15 wonderfully unexpected musician cameos on 1980s television

Everyone from Boy George to the B-52's popped up on sitcoms, soaps and action shows.

With the launch of MTV in 1981, musicians were no longer voices on the radio — they were television stars. A hot pop act in the eighties suddenly had to know how to act. It's no wonder then so many pop idols got bit by the acting bug. Throughout the decade, dozens of singers made the leap from the record sleeve to the screen. Heck, some TV shows, like the stylish pastel noir of Miami Vice, seemed to be built around rocker guest stars.

Of course, sometimes a TV show just needed a hip band to perform.

We flipped through the channels of the Reagan era to find 15 of our favorite musician cameos from television. Most of them were quite unexpected, which makes revisiting these episodes a joy. Let's take a look.

1. Devo on 'Square Pegs'

The "Whip It" wonders made one of the most memorable cameos on Sarah Jessica Parker's teen sitcom. The quirky art-rock band played in "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah." Devo was not wearing their trademark red "energy dome" hats, though some kids in the audience sported them. Instead, the band donned its plastic white tops from the later Oh, No! It's Devo era, as it herky-jerkied through the 1982 single "That's Good."

2. Boy George on 'The A-Team'

We pity the fool who has not seen the Culture Club frontman face B.A., Face and the crew. A honky tonk has booked an act called Cowboy George — however, Boy George is sent instead. As you might expect, the good ol' boys are not too fond of the androgynous Brit. Yes, this is the plot of an A-Team episode.

Image: Universal Television

3. The B-52's on 'Guiding Light'

The long-running soap opera may have been set in the Midwestern city of Springfield, but for one day the saga entered it's "Own Private Idaho." The retro-goofy Georgia rock band made a tour stop in Springfield to play the Wired for Sound club, where it also performed "Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can."

Image: CBS / YouTube

4. Andy Gibb on 'Punky Brewster'

Punky gets a new piano teacher, whom she fears will be "some mean old lady who smells like lilac water." Nope! It's former teen idol Andy Gibb. The "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" singer appeared as "Tony Glen" on the sitcom in 1985. It would be his final screen appearance. Three years later, he was tragically dead at the age of 30.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

5. Brian Wilson on 'The New Leave It to Beaver'

When the young Beach Boys kicked off the surf craze with their single "Surfin'" in 1961, Leave It to Beaver was one of the most beloved family shows on the air. Three decades later, it made some sense to have troubled frontman Brian Wilson appear on the revival as a teacher, Mr. Hawthorne. His character's name was a tribute to the Beach Boys' hometown of Hawthorne, California.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

6. Stevie Wonder on 'The Cosby Show'

The keyboard genius showed up on the season two outing "A Touch of Wonder," proving Cliff Huxtable had not cornered the market in ugly '80s sweaters. Denise, Theo, Vanessa, Rudy and mom visited Wonder in the studio. Phylicia Rashad showed off her impressive pipes, while the icon ran through his smash "I Just Called To Say I Love You."

Image: Carsey-Werner Distribution


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7. Phil Collins on 'Miami Vice'

We now enter the Miami Vice portion of this list. Heck, we could make an entire long list of just Miami Vice cameos — but we'll focus on a few. In "Phil the Shill," the Genesis drummer-singer gave his all as the titular host of the game show Rat Race. As an added bonus of sheer '80s overload, quirky stand-up comic Emo Philips played a Rat Race contestant.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

8. Frank Zappa on 'Miami Vice'

Perhaps even less expected was oddball visionary Zappa portraying a drug dealer named Fuente in "Payback." When he meets Crockett and Tubb, he boasts of a moving "weasel dust." Not to be confused with his son, Dweezil.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

9. The Power Station on 'Miami Vice'

Collins and Zappa, unfortunately, did not perform. However, earlier that season, in "Whatever Works," the supergroup Power Station turned up in a bar playing their hit "Bang a Gong." Featuring members of Chic and Duran Duran, the group had showcased '80s idol Robert Palmer on vocals in the studio. However, Palmer left the band not long after the album release. He was replaced by Michael Des Barres of Detective, who sang the song here.

Image: NBSUniversal Television Distribution

10. Laura Branigan on 'Automan' and 'CHiPs'

To promote her massive hit "Gloria" (or perhaps because of it) Branigan made the rounds on several shows. Naturally, she was on Miami Vice. She was a guest star on CHiPs, too, where she performed "Gloria," despite playing the fictional singer of a made-up band called Cadillac Foxes. However, it was the forgotten sci-fi oddity Automan (picture a cross between Knight Rider and Tron) that gave the singer massive screen time. In the episode "Murder MTV," Gloria rips through "Hot Night," "Gloria," and "Satisfaction."

Image: 20th Television

11. Motörhead on 'The Young Ones'

The punk British sitcom was known for its random musical performances, like when the Damned or Madness pop up. However, Motörhead made the biggest impression with a loud and nasty tear through their "Ace of Spades." In 1985, MTV began airing the import here in the States thanks to moments like this.

Image: BBC

12. El DeBarge on 'The Facts of Life'

El DeBarge was the perfect pop star for those pining for the next Prince or Michael Jackson record. The soulful crooner is joined by the girls in the studio for a run through "You Wear It Well." Look for it in the episode "Doo-Wah."

Image: Shout Factory / YouTube

13. Adam Ant on 'The Equalizer'

With his hussar coat and tribal makeup, Ant was one of the most distinctive pop figures of the early '80s. However, he wore none of that in this dramatic turn on the gritty Equalizer. In "The Lock Box," the singer played a vicious pimp who abducted an innocent Midwestern blonde.

Image: CBS / Universal Television

14. Debbie Harry on 'Wiseguy'

Alas, the "Dead Dog Records" storyline of the great undercover crime drama is not shown in syndication as it is filled with musical performances. The Blondie frontwoman appears in a few episodes as Diana Price (not to be confused with Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman) and gets to sing her 1989 solo cut "Brite Side."

15. Anthrax on 'Married… with Children'

Metal makes a strange bedfellow for a family sitcom, but these were the nascent days of the edgy Fox network. Okay, technically the episode "My Dinner with Anthrax" aired in 1992, but the scene is too bizarre to not include. After a contest, the thrash band shows up to play the Bundy living room. Bud, Kelly and Marcy D'Arcy all bang their heads to "In My World" as the house is trashed.

Image: Sony Pictures Television


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