Combining over-the-top performers, an emphasis on extravagantly staged (although very painful) violence, and character-driven story lines, it seemed natural that the World Wrestling Federation (changed to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002) would incorporate music into their TV programming. What WWE: The Anthology offers is 86 songs that have been used as theme songs for wrestlers, pay-per-views, and video packages throughout their 30-year reign of the industry. The three CDs here are quite detailed, focusing on virtually any important character who had a recognizable theme song or memorable video package put together for them. Vintage '80s tracks like Hulk Hogan's "Real American" (written and sung by Rick Derringer) or the Ultimate Warrior's "Unstable" are gloriously campy anthems that personify the simplistic, good-versus-evil plot lines that ruled the era. Bad guys sung about being bad ("Cool, Cocky, Bad"), while good guys had overwrought anthems about being good ("I'll Be Your Hero"). Still, this period (captured on the first disc) did result in a few quality songs, like the smarmy "Sexy Boy" ("sung" by wrestler Shawn Michaels) and the dramatic and energetic "Hitman." By the time the second disc rolls around, the idea of giving characters one-sided theme songs had been erased by the era of "attitude," when many wrestlers tended to be anti-heroes who either rebelled against or sided with their evil corporate leader (real-life WWF owner Vince McMahon). Company music supervisor Jim Johnston commissioned and put together rock bands to ape popular artists like Rage Against the Machine ("Break It Down") with shockingly successful results. These are the most successful tracks here, as songs like "If You Smell..." and "I Won't Do What You Tell Me" are genuinely enjoyable adrenaline anthems that captured the essence of their characters more appropriately than the previous simplistic approach. While both of these eras enthralled the mainstream and led to big business, the third disc documents the fall of the company, as the forced name change and poor story lines drove away viewers, and the music almost seems to reflect this flux in business. The themes here are mostly boring, with bland celebrity guest appearances from Lil' Kim and Saliva mingling with faceless, riff-driven tracks. One could make the argument that the third disc is completely unnecessary, as many great songs (including Motorhead's awesome "The Game" and Run DMC's "The Kings") have been left off. And many songs here were attached to unmemorable athletes like Bertha Faye and Los Boricuas, hardly meriting their inclusion. Still, such a complete collection from a business that thrives on its use of music has its merits, and no release up to this point has been as detailed or complete as this. There is a wealth of filler to be found, but for completists this is the premier collection of WWF/WWE music up to this point, bar none.
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AllMusic Review by Bradley Torreano
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
Track Listing - Disc 3