The Music of Miami Vice is one of the hallmarks of the series. Throughout its run, the show included a multitude of songs by outside artists as part of its soundtrack; songs were used both diegetically (i.e. playing within the fictional world of the show where they can be heard by the characters) and non-diegetically (i.e. playing purely as soundtrack for the viewer).
The inclusion of popular music as an integral part of the show, and tailoring that music to match the scene in which it is used, is undoubtedly one of the signature aspects of Miami Vice. The technique has gone on to become a common feature of modern television dramas and its establishment in the TV format is often credited to Miami Vice, although some theatrical films had previously used music in a similar fashion (including the 1983 film Scarface, which also deals with the Miami drug underworld).
While other television shows of the time used made-for-TV music, the Miami Vice production team would spend $10,000 or more per episode to buy the rights to original recordings by contemporary artists. Getting a song played on Miami Vice became a considerable boost to both musicians and their respective record labels. In fact, at the show's peak, some American newspapers, including USA Today, would publish a song list for music due to be featured in that week's episode. At the same time, American viewers were treated to music from European groups that had never otherwise had a song played in the US. Several songs, such as Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" and Andy Taylor's "When the Rain Comes Down", were written specifically for the series and never appeared outside of the show other than on the official associated soundtracks.
The music used during the series' first two seasons often consisted of light, contemporary pop music; the first season in particular relied heavily on songs that were found in the charts at the time. Beginning with season 2, the focus on hit singles was reduced, and a greater proportion of the songs featured were more obscure album tracks, or even non-album B-sides. Starting with season 3, the soundtrack began to include darker material (reflecting the bleaker tone the series began to adopt), including a greater amount of alternative, new wave and techno acts, although pop still featured. An increasing number of rock and metal songs were also used as the series progressed. Throughout the show's run, a significant number of Latin salsa and merengue tracks were featured, reflecting the diverse cultural makeup of Miami. According to music coordinator (and associate producer) Fred Lyle (in a 1985 interview with Billboard magazine), the music was chosen to include some lesser-known artists to avoid "the familiarity of the song detracting from the action"; many musical acts now thought to epitomise the 1980s are notably absent, including David Bowie, Culture Club, Def Leppard, Michael Jackson (not counting an appearance on backing vocals in the song "Somebody's Watching Me"), Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Duran Duran (although the latter were mentioned by Noogie in "Cool Runnin'", while the band's guitarist Andy Taylor appears with his side band, The Power Station). Music that was chosen was selected (and often cut/edited) to fit the mood of the scene in which it appeared.
As popular as the contemporary music featured on Miami Vice was the show's background score of smooth synth vibes, composed especially for it by Czech composer Jan Hammer. Some of his cues were released as commercial singles in the 1980s and achieved considerable chart success around the world, chiefly his "Miami Vice Theme", which remains the last television theme to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the last instrumental to reach this position until 2014's "Harlem Shake" by Baauer. "Crockett's Theme" also proved popular, scaling the charts across Europe. Jan Hammer's contributions to the show dwindled in later years, with John Petersen taking over some of the work during season 4 and many older Hammer cues being recycled. Hammer (and Petersen) finally left production altogether before season 5, the series' final season, and new composer Tim Truman shifted the background music in a more gritty, rock-orientated direction, a move that divides fans to this day.
Perhaps the most iconic musical moment from the series is the "In the Air Tonight" scene from the pilot, but the popularity of all of the music used led to the release of several soundtrack albums. The majority of these chiefly contained popular songs used in the show, along with original pieces of Jan Hammer's score, but Hammer also released several dedicated albums of his own work, culminating in Miami Vice: The Complete Collection in 2002, released solely as a result of relentless demand from fans.
The heavy integration of pop music in the show led to a lengthy delay in releasing the show on DVD nearly 20 years later. Budget cuts in the fifth season reduced the number of songs featured to the least of any season, and also led to the regular inclusion of "fake" songs -- in reality instrumental pieces composed by Truman in the style of popular music -- being used in several episodes.
Miami Vice Film
The Miami Vice film adaptation, as with many of director (and television series producer) Michael Mann's films, featured the same heavy use of contemporary music as can be seen in the Miami Vice series. The music in the film consisted of a mix of electronic and rock tracks, many by underground bands of the time, as well as a score composed by Klaus Badelt, King Britt and John Murphy.
While Mann insisted from the start of the film's production that he wanted no relation between the music used in the movie and that which had been featured in the series, he did eventually relent and allow a version of "In the Air Tonight" by Nonpoint, a cover of the original that appeared so famously in the series pilot, to be used (albeit relegated to the end credits in the theatrical cut), and echoes of Jan Hammer's piece "Crockett's Theme" was written into the score.
The following articles provide information on the music used in each season:
The following articles provide information on the series' official soundtrack releases:
- Miami Vice
- Miami Vice II
- Escape from Television
- Miami Vice III
- The Best of Miami Vice (1989)
- The Best of Miami Vice (1994)
- The Best of Miami Vice (1996)
- Miami Vice: The Complete Collection
- The Best of Miami Vice (2004)
- Miami Vice: The Ultimate Collection
- The Best of Miami Vice (2006)
- Miami Vice: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
- There were 368 different songs used in the 110 episodes that had music included (some songs were used in two different episodes, including several that were repeated in the clip show "A Bullet for Crockett"). Season 2 used 95 unique songs, the most of any season, while season 5 (the final season) used 57, the fewest of any season.
- Owing to the differences in legislation between a television broadcast and a home video release, before any show containing popular music can be released on a home media format the distributor has to gain additional rights/clearances for the featured music, even if just a brief snippet of a song is used. The associated costs and difficulties present a serious problem for many television series, particularly those made during the 70s and 80s (like 21 Jump Street, Married... With Children and WKRP in Cincinnati), which often have to use substitute music in scenes containing songs that are not cleared, or even cut some scenes altogether, often to the programme's detriment. Worse still, some shows (such as Las Vegas and Married...) have not even been able to secure release rights for the music used in their opening credits, forcing a substitution there as well. In the most extreme cases, some shows have never been released on home video because of problems with clearance.
- Because of rights issues, some home releases of Miami Vice -- specifically the Columbia House VHS tapes -- feature alterations to the music used in episodes, and, for the same reasons, some episodes were not made available to streaming sites such as Hulu and Netflix. To Universal's credit, they indicated early on that they would not release Miami Vice on DVD unless every piece of music used could be cleared, which was one reason the DVD releases of the show took such a long time to materialize. Reportedly, Universal paid out $3 million in rights/clearance fees for the first season DVDs alone.
- Many of the songs used in the series were made by 1980s-era pop, rock and new wave bands, but there were exceptions depending on the episode's content, most notably "Tale of the Goat", which featured Reggae music to match its voodoo undertones, "Back in the World", which featured music exclusively from The Doors owing to the episode's backdrop of the Vietnam War, and "Line of Fire", which exclusively featured heavy metal music as it was the preferred genre of the main supporting character.
- The shortest ever sample of a song used on the show was "Rubber Love" by Moon and the Blowguns in the episode "Like a Hurricane"; barely 2 seconds of the song is played before the tape is turned off by Gordon Wiggins. However, the track (and the band performing it) were fictional and created specially for the show. The shortest sample of a genuine track by an outside popular artist was "Layla" by Derek and the Dominos, heard in the episode "Line of Fire"; around 5 seconds plays before it is likewise turned off by Joey Hardin.
- The longest sample is open to debate. The longest track to ever appear in Miami Vice was "Alpha Centauri" by Tangerine Dream, featured in "Mirror Image"; the full song runs for over 22 minutes. However, only a small section of it was used in the show. The longest complete piece of music to feature in the series was Chris de Burgh's "Leader Trilogy" from "Everybody's in Showbiz", clocking in at eight-and-a-half minutes. However, this is technically comprised of three separate songs ("The Leader", "The Vision" and "What About Me?"). The longest single track used on the show was "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits in "Out Where the Buses Don't Run"; almost all of the nearly-8 minute long track is used over the episode's closing scenes.
- Each episode's music budget (not including Jan Hammer/John Petersen/Tim Truman's score) cost around $10,000 for the inclusion of the track(s).
- Only one episode of the series contained no popular music -- "Hell Hath No Fury...". It did, however, feature background music by the show's composers.
- The only musical artist to appear in both the television series and the Miami Vice film is Patti LaBelle.
- Most songs used in a season: 95 - Season 2
- Fewest songs used in a season: 57 - Season 5
- Most songs used in an episode (two-hour): 14 - "The Prodigal Son"
- Most songs used in an episode (one-hour): 8 - "Back in the World", "Killshot"
- Fewest songs used in an episode: 0 - "Hell Hath No Fury..."
- Average number of songs per episode: 3.45
- Most songs by the same artist: 8 - The Doors, all in "Back in the World"
While "The Prodigal Son" features the most songs out of any episode of the television series, it is beaten by the Miami Vice film with 16 songs.