2022 will go down as the year that Kate Bush’s new wave anthem Running Up That Hill topped the charts 37 years after its original release. Thanks to its key inclusion on Stranger Things, Bush now boasts the longest time taken for a track to reach Number 1, the longest gap between Number 1 Singles and the title of oldest female ever to top the Official Singles Chart.
This will hardly come as news to anyone who has access to the internet or listens to the radio. The bigger question here is why would a wrestling writer be interested in Kate Bush and, in particular, Running Up That Hill’s success?
After previously waxing lyrical about Limp Bizkit’s infamous WrestleMania 17 promo video, our King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors, takes us on another trip down memory lane to answer that very question…
Wrestling fans rarely agree with each other. Ask a group what their favourite match is or to name the greatest of all time and be prepared to listen to a debate for as long as you’ll allow. One thing that all fans can agree on though: there’s nothing like a good pre-match video promo.
The video production team at WWE is quite simply unparalleled even though the vast majority of fans wouldn’t be able to name a single member of that illustrious department. But show after show, week after week and rivalry after rivalry, promos are crafted to sell fans on why they should tune in or catch up on what might have been missed.
One such video promo has stood the test of time. And no, we aren’t talking about that Rock vs Austin package. Instead, this is the curious case of a promo that technically no longer exists. Stranger still that the two Superstars involved are a couple of the most revered in history.
In 2010 Shawn Michaels put his career on the line in a bid to defeat The Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania streak. It was a rivalry that started and finished with HBK’s obsession to rectify his loss at the hands of Taker a year earlier at WrestleMania 25.
A rematch of a match dubbed one of the best of all time shouldn’t have needed any hype but fans were treated to an astonishing video package that has been lauded in certain parts as the greatest WWE have produced.
High praise indeed. But what exactly makes this promo stand out above others? As with anything wrestling related, it’s all about the story…
The video begins with Shawn Michaels collecting the ‘2009 Best Match Of The Year’ Slammy Award (think wrestling Oscars) for his bout against Undertaker. As he thanks the WWE Universe and begins to walk away from the podium, HBK pauses and looks at the statue in his hand. The heartbeat intro of Placebo’s cover of Running Up That Hill begins to sound, instantly changing the tone and indicating HBK’s inner conflict.
Flashes of his loss a few months prior punctuate shots of a despondent Michaels as Brian Molko’s haunting vocals encapsulate the mood perfectly. “It doesn’t hurt me. You want to feel how it feels?”
Michaels defiantly challenges Taker to a rematch, stating he knows he can beat The Deadman. For context, this was a Shawn Michaels that had settled into a comedic groove with his best friend and D-Generation X partner, Triple H.
By no means were the pair phoning it in but, instead, they seemed intent on bringing their anti-establishment antics from the Attitude Era to a new generation of fans to enjoy (albeit in a much more family-friendly way).
The sudden change in demeanour and mindset seemed to come out of nowhere but it instantly created a narrative that Michaels had been carrying a heavy burden for months and this was his chance to absolve himself of that narrow loss.
“If I only could, make a deal with God, I’d get him to swap our places.”
As the promo jumps to The Undertaker making his way to the ring a few weeks later, the images of fire, a character so closely linked to hell and death, are juxtaposed brilliantly with the lyrics of making a transaction with a force of light.
After Undertaker dismisses HBK’s challenge outright due to having nothing left to prove, Michaels sets out to win the Royal Rumble and create a different path to WrestleMania 26 to face the phenom instead.
We are shown Michaels’ valiant effort to win the Rumble cut short as he is instead eliminated by Batista. The realisation sets in that all avenues are now closed as Mr. WrestleMania begins to spiral and superkicks referees and officials in frustration. Footage from the epic match at WrestleMania 25 plays in reverse as Michaels looks like a broken man.
One week later and Michaels’ descent into madness continues, losing his Tag Team Championships to The Miz and Big Show. As Triple H tried to get through to his long-term tag partner, HBK tells him there is no other match for him at WrestleMania.
A last roll of the dice is thrown as we see footage of The Undertaker defending his World Championship inside the Elimination Chamber. Forcing Taker’s hand, Michaels makes a shock appearance from under the steel structure to cost the phenom his title.
On Raw the very next night, an apoplectic Taker agrees to a rematch but with a shocking proviso. Shawn Michaels must retire if he loses. A stipulation HBK agrees to, stating if he can’t beat Undertaker then he has no career.
The lyrics, music and footage are impeccably timed throughout, swirling amongst each other to create a narrative of one man’s obsession and drive for redemption no matter the cost. Michaels’ willingness to throw away his friends, championships and even his career couldn’t be given a better soundtrack than the moody, almost desperate cover Placebo created.
It is at odds with the hopeful tone of Kate Bush’s original track. Where Bush looked for a chance for men and women to experience life from the opposite’s perspective, here Placebo flip the script and lay a grimy, atmospheric challenge to walk a mile in my shoes.
It feels hypnotic. Arrogant yet desperate. Something feels wrong but it’s not until the final beats fade away that the listener realises they’ve made a deal they couldn’t fully understand and one they can’t get out of. It’s not often that a song has ever encapsulated a wrestling rivalry quite so perfectly.
Astonishingly, this promo only aired a handful of times on WWE programming. Used in the week following the Elimination Chamber, by WrestleMania 26 itself, a different, much shortened version of the promo was used instead…and with no Placebo.
Even searching through the WWE Network bears no fruit. The Raw and SmackDown that originally featured the Placebo promo, now has a bland and generic pop song acting as the soundtrack. Extensive Google searches for the lyrics of that particular track returned no hits, hinting at WWE’s using an in-house recording instead.
So what happened? To all intents and purposes, this remains a mystery. However, it isn’t the first time a popular piece of music has been replaced retrospectively. WWE does, on occasion, use popular artist/band’s tracks for entrance and PPV themes but often on short term licensing/royalty deals. Limp Bizkit, T.A.T.U and AC/DC are just a few examples of artists whose songs have been subsequently scrubbed and replaced on DVD and the WWE Network releases.
The match at WrestleMania 26 lived up to expectations. On a show that featured John Cena facing off against Batista and a returning Brett ‘The Hitman’ Hart finally getting a chance of revenge over Vince McMahon, it speaks volumes that this rematch main evented the biggest show of the year.
The promo remains available on YouTube and other streaming services and enjoys a cult following. But with no version from WWE evident, fans are left wondering if the promo ever existed in an official capacity. Was it all a fever dream or an example of the Mandela Effect?
While the world waxes lyrical over the fantastic use of Running Up That Hill in Stranger Things, wrestling fans have long held that particular track close to their hearts and fully appreciate how powerful a soundtrack it can be.