Monday, June 29, 2020

The Wrestling Album At 35

Have we really been listening to Real American for thirty-five years? Grab Them Cakes? Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy?!? Yes, we have. For it was 1985 when The Wrestling Album hit National Record Mart, Sam Goody, and various other music retailers worldwide. While never a chart topper (Rolling Stone did an amazing article covering these aspects several years ago which can be found online), it is without a doubt the centerpiece of the "Rock 'N Wrestling" era. After all, it was wrestling and music together in the ultimate format.

I've seen many remembrances over the years from fans who recall this being the first album that they ever purchased or owned. In a way, it's a smooth and fun introduction to music for any kid who already knows the wrestlers featured. Back in 1985 who didn't know JYD, Hillbilly Jim, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Mean Gene Okerlund? The cover is also the perfect blend of a chaotic rock and roll album image and the world of wrestling. It'd be interesting to know the whys and hows of who ended up on the cover. And why was The Hulkster simply inset? You've got Macho Man and Elizabeth, Ricky Steamboat, The U.S. Express (who Real American was famously originally meant for), Missing Link, and even Mona FlambĂ©, the black-wigged alter ego of Cyndi Lauper.

Speaking of Cyndi Lauper, it's always shocked me how little Wendi Richter was involved in this album. She was a huge star at the time of its production, was directly connected with Lauper and David Wolff who produced the album, yet doesn't even appear on the cover. Her infamous departure from the company did not come until nearly three weeks after the album's release, so that obviously couldn't have played a factor. You would think an idea for a new theme song for her could've been in the pipeline to avoid future licensing of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," but that's only speculation. Aside from appearing in the video, the mega-hot female star is relatively disassociated with the project.

The album itself was initially released on vinyl and cassette, while a compact disc release had to wait nearly two decades. There were three singles, those being Grab Them Cakes, Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy, and Land of 1,000 Dances?!!?, the last of which had a video filmed at a WWF taping in Poughkeepsie, NY. The trio was released as 45's complete with picture sleeves. A 12 inch single of Dances was done with a cover featuring photos from the video itself and includes both the dance and instrumental version of the song. I've also found a 12 inch single featuring Real American and Grab Them Cakes with a plain black sleeve. Variations could definitely exist out there.

Aside from the albums, promo flats/posters, and a reissue on colored vinyl from a few years ago, memorabilia largely remains limited to the original releases. Seeing as how Mattel seems to enjoy paying homage to the history of WWE, it would be fun to see a future figure or set packaged in some way as a remembrance to the album. If they were to get the rights to Cyndi Lauper (as they recently did Mr. T), this would be a no-brainer. It's also sort of surprising that the company hasn't recreated or paid tribute to the album and video in some way over the years. Somehow they feel that they didn't retain the rights to at least some of the music as Country Boy is no longer used.

All of the items that do exist have gone up in value. Even the basic album itself on vinyl will cost you around $30 on a good day. The various singles have gone up and down in price but rarely appear all at once. It will be a hunt, especially with the picture sleeves. Is it worth it? You'll be a Real American if you do it, but it's not For Everybody. Once you collect them all and Grab Them Cakes, you can tell Rick Springfield to eat his heart out.

Ok, I'm done, Cara Mia.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Where Do The Fiend, Liz, Vis, Rude, AJ, & Ronda Meet? The Elite!

It's rare that I pick up a whole series of figures. With an average of six figures per set, who can afford it? Sadly, the series are also usually filled with re-releases that are, except to completists, unnecessary. Mattel's WWE Elite 77 is one that even I jumped for. It had the perfect mix: three legends (which as you know by now are essential to me), one extremely hot brand new character, and two re-releases which aren't really bad at all. Saving frustration and gas money, the decision to pre-order was made.

In a cool twist, the Elite 77 packaging reflects SummerSlam not only with the logo of the event but also bright, shelf-jumping colors. Each character is also represented with a look that they appeared in at various SummerSlam events over the past three decades. Headlining the set we've got "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, Viscera, Ravishing Rick Rude, Miss Elizabeth, AJ Styles, and Ronda Rousey. It should be noted that there is a "chase" Rick Rude in different tights and Mattel's first release of Classy Freddie Blassie ships in the same case as a "collector's edition." The latter is not connected to the set in any way other than being randomly dispersed in the case.

Each figure includes a variety of accessories, most notably extra hands. When discussing the inside production of these figures, it's often noted how company budgets decide which characters will end up in each series. I don't know that there has been a wave of figures that displays this better. You've got a positively humongous figure like Viscera in the same set as petite Miss Elizabeth. You have the thicker Wyatt with all new "tooling" next to Styles who has been released time and time again. It's something that is often overlooked when discussing case assortments but sticks out like a sore thumb in this particular go around.

Looking at the re-releases first, I'll explain my bias. Yes, Elizabeth and Rude are re-releases, but they're legends or "Flashbacks" as Mattel prefers to call them. They don't have countless releases like Styles and Ronda, therefore I don't lump them all together. Styles happens to be one of my favorite modern wrestlers, so I never completely shy away from new figures of him. The gloved hands, shirt, and vest are all solid accessories. The journey of AJ's hair has been interesting to follow both in his WWE career as well as in his Mattel figures. Here we have what I can only describe as the "Marlo Thomas flip." If that's a meaningless reference to you, get off my lawn. Ronda is easily my least favorite figure in the set, but it isn't bad by any means. She has some face paint on here which makes her unique in my collection if not the whole line. I thought I was complete with her when the "Ultimate" figure was released, but one more won't hurt.

Two legends I will always buy are Rick Rude and Miss Elizabeth. They are directly from my era and these are two looks we've never seen in figure form, coming from the first two SummerSlam events. This is the first switchable hand Rude which means the open-palm meat hooks are here for hip-swivelin' and sweat flingin'. Using one of each of his hands, I had a flashback to one of the cards from the Classic brand WWF trading card set where he had the same perm and posed the figure as such. Liz is from the infamous main event of SummerSlam '88 where it was all but promised that she would strip down to a bikini. I used the word "infamous" since all she ended up doing was removing her skirt. As disappointing as it was for so many of her starry-eyed fans, in a way it continued to play up the innocence that the character was all about. Yes, the skirt is removable with the red bottoms underneath. She has a yellow painted "corset" on under the top if you really needed to know.

Many fans are seeing The Fiend as the star of the series, but my vote goes with Big Vis. Always a huge fan of Nelson Frazier, I will say that this is the definitive figure of Viscera if there ever was one. The figure easily wins the "LJN King Kong Bundy Award" for providing more-than-your-money's-worth. Not only is the figure massive with a picture-perfect likeness, but also included is the Hardcore Championship and three unique sets of hands including a pair posed in the "V" symbol. The Fiend is a winner, too, complete with the horrifying head lantern. I'll give Mattel one thing, they certainly don't shy away from content like many worried about when they took over the line. The body is also heavily tattooed and the scan of the mask looks great to me.

Wrestling figure sales are at an all-time high. Figures old and new alike are going for big bucks. My best advice is if something you want is up for pre-order at even a tad more than retail, jump on it. While The Fiend is the hottest figure in this set at press time, there's already word that he'll be an upcoming entry in the Ultimate series. With the popularity of the character I'm sure we'll also see Basic versions and additional Elites. After all, the level of his character is what the "Top Pick" Elite sets are meant to be for, so that the top characters are always available for new collectors. Personally I feel Viscera is the one to watch out for in the future. It's an absolutely amazing figure from a popular time in company history. Remember, we've still only seen one Mabel. While Big Daddy V may appear down the pike, get your figures of the big man now.

Another Elite set in the books and on the blog. I have a feeling that more will be here before summer's end. As much as I complain about Mattel, they're doing something right, and grabbing plenty of money from both you and me while they're at it.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Wrestling MarketWatch: The New WWF Generation

Bret! Shawn! Diesel! The Undertaker! Sparky Plugg! It's the NEW WWF Generation! We all remember it. A company that knew how to pull off "cartoon-come-to-life" better than anyone suddenly...didn't. Maybe it's because the biggest superhero of the squared circle, Hulk Hogan, was no longer part of it. Maybe it was the internal struggles that the company was facing. Then again, maybe the tastes of the world were changing. Probably a mixture of all three. Nevertheless, the WWF still wanted to be the number one form of entertainment in your house, thus we got what we got. I'm not saying it was all bad. While I hardly hide my distaste for most things '90s, I do have some good memories from this era in wrestling, most notably the time around SummerSlam '95 seeing that it was the first pay-per-view to emanate from my hometown of Pittsburgh.

With how popular the merchandise from this era still is, the nostalgia is obviously strong. In this latest installment of Wrestling MarketWatch, we'll take a look at some recent auction selling prices for a handful of classic collectibles that capture the spirit of the era. As always, prices noted are for non-autographed examples.

*The World Wrestling Federation was waving their banner high. As high as the sky, in fact. This is the time when the WWF airship, or blimp, or zeppelin, would travel around the country proudly promoting the logo of the "worldwide leader in sports entertainment." An inflatable replica of the airship was briefly offered in the WWF Merchandise Catalog. As with many catalog items, rarity rules. This was actually given to me for Christmas 1995 as a gag gift. You see, my view of SummerSlam 1995 was partially obscured by the "Supersize Stridex Airship" which was present at events of the time. I guess this was to remind me of that. This inflatable toy recently sold at auction for $190.

*As cartoonish as the company was at the time, it was actually a transition period for WWF action figures. Still, many fans equate the Hasbro era with this period, especially the last few years of the beloved figure line. Shawn Michaels, a veritable backbone of the New Generation, saw three different inclusions in the Hasbro lineup. His second is likely the most famous, that being the first action figure of "The Heartbreak Kid" persona. Packaged on the striking yellow card back, HBK has recently sold at auction for an average price of $120.

*If you're talking HBK in the 1990's, you have to mention the man known as "Big Daddy Cool." Kevin Nash as Diesel was one of the great hopes of the WWF at this time, which is obvious by his year-long run with the WWF Championship. Fans were behind him, but he probably would've been more successful in another era. The company had two trading card series from the manufacturer Action Packed during this time, and the second set featured two "jumbo" cards that were roughly the size of promo photos. The one featuring Diesel recently sold at auction for $35.

*Another big hope that didn't pan out at this time was "All-American" Lex Luger. Surrounded by a huge publicity campaign, Luger went across America to promote his SummerSlam '93 match against the mighty Yokozuna. The centerpiece of the project was a patriotic-themed tour bus deemed "The Lex Express." Many items came out of the promotion including buttons, posters, and even a full press kit, but one of the most fun is the promotional photo for the Lex Express itself. Always popular when it shows up at auction, the promo photo recently sold for $92.

*Speaking of centerpieces, the WWF year has always focused around WrestleMania. In 1995, that event featured Shawn Michaels against Diesel and football great Lawrence Taylor against Bam Bam Bigelow. Despite it being a time when wrestling was very much out of public and media consciousness, the latter match did garner some mainstream publicity which had to have pleased the company. Ringside celebrities Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy, however, remained looking bored. The program from the eleventh installment of WrestleMania recently sold for a rather conservative $45.

Were you a fan of The New WWF Generation? Obviously many were. As much as it would hurt many to hear, I actually find it more watchable than the "Attitude Era" which was to follow. Give me cartoony goofiness over gratuitous sex and smut any day. But maybe I'm just old-fashioned.