The Meaning Behind the Rousing Classic Rock Song “Bad to the Bone”

If there was such a thing as a musical dictionary, you could flip to the page where the word “snarl” was located and there would be a picture of George Thorogood & The Destroyers, referencing the song “Bad to the Bone.” The track is rugged attitude incarnate.

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What is the history of the song and what does it mean when all the classic rock dust has settled? This is the story behind “Bad to the Bone.”

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Slow Burn

Released in 1982 on the album of the same name, “Bad to the Bone” was not a hit at the outset. In fact, it was a bit of a slow burn for it to become the well-known classic rock song that it is today. And that is largely thanks to the many movies, television shows, and sports figures who have utilized the song—and its snarling chorus—in key moments.

A brief list of media in which the song appeared after its initial release includes movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Problem Child. In addition, the song is featured in a number of television shows like Who’s the Boss, Married… with Children, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince, and more. It’s also been used for professional wrestling intro themes for competitors.

Blues Legends

As anyone who hears the first few notes of the electric guitar riff can tell, “Bad to the Bone” is a blues-rock song. Blues music aficionados likely notice that the signature riff on the song is one taken from the iconic 1955 song “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters. That duh-nen-ner-na-nah.

Thorogood has even talked about trying to give “Bad to the Bone” to Muddy Waters, but the blues man didn’t want the song for himself. “I thought it would be a great song for Muddy Waters,” said Thorogood. “I tried to hustle that tune to Muddy Waters’ camp, with absolutely no success, and actually his people were very offended with me for bringing the song to him. They were like, ‘A white guy bringin’ a blues song? Hell no, that’s not gonna work.’ I thought, ‘That’s bullshit. If Eric Clapton or Keith Richards did that they’d do it in a minute.’

“And then I went to Bo Diddley with it and he loved it. He wanted to play it, but he didn’t have a record deal at the time. So I said, ‘Well, okay, we’ll do it.’”

But Thorogood’s use of blues references doesn’t end there. The music video for the song, which came out only a year after MTV and was a hit on the channel, includes a cameo of Diddley, holding his signature guitar, and who plays pool against Thorogood.

The Song’s Meaning

As the title and the musical attitude explain, the song is about a badass dude. He is “bad to the bone,” not someone you want to mess with. He’s also, according to the song at least, quite good with the ladies.

On the day I was born
The nurses all gathered ’round
And they gazed in wide wonder
At the joy they had found
The head nurse spoke up
Said, “Leave this one alone”
She could tell right away
That I was bad to the bone

Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone

I broke a thousand hearts
Before I met you
I’ll break a thousand more, baby
Before I am through
I wanna be yours, pretty baby
Yours and yours alone
I’m here to tell ya, honey
That I’m bad to the bone


The song, while beloved today, is not without its controversy, however. The Chicago blues-rock musician James Pobiega, known as “Little Howlin’ Wolf,” has said that he is the author of “Bad to the Bone” and that Thorogood took the song from him without credit.

Fans can check out the song and the music video for “Bad to the Bone” below.

Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images

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