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Miami Sound Machine: 16 Best Musical Guest Stars on ‘Miami Vice’

From the Godfather of Soul to the Nuge, here are the more memorable musical greats who graced the iconic Eighties cop show


James Brown and Gene Simmons of Kiss.

Michael Putland/Getty; Chris Walter/Getty

Cigarette boats, Ferrari Testarossas, pastel suits, postmodern condos, stubble — Miami Vice, which debuted 30 years ago, helped to inspire, popularize and glamorize any number of Reagan-era trends. And when the decade was over, so was this fashionable Sunshine-State cop show: Vice's five-year run ended on cue in 1989, right as the Gipper was leaving office and Seinfeld and The Simpsons were launching. It went from defining the MTV aesthetic on network TV to instantly becoming a shorthand for the excesses of Eighties entertainment.

Music, of course, was integral to Miami Vice in every way — including its casting. Some of the series' most memorable villains were played by moonlighting musicians making their acting debuts, while a diverse cross-section of artists from El Debarge to Suicidal Tendencies were given the platform via performance scenes built into the plot. Here's a look at the show's most memorable musician cameos — the good, the bad and that WTF appearance of the Godfather of Soul.

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Glenn Frey (‘Smuggler’s Blues,’ Season One)

The musician perhaps most closely identified with the show was the Eagles' Glenn Frey, whose solo career took flight after his 1984 single "Smuggler's Blues" inspired one of the series' best shows. Frey played Jimmy Cole, a bush pilot perhaps inspired by real-life "Cocaine Cowboy" Mickey Munday, in the Emmy-nominated episode named after his song; though this was Frey's only appearance on the show as an actor, he contributed music to other episodes, including "You Belong To The City," which became a No. 2 single after debuting in Season Two's "Prodigal Son." Frey's stellar job as Cole led to a handful of additional acting roles (Jerry Maguire, Arli$$). He even got his own network series, CBS' South of Sunset, though it was DOA after one 1993 pilot. 

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James Brown (‘Missing Hours,’ Season Four)

Vice's last two seasons coincided with a lengthy Writers Guild of America strike, leading to some stupifyingly subpar scripts. No episode was as mystifyingly bad — and ironically awesome — as "Missing Hours," which starred James Brown as an R&B star turned UFO cult spokesman and Chris Rock (making his TV acting debut) as a proto-Internet geek who may or may not be an alien. Throw in memory-erasing peanut butter, the Godfather of Soul waxing poetic in a crop circle, bargain-bin special effects and an it-was-all-a-dream cop-out of an ending, and you have one of the most perfectly awful hours of WTF TV ever made.

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Phil Collins (‘Phil the Shill,’ Season Two)

A year after his "In The Air Tonight" soundtracked the single most defining musical moment of Miami Vice's first season (and arguably the entire series), Phil Collins appeared on the show as Phil Mayhem, the con-artist host of a TV game show called Rat Race. "Phil the Shill" (which also featured a young Kyra Sedgwick) ranks among Vice's funniest episodes thanks to the comic chemistry between Collins and cast goofballs Martin Ferrero ("Izzy Moreno") and Michael Talbott ("Stan Switek"). Collins even recorded a parodic theme song for Rat Race, which brilliantly bookends the episode.

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