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The Story Behind ‘Cops’ Theme Song ‘Bad Boys’

Ian Lewis, Lancelot Hall, Bernard "Touter"
Larry Marano/Shutterstock

Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys” — the unmistakable theme to the TV show “Cops,” which was pulled off the Paramount Network this week after more than 30 years on the air — amounts to a major novelty hit, but one with a long and interesting history behind it (as is so often the case with novelty hits). Its prominence and popularity are the result of an unusual series of events and circumstances which led to it becoming one of the reggae songs most beloved by non-Jamaicans.

Although based in Miami since the 1980s, Inner Circle started off in Jamaica in the late ‘60s as a group of young, middle-class musicians who would soon split off into two different entities, the other being the successful reggae group Third World. Self-contained bands like Inner Circle and Third World as recording artists have always been a relative rarity in Jamaica, where the norm is vocal groups or solo vocalists with backing bands for recording and touring purposes.

But Inner Circle soon established itself upon hooking up with a charismatic young vocalist named Jacob Miller, with whom the band had many hits — until Miller’s tragic death in a March 1980 car crash forced the band to take a few years off to regroup. When Inner Circle reconvened in 1986, the members having moved their base to Miami, they were fronted by new singer, Calton Coffie. They set about reestablishing themselves in an international reggae market that was still reeling from Bob Marley’s death in 1981, and had managed to secure major tours opening for acts like the Police and Talking Heads. That all took place completely separately from the music scene in Jamaica, where dancehall had taken hold, but Ian and Roger Lewis, the two brothers at the core of Inner Circle, had identified their market and pursued it with the same professionalism they had displayed from day one.

Their second post-reunion album, 1987’s “One Way,” featured a catchy song written by Ian Lewis called “Bad Boys” tucked away on the album’s second side. RAS Records, the stalwart Washington D.C.-based reggae label that released the album, didn’t have the marketing or distribution clout to make a dent in the mainstream with the song, but the band sensed its potential and re-recorded it for their next album, 1989’s “Identified.” This was the same year that a new Fox TV show called “Cops” debuted, which used “Bad Boys” as its opening theme song, apparently chosen by one of the show’s producers who just happened to be an Inner Circle fan.

The show’s popularity quickly grew, and so did the song’s — its “Bad boys, bad boys / Watcha gonna do when they come for you” refrain etching itself into popular culture along with grainy video visuals of police officers chasing suspects. The re-recording was released as a single in Europe around this time to some success — reaching No. 1 on the Norwegian charts — but by 1992 the song’s “Cops”-fueled familiarity was such that it was included on an Inner Circle album (“Bad to the Bone”) for a third time, and was picked up for U.S. single release by Big Beat Records, the label founded in the 1980s by current Atlantic Records CEO/co-chair Craig Kallman. The album was re-titled “Bad Boys” and the song became a million-selling Top Ten hit in the U.S. (Its success on Big Beat also allowed parent company Atlantic to seed other label imprints in the 1990s.) Its ubiquity reached even further into the stratosphere in 1995 when it lent its name to — and also served as the theme song for — the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence comedy film franchise.

The result of this long and circuitous road to worldwide familiarity is a song that has transcended its era and even its own genre. Between the TV show, the movie franchise and use in video games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” “Bad Boys” is known to people across the globe, although you’re more likely to hear it at a frat party or sporting event than a reggae club or at sound system clash. Not that Inner Circle’s Lewis brothers are complaining in the slightest. They continue to lead the band to this day from their Miami studio and home base and to tour extensively while knowing perfectly well which song in their repertoire the vast majority of their present-day audience came to hear.

Listen to Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys” below: