May 27 (Independent) – The Friends theme tune “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts is an irresistible earworm and an indelible part of the show’s legacy, yet it wasn’t the first choice to soundtrack the show’s opening credits.
In a 2019 interview with NME, REM frontman Michael Stipe revealed that his band had been approached in 1994 by Warner Bros Television with the request to use their 1991 pop single “Shiny Happy People” as the show’s theme song.
When REM passed, producers decided to cook up their own soundalike version of the upbeat hit. “Then they went to another band and said, ‘Can you write an REM song?’ and they did,” recalls Stipe. “I don’t want to diss the other band… that’s a good song.”
The other band in question were The Rembrandts, a pop-rock duo from Los Angeles that Danny Wilde and Phil Solem had formed in 1989 and who counted Friends producer Kevin Bright among their fans.
“He and the writers Marta Kauffman and David Crane wanted a proper song, not just something that had been dreamt up by a jingle writer,” Wilde told The Independent in 2011. “He also wanted a real band involved, one who already had a bit of a following.”
While The Rembrandts usually wrote their own material, they were only minimally involved in the writing of “I’ll Be There For You”. Friends musical director Michael Skloff wrote the tune, while lyricist Allee Willis sketched out the lyrics. Wilde and Solem, however, soon made it their own.
“I remember thinking it was awesome, a really cool little pop tune,” said Wilde. “It had great harmonies and this upbeat vibe. More than anything, it was fun. Plus, Phil and I were really jacked to hear it on the TV show. It was only when it all blew up and we became known for this Monkees-style jingle, that the shine kind of wore off.”
Originally the tune was just 40 seconds long, as it was only required to fit alongside the show’s opening credits. However, it quickly proved so popular that in 1995 it was re-recorded as a three-minute pop song and released as a single. It reached number three on the UK Singles Chart, kept off the top spot by Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” and Blur’s “Country House”. The single was accompanied by a music video that saw the Friends cast members Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry joining The Rembrandts as they performed the song.
Looking back on the song’s unexpected success, Wilde has said he was grateful for the profile it gave the band – and the financial benefits. “Let’s just say I’m not going to retire on it,” he said, “But I’ve managed to put both my kids through college.”