How 'Bad Boys' became the Cops theme song — and a youth anthem
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
You know the song. Everyone knows the song — and that's in large part thanks to Cops, which has aired more than 1,000 episodes to date and is celebrating that milestone with a special Monday on Spike.
Florida-based reggae group Inner Circle first released "Bad Boys" in 1987 before Cops creator John Langley discovered it during a search for his series' theme song. After the show launched on Fox in 1989, the track got a second wind, rocketing to the top of the charts — it peaked at No. 8 on Billboard's Hot 100 upon its official re-release in 1993 — and becoming a mainstream reggae anthem. Twenty-eight years and 30 seasons of Cops later, "Bad Boys" remains inescapable: Just last month, Diddy sampled the song's chorus on "Watcha Gon' Do," a collaboration with Rick Ross and the late Notorious B.I.G.
To coincide with Monday's Cops special, EW called up Langley and Inner Circle member Ian Lewis to talk about the song's origins, how it's really an anthem for the young, and what kind of show Lewis thought his song was going to be on. <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed?uri=spotify:album:6ZUoUhReur4PO71Xs8gPsS" width="300" height="80" frameborder="0" class="" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen="" resize="0" replace_attributes="1" name=""></iframe>
JOHN LANGLEY: Back in 1988, I was a Bob Marley fan — still am — and I thought it would be very interesting to counterpoint law enforcement with reggae. [Laughs] It seemed to announce, this is not your regular cop show with a Hill Street Blues kind of theme.
So I launched a big search for an appropriate reggae song and we happened to be in South Florida, in Broward County, so I had everybody looking, bringing in reggae bands and talking to all these rasta men, and finally, somebody walked in with a CD that a band had cut and there was a song on it called "Bad Boys." I heard the song and I said, "That's it. That's the song for the show."
IAN LEWIS: The song was written about a teenage young man that I met a long time ago in Jamaica, and he was changing from this nice, young schoolboy into what he thought to be a man. He didn't quite get his independence from his mom and his dad, and his mom and dad were hardworking people. When I would visit him and just talk to him, he would get mad for nothing. He would say, "I want to go outside and play and they don't want me to play. I want to buy a car, they don't want me to drive it." I'm saying to him, "You have to understand, there are rules and regulations. Life has a way after a while to teach certain things that you have to learn for yourself but you have to take the lead from your parents, you know?" But I saw the rebelliousness coming. Looking at him, the song just came to me. You want to be a bad boy? You don't want to listen anybody, you want to have your own rules, but then the melody stuck on me — "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when life comes for you?" — so after awhile, another couple months, I went back again and I changed the lyric to "when they come for you," which is everything. It's a song about life.
The lines suggest that you have a choice. Bad boys, whatcha gonna do? It can be good or bad. It can be sensible or stupid. In essence, the song is really for the heart and soul and mind of our young teenagers making that transition from adolescence to adulthood.
LANGLEY: I had to fight Fox a lot on it. Because you know how it is with studios, they think they know everything. They did a focus group and told me it wasn't mainstream enough. And I listened politely, but in my contract, I had the rights to choose the song as creator of the show. So I just ignored their advice and kept the song. It's far better to be polite, nod, and say, "Oh, interesting," than to walk out and say they were fools for making that suggestion. So I just stuck to my guns creatively and there was never any more discussion of it because the song caught on. Then I felt validated! [Laughs]
I thought it was great that it did so well and it made those guys a ton of money. I'm glad. I still like the song. I think it's still interesting and I don't know anybody else who's used a reggae theme song, but at least I think I was the first. I was pleased with that. I used it in a context that was unique.
LEWIS: The first time I saw Cops, I said, "Damn. It's in the wrong context." Because I was more thinking it would be like, a PBS show showing kids not to be… you know what I mean? But it's done wonders for the band. And the funny thing about it is when we travel the world and we play the song, the people, the young people, they sing it! It's really their song.
I think it's good that a different type of art form, in terms of musical art form, reggae music, is used by a major television series. To highlight that good songs never die, good songs that are real, that they will never die. I think "Bad Boys" is one of those songs that will always live because of what it's saying and the vibe that it generates.
Watch a special one-hour presentation of Cops hosted by Terry Crews Monday, Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. ET on Spike.