With fast cars, high-stakes adventures and beautiful women, James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs’ lives were more befitting of rock stars than law-enforcement officers. These lifestyles were part of what made Miami Vice must-watch television in the mid ‘80s, while also luring real-life rock stars to join in on the fun.
A musical presence was instilled in the series from the start. Producers knew they wanted to license popular songs to give the show an MTV feel. The most iconic example came in Miami Vice’s debut episode.
“What I wanted to do was not to use music as just background, but as psychological subtext, if you will,” said Thomas Carter, director of the show’s pilot, during an interview with Time. “What I felt was happening to Crockett at one point was he had lost touch with reality. His marriage had fallen apart, and he had discovered that his ex-partner was leaking information to the bad guys. So I said, ‘I want to do a sequence with Crockett and Tubbs in a car, lay some music over it and I think they should drive somewhere.’ I came up with the idea of using a Phil Collins tune, ‘In the Air Tonight.’” The scene became a distinctive ‘80s pop-culture moment and helped cement the song as one of the era’s defining tracks.
That’s another reason musicians were drawn toward Miami Vice: exposure. The series’ integration of popular songs was revolutionary for its time, allowing artists to reach households that may have never heard their work. As the show exploded into a mainstream pop-culture phenomenon, appearing in a guest role became a status symbol.
It’s no surprise that many classic rockers were featured on Miami Vice during its five-season run. We’ve rounded up some of the biggest names on that list below.