. T, among others.

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Muhammad Ali, Hulk Hogan, Cyndi Lauper, Liberace and Wendi Richter

Vince McMahon recognized how important it was turning out to be to have celebs from the rock ‘n’ roll world involved in promoting WWE wrestling, and he quickly arranged to have the first “WrestleMania” event staged at Madison Square Garden in New York City in order to capitalize on wrestling’s broadening popularity.

The first WrestleMania would include some of pro wrestling’s biggest names, including Hulk Hogan and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, in addition to an appearance by Cyndi Lauper.

Around this same time, on February 26, 1985, Cyndi Lauper would win the Grammy for Best New Artist, and at the ceremonies in Los Angeles, Hulk Hogan escorted her out on stage, pretending to be her bodyguard.

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On March 31, 1985, Lauper was once again on-hand for the re-match, which was billed as “The War to Settle the Score,” managing Richter as she went up against Leilani Kai on an undercard bout (Kai had recruited the Fabulous Moolah as her own corner man, er… woman).

Lauper even climbed into the ring herself to pull Kai off her fighter when she began pulling Richter’s hair, and was later seen celebrating Richter’s second championship win.

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The headlining bout was a tag-team event with Hogan pairing up with Mr. T to go up against “Rowdy” Roddy and Paul Orndorff.

The popularity of WrestleMania led to more of these events, of course, becoming a pop culture event that was cross-promoted in the music world via MTV, and more and more it looked like rock ‘n’ wrestling was a winning combination.

Lauper, meanwhile, recruited her new superstar wrestling pals, both “bad guys” and “good guys,” and soon, in addition to Albano, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Freddie Blassie,The Iron Sheik and others were appearing in her video for “The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough,” which was a kind of expanded two-part mini movie that helped to promote the soundtrack for The Goonies. (Read our post about the movie here).

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This brings us up to late 1985, and The Wrestling Album, one of those odd iconic artifacts of its time which serves to remind us, once again, that not all ideas are good ones; this idea, by the way, was David Wolff’s (if you’re looking for someone to blame, or thank).

Wolff hired all the producers, songwriters, musicians, and picked the wrestlers.

Rick Derringer — the guy who wrote “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” (but hopefully you already know more about him than that) — was a longtime friend and musical associate of Wolff’s, and had been working with Lauper since she’d been in a group called Blue Angel.

Derringer, in fact, helped to get Lauper a solo recording contract with with Portrait Records, which was a subsidiary of Epic Records.

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Derringer — who had also worked with and won some Grammys with “Weird Al” Yankovic during his career — knew that the project was basically going to be a novelty record.

He also knew it had the potential to be a good album of songs, too, and he and several songwriters begin penning a number of wrestler’s theme songs, the tracks which were usually blasting out loudly over PA systems while the wrestlers entered the ring.

Before this album, most wrestlers marched out to popular rock songs, like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” or something like that, but this album was chiefly created with the idea that the participants would come away from it with their own unique songs.

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One of the best songs on the album, in fact, was Derringer’s “Real American,” which a number of years ago was back in the news when it was the song that former president Barack Obama had played at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner when he was unveiling his real U.S. birth certificate.

Derringer had originally intended his song “Real American” to be the new theme song for tag-team wrestling combo known as “U.S. Express” (Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo, who both appear in the video).

However, shortly after the album’s release, the dynamic tag-team duo would flee from McMahon’s WWE and join the rival NWA — which stands for National Wrestling Alliance, and not the N.W.A., who were straight outta Compton — and so Hulk Hogan adopted it as his new theme song.

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If you’re a WWE fan, you may even remember a video for “Real American” which features Hogan as the ultimate American fighter, defending the stars and stripes against his adversaries, the mad Russian Nikolai Volkoff and the evil Iranian, the Iron Sheik, who the Hulkster beat for the WWE World Championship in 1984.

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If you’re an ’80s-era WWE fan, you may also recall how Hogan and his enemies would exchange insults in the ring, and how Hogan, in particular, would defend the U.S. of A while while attacking his opponent’s homeland (The Iron Sheik, for example, who often said: “Iran…number one.. USA, ah phooey!”).

The irony was, while becoming one of the most-hated wrestlers in the U.S., one of Hogan’s arch enemies, Nikolai Volkoff, had actually fled Russia and he was not a fan of the Soviet Union at all, but then wrestler Freddie Blassie encouraged him to play a bad guy, a Communist sympathizer, and so his Russian hat-wearing bad guy character was created.

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In an excellent oral history about The Wrestling Album, published in 2015, Derringer would tell Rolling Stone magazine that “Real American” turned out to be a “double-edged sword.”

Derringer: “Hulk Hogan was successful and very prominent, so because of him, a lot of people heard the song. But on the other hand, we felt we wrote this fabulous patriotic rock anthem – it’s one of the better songs I’ve ever written, probably – and we felt like, ‘Oh wow, we’re kind of throwing it away on this wrestler.’ Of course, since then, in some ways, it’s become one of the biggest records I’ve ever made… and I’m the guy who did ‘Hang On Sloopy’ and ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.'”

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The album’s gatefold cover photo really captures what could have been an insane recording session, with all of the superstar WWE wrestlers gathered together in what looks to be a recording studio, along with ring announcer Howard Finkel, who appears in the center of the photo, just behind McMahon and “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

The reality, of course, was that everyone went into the studio separately, singing newly-written lyrics (with permission from the song’s publisher) written by David Wolff.

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The best moments on the album, we have to say, are the between-song bits where “Mean” Gene Okerlund and Jesse “The Body” Ventura tee off against one another and their fellow WWE superstars in scripted patter that acts as an introduction to the album’s next track, whether it’s the Junkyard Dog’s “Grab Them Cakes” (which reminds some listeners of the early ’80s hit “Double Dutch Bus” before it veers off into Funkadelic-y funk, with backing vocals by Vicki Sue Robinson), or Hillbilly Jim’s bluegrass-y “Don’t Mess with a Country Boy,” which was one of the three tracks released as a single.

One of the album’s Steinman-penned and produced songs was “Hulk Hogan’s Theme,” which was being used at the time on the French-American TV show, “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling,” a cartoon with interstitial live-action bits (some of which we’ve included in this post).

This brings us to the TV show, the concept for which was created by David Wolff and Cyndi Lauper (she would sometimes appear as herself in the episodes too) and produced by DIC Entertainment, who produced animation programs.

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“Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” debuted on CBS on Saturday, September 14, 1985.

Each episode was thirty-minutes in length (including commercial breaks), some containing a storyline that lasted the entire half-hour, while others were two stories, with their own titles, split into fifteen-minute stories.

There were a total of 26 episodes with 39 titles, airing over two TV seasons, with the last show airing on December 6, 1986; the show was then aired in reruns until June 27, 1987, finally ending just a few months after our sports-themed episode of “Night Flight” aired.

The TV show was actually built around the idea that Hulk Hogan — who was promoted by CBS before the show began airing as “‘America’s newest, most popular superstar” — and his group of “good” wrestlers would find themselves battling it out against a group of rogue “bad” wrestlers, led by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

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The good wrestlers — known as the “Faces,” or sometimes “Babyfaces” — included Hogan, the Junkyard Dog, Captain Lou Albano, André the Giant, Wendi Richter, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Hillbilly Jim and Tito Santana.

The bad guys, or “Heels,” as they were known, meanwhile, were Piper, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, The Fabulous Moolah, Big John Studd, and Mr. Fuji.

There weren’t even too many references to the sport of wrestling, believe it or not, and seemed like wrestling was simply a device that was used to determine the good guys from the bad guys.

The “rock” portion of the “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling,” as it turned out, was typically a highlight-reel montage of the wrestlers doing something active, usually fighting bad dues, while popular tunes played along in the background.

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Most of the animated action, however, was focused on elaborate storylines that were typical good vs. bad guy plots, and occasionally, Hogan and his fellow Faces would find themselves needing to join forces with the bad guy Heels in order to get things done.

The bad guys were usually only looking out for themselves and reverted to their abhorrent ways immediately after solving that week’s crisis.

Most of the time, the real wrestlers were pretty busy doing their real jobs, and didn’t even provide their character’s voices, unless they had made themselves available to do so.

Actor Brad Garrett — who would become Robert Barone, Ray’s brother on the popular CBS series “Everybody Loves Raymond” — provided the voice of Hulk Hogan, and the Junkyard Dog was voiced by actor James Avery, who would go onto become “Uncle Phil” on TV’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

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The show’s storylines didn’t keep pace with the real-time WWE storylines either, since the animation had to be done far in advance (one of the reasons that wrestling fans didn’t really like the show was that there were times when the characters would talk about wanting to face off in the ring and engage in battle to see who came out on top when, in the real WWE world, those matches had already taken place).

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These animated storylines were interrupted occasionally by live-action segments, filmed with the real wrestlers (if they were available), and occasionally, instead of a live-action segment, the space was filled with the insertion of the “Land of a Thousand Dances” video.

Also, it should be noted that a couple of the characters continued on in the animated cartoon even though their real-life counterparts had defected from the WWE (Wendi Richter, in fact, left in mid-’85, sometime before the series even began to air).

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The Wrestling Album was promoted by Epic’s parent company Sony through a lot of cross-merchandised events, bringing a lot of WWE fans (mostly young males) into record stores that weren’t necessarily big music fans. It was also promoted it on the WWE shows every Saturday.

The album debuted at #174 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart on November 30, 1985, climbing to #84, where it remained for two weeks in January 1986, before crashing back down on the mat.

None of the three singles released from the album received any heavy radio airplay nor did they crack the Top 100, but the album sold well enough to spawn a sequel, 1987’s Piledriver.

There was a briefly-released CD of The Wrestling Album in the late 90s, on the Koch label, but it is currently out-of-print.

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Meanwhile, “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” was picked up by the WWE network in early 2015, and in April of that year, the WWE announced that the program would be added to the WWE Network, making its premiere following the April 20 episode of “WWE Raw.”

However, on July 24, 2015, following Hogan’s racist comments about the man his daughter happened to be dating, the WWE fired Hogan, and all references to Hulk Hogan, including the cartoon show from 1985, were scrubbed their entire website.

Watch this sports-themed episode of “Night Flight,” which originally aired on April 9, 1987, now streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.