I want my MTV! Wrestling music videos of the 1980s
When Jerry Lawler recorded a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Bad News” in the mid- ’70s, it resulted in might have been the very first music-video feature on a TV wrestling program. Of course, Lawler had to change some of the lyrics to make it more accessible for the Mid-South viewing audience. “They tried to hang me in Oakland/They did down in ‘Frisco” became “They tried to hang me in Jackson/They did down in Tupelo.” The lyrics “Now I picked peaches in Georgia” wouldn’t apply to Lawler; however, the lyrics “Now I busted heads in Georgia” were fit for Memphis wrestling’s King, who previously worked the Peach State under the management of Gary Hart. Never one to be modest, Lawler recalls how he sparked the MTV craze with his first music video.
After returning from a broken leg in 1981, Lawler was awarded the original Southern title belt when it was retired and replaced with a new strap. In recognition of this achievement, the best Lawler video of the era was produced, fittingly set to Elvis Presley’s cover of “My Way.”
With the popularity of MTV spreading like “Wildfire” Tommy Rich in 1982, Memphis began producing music videos on almost a weekly basis for its stars, featuring heartthrobs like Stan Lane and Steve Keirn, the Fabulous Ones, in a successful effort to expand the audience to teens. Eventually, the videos began mirroring several recording artists’ MTV-style videos–with much lower production values, of course; for example, the Fabs’ special set to ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” had the same vibe as the Houston, Texas, trio’s videos of the day. (Though, thankfully, we never saw Dusty Hill in a Speedo.) Mid-South Wrestling’s Joel Watts liked the Fabs’ version so much he did a shot-for-shot remake of the video for the Fantastics, who clearly had no shame when it came to gimmick infringement.
Unfortunately, Memphis also had several miscues, producing some of the worst videos of the ’80s, most notably the homo-erotic introduction of the New Generation: Bart Batten and Johnny Wilhoit, best friends with benefits, who spent a memorable sunny afternoon parading around Jerry Jarrett’s massive estate. (I keep rooting for Kamala to come running out of the bushes to spear these two sissies.)
World Class Championship Wrestling producer Mickey Grant was producing the most exciting wrestling show in the country in the early ’80s, with never-before-seen camera work and production values, including innovative out-of-the-ring profiles of the Texas promotion’s stars and music videos that raised the bar for a wrestling promotion. Rock videos produced for the Von Erichs and the Freebirds helped capture the imagination of Texas teens, attracting a whole new audience who were captivated by the young lions of World Class.
Grant’s best effort may have been a video produced in 1984 highlighting all the stars and wild ‘n’ wooly action of World Class rasslin’, set to the Cars’ “You Might Think.” (Special thanks to my buddy Guerin Shea for uploading this.)
A year later, Memphis produced quite possibly the worst wrestling video of all time, featuring Tommy Wright, a mini-Magnum TA wannabe, who clearly spent his days driving around shirtless in Jerry Lawler’s borrowed Corvette (after washing it first, most likely) and visiting area convenience stores and gas stations. He also had an affinity for wearing headbands, running in place and cutting gibberish promos in front of the camera. Needless to say, this clown didn’t exactly get over with the Memphis audience. (Even worse, Randy Hales talked producer Randy West into setting the video to his favorite song of the time.)