The Last Billboard No. 1 Instrumental Was the Theme From a Classic TV Show

To say Miami Vice (1984-89) was a trendsetting TV show would be an obscene understatement. In terms of the visual style producer Michael Mann brought the show, The Sopranos creator David Chase once called it “a kind of sea change” for TV.

Then there was the fashion. Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Rico Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) were wearing the hottest ’80s designers as they drove European sports cars to their meets as undercover detectives. As for the music, Miami Vice set a new standard with its soundtracks.

Mann didn’t think he’d done something revolutionary. “We haven’t invented the Hula-Hoop or anything,” he told Rolling Stone in 1985. “If anything, we’re only contemporary. And if we’re different from the rest of TV, it’s because the rest of TV isn’t even contemporary.”

Besides licensed songs from the likes of Phil Collins and Cyndi Lauper, Miami Vice had the weapon that is composer Jan Hammer. Hammer’s theme song set the tone for the show and became a huge hit in its own right. In fact, it’s one of the few instrumental tracks to hit No. 1 in the last 40 years.

Jan Hammer’s ‘Miami Vice Theme’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1985

Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck
Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck performing at the ARMS benefit in San Francisco on December 3, 1983. | Clayton Call/Redferns

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If you’ve watched Miami Vice in its entirety, you know there are a few versions of the original theme. In the pilot and early run of the show, you get the version without Hammer’s famous keytar soloing. (It all wraps up by the end of TV credits.)

But in the single version released in 1985, you get the full impact of Hammer’s artistry. In live performances (or the video for the theme), you can see Hammer work his magic. That includes the shift to the keytar around 1:35.

It was a huge hit on the Billboard pop charts. Besides hitting No. 1 in Nov. ’85, the Vice theme stayed on the charts for a total of 22 weeks. That was no small feat for an instrumental track. While it wasn’t unusual to see instrumentals hit No. 1 in the ’70s, it became very rare after 1980.

In fact, “Chariots of Fire” (1982) and the “Miami Vice Theme” were the only two instrumentals to top the Billboard charts in the ’80s. And there haven’t been any since, unless you count “Harlem Shake” (2013) as an instrumental. But how can you? It has, um, vocals. So “Miami Vice Theme” was the last.

Hammer and Glenn Frey both featured on the No. 1 ‘Miami Vice’ soundtrack

'Miami Vice' promo still
MIAMI VICE: Don Johnson as ‘Sonny’ Crockett, Philip Michael Thomas as ‘Rico’ Tubbs | Randee St. Nicholas/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Knowing it had a hit LP lined up, MCA took an album’s worth of songs featured on Miami Vice and released a full-length (11-song) soundtrack in late ’85. Buoyed by Hammer’s theme and “You Belong to the City” by Eagles founder Glenn Frey, it hit No. 1 in late ’85. And it didn’t let go.

Through November and December and into Jan. ’86, the Miami Vice soundtrack continued to reign on top of the Billboard album charts. The show and its music had completely taken hold of the record-buying public’s attention.

Hammer, who worked with Sarah Vaughan and Jeff Beck at various points in his career, had a chart peak with his theme. But he wasn’t done. “Crockett’s Theme,” another track fans of the show will recognize, also charted for Hammer (in Adult Contemporary) in ’88.