This was the theme song of the TV show Friends, which went on the air in 1994 and quickly became a ratings powerhouse. The theme was written by the songwriters Allee Willis and Michael Skloff. Says Willis: "I had seen the pilot, and that one line ('I'll Be There For You') had been given to me by Michael Skloff, who had started on the music, and it was just supposed to be about the loyalty of friends. That no matter how screwed up your life was, I'll be there for you."
It is fairly rare for a TV show theme song to become a hit. The themes usually sound great for the 30 seconds they are on the air, but make terrible full length songs. This was an exception, as the popularity of the show exposed the theme to a mass audience that loved the incredibly catchy tune, and soon there was demand for a full-length version of the theme. Says Willis: "It was never, ever to this day released as a single. It was just DJs who made a cassette of the song and just started playing it. And it became the #1 airplay record of the year, but the Rembrandts never wanted it out as a single because they didn't write the song. So they kind of bit off their nose to spite their face. At that point, the only way they could get the Rembrandts to do the record was if they got songwriting credit. So the song needed a bridge, and it needed a second verse lyric, and they wrote that. They don't have credit on the theme, but they have it on the record."
This song's success did a great deal to help promote the show, as the constant radio play provided great, free advertising for the series. You would think that TV producers would follow this formula and put more effort into their theme songs, but just the opposite happened: TV theme songs began disappearing as producers demanded more time for show content and didn't want to pay to create original songs. This was the last TV theme that was made into a hit song - at least in America. In the UK, "Boss Of Me
" and "Can We Fix It?
" made the charts.
Allee Willis was exploring social networks and innovative uses for the Internet in the early '90s, and became frustrated when the music industry refused to change, clinging to the same methods they've always used despite the emerging technology. She partnered with Mark Cuban and Prudence Fenton, but record companies wouldn't bite on their ideas. Says Willis: "I realized I had to get out of my publishing deal, because it wasn't even fair to who I was co-writing with at that point - I wouldn't even hang around for the demo. I was so uninterested in that form of music. I was signed to Warner/Chappell at that time, who incidentally were the company that listened the least, because they had me right under their nose. And every time I thought I had written the number of songs for my quota, they kept saying, 'Well, you may have only written the song with two people, but there are nine people's names on the label.' Because that would happen a lot when you wrote with groups. So I owed a seventh of a song. And they said, 'There's this TV show, it's on the air in 3 weeks, they just decided they want a theme song, if you write this theme song we will let you out of the deal.' Kevin Bright, who was one of the producers of Friends had been a mentor of mine when I started directing in the early '90s, which I didn't do a lot of. But he was the one who kind of shepherded my career. He said to them, 'We need someone who's very kooky, but commercial.' And as soon as someone said the word 'kooky' I would get the gig. So I co-wrote that song, I wrote it very, very fast, most of the music was there but it was only a 60-second piece at that point. I got out of the deal, and the song exploded."
The audience for Friends
was very white, which reflected the actors and the themes of the show. Odd then, that the woman who co-wrote the theme also wrote hits for Earth, Wind & Fire and worked on the musical adaptation of The Color Purple
. Allee Willis explains: "It was the last thing I ever thought would be a hit, the whitest song I ever wrote. I'm very, very grateful for it, and when they were promoting The Color Purple
, all of these newspaper reviews, I mean, here I've written for Earth, Wind & Fire, I've written with James Brown. And the only song they would ever mention that I wrote is this Friends
theme. Could any song prepare you less to write The Color Purple
? But I actually loved it, because it's that incongruity that I cherish the most in what I do." (Read more in the Allee Willis interview
, and at her website: alleewillis.com
The Rembrandts are guitar players Danny Wilde and Phil Solem. They had some success since their first album was released in 1990, but they are best known for this song, which isn't typical of their work. They recorded the song because they were the only group signed to Warner Brothers who was available, and since Warner Brothers owned Friends, they made sure the theme was written by their publishing company (Warner/Chappell) and recorded by one of their artists.
This was a last minute addition to the album. It was not released as a single until long after radio stations started playing it constantly. It boosted album sales considerably, as fans had to buy the whole album to get the song.
This was included on the album Friends: Music From The TV Series. There is a short version that runs 53 seconds along with the full-length version, which is 3:08.
A dance remake by Thor-El Harrison was released on another Friends soundtrack called Friends Again, which came out in 1999.
Random trivia about this song:
In the line, "Your love life's D.O.A.," D.O.A. stands for "Dead On Arrival."
The clapping part after the first line is just four claps.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Friends premiere, a temporary coffee shop was erected in New York modeled after Central Perk, the shop where much of the show was set. For the opening on September 16, 2014, Danny Wilde and Phil Solem of The Rembrandts got back together to perform this song, joined by James Michael Tyler, who played the shop's owner Gunther on the show.
The iconic Friends title sequences had the six main actors and actresses splashing around a mock-up of a fountain in New York City's Central Park as the song played. It turns out the cast hated both the theme tune and fountain dancing. "No one was really a big fan of that theme song," Jennifer Aniston told BBC's The One Show. "We felt it was a little, I don't know, dancing in a pond. A fountain felt sort of odd, but we did it."
The Rembrandts were surprised to hear the now-famous hand-clapping in the mix, which was added at the last minute. "We thought we were all done, and then, we went in to hear the final mix and the clapping was in there," Phil Solem recalled to Buzzfeed in 2014. "I was like, Who thought of that? That's like the best part!"
The show's creators wanted to be included in the song, so they performed the claps - or at least tried to. "Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane wanted to be part of the record so they wanted to try the clapping part," Solem explained. "Oh my god. All they had to do was go clap, clap, clap, clap. And it was like, 'Take 25!'"
The Rembrandts initially wrote a different verse and bridge in a darker tone that suited the rest of their album, but it was deemed too dark for Friends and was scrapped completely.
The Friends cast joined the Rembrandts in the music video, which was shot over a three-day period on Saturday Night Live's Rockefeller Center stage. The original premise was supposed to have the cast sneaking their way into a Rembrandts concert with some frozen fish they use as weapons to knock the duo out. Not surprisingly, the actors weren't fans of the concept and settled for pretending to play instruments alongside the band.