“I’ll Be There For You” — The Rembrants (The Theme From “Friends”)
With all the fuss about all the episodes of 90s sitcom Friends being released on Netflix, this seemed like a good time to revisit one of the best-known TV theme songs of all time.
Back in the early noughties, I used “I’ll Be There For You” to demonstrate that you never really know everything. Even when you think you do, there’s always more to know and a different perspective to take. “Beware of getting complacent” was the broad theme of my presentation.
I used to put up a slide with these lyrics on, and ask rooms full of supervisors and managers what mega-hit song they were from…
No one could ever know me
No one could ever see me
Seems you’re the only one who knows what it’s like to be me
Someone to face the day with, make it through all the rest with
Someone I’ll always laugh wth
Even at my worst, I’m best with you
The amusing bit for me was the suggestions I got for songs these lyrics might have come from. Often they were by artists who inhabited fairly dark spaces (Leonard Cohen was a popular guess), which is interesting as they are, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, some of the lyrics from “I’ll Be There For You”, a famously up-beat tune.
The reactions around the room when I pressed “play” on the CD player…yes, that was a thing back in the early noughties…and the most-recognisable theme song on TV came out the speakers were priceless.
Then I used to confess that the reason those lyrics were unfamiliar to people in the room was that they didn’t appear in the song they heard every week while watching Friends in their living rooms.
The original version of “I’ll Be There For You” was just enough for a 30-second sitcom theme tune. Written by Friends writers and producers David Crane and Marta Kauffman, together with Kauffman’s husband, composer Michael Skloff and lyricist Aimee Willis, the popularity of the TV programme led to a US disc jockey looping the theme three or four times to make a single-length version.
The rapturous reception that got led to the original writers, plus Paul Solem and Danny Wilde of The Rembrants, adding some more lyrics and a bridge to fill the song out and make it a proper single.
And the lyrics quoted above are from the bridge that was written with the help of The Rembrants.
The point of my presentation to groups of managers and business people was that no matter how well you think you know something or someone, no matter how much you think you know everything there is to know, no matter how confident you are that you’ve got all the facts at your fingertips before making a decision, you can never really know everything.
It’s when you think you know everything, even when you don’t, and go ahead anyway that most projects turn into disaster zones.
And rather than boring lectures on the subject, “I’ll Be There For You”, the theme song for what was at the time the most popular TV show on the planet, could make that point for me in about 10 minutes, even after allowing for a few minutes of hilariously wide-of-the-mark guesses about which song the lyrics might have come from.
The bridge in “I’ll Be There For You” is quite an interesting part of the song. Whilst we all like to be happy, it can be hard work to deal with someone who’s relentlessly happy all the time. It can become a little too much.
So a more sombre interlude in an otherwise happy song brings some light and shade which actually makes the happy bits seem even happier by comparison. Juxtaposition is one of those go-to tools in a writer’s armoury when you need to ramp up the emotion a little, and here it’s used to great effect.
The other thing I especially like about “I’ll Be There For You” is the instantly-recognisable intro. When I was doing those training sessions with managers and business people, it took about two seconds for them to recognise the song from the intro…I never had to let it run more than a line or two into the song before everyone knew what it was.
Nowadays most songs are straight in, no intro, no preamble, just “on with the song”.
Back in the 80s and 90s, bands were allowed to be a lot more self-indulgent and the accepted approach was often a slow build from a single guitar or a drum break until everyone had joined in. Sometimes the intro was nearly as long as the meat of the song itself.
But with “I’ll Be There For You”, The Rembrants got it absolutely right. Because the original version was for a 30-second TV theme, there wasn’t time for one of those self-indulgent intros which were so popular at the time.
Going straight in, however, was a bit too abrupt. With a TV theme, you generally want to draw the viewer in, rather than shock them before they’ve had a chance to warm to the idea. You want to prepare the ground, however briefly, for what’s about to come.
All it takes is a few seconds on jangly guitars and The Rembrants are under way. It’s enough…not too long, not too short…just perfect to set the scene and drill into your memory banks of how much you enjoyed this show last week. Just long enough to make you want to stay on your sofa and enjoy the next instalment in the lives of these oh-so-90s friends in their New York apartments.
Even the original 30-second version of “I’ll Be There For You” highlights the importance of friendships extremely well. Here’s some lyrics you’re more likely to recognise…
So no-one told you life was gonna be this way
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA
It’s like your stuck in second gear
When it hasn’t been your day, your month or even your year
I’ll be there for you — when the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you — like I’ve been there before
I’ll be there for you — ’cause you’re there for me too
If you’ve got someone in your life you could sing this song to, then cherish them. They’re a rare thing, a true friend. Someone you can rely on to stick with you through thick and thin.
If you remember everyone wanting their hair like Rachel’s, or discussing the latest unfortunate twists and turns in Ross’s love life, or admiring one of Chandler’s piercing put-downs, or cringing at Joey’s shameless pick-up lines, or gasping at Monica’s obsession with keeping everything neat, tidy and well-organised, or just enjoying Phoebe’s straight-up kookie-ness, then you’ll have fun with this romp back through the memories of your youth.
To this day, my sister hates it when she’s being a little too obsessed with keeping everything neat and tidy and we start calling her Monica…she quickly gets the point that she’s probably taken her desire to have a place for everything and everything in its place just a little too far again.
Here’s The Rembrants, with the incredibly young-looking cast of Friends, and “I’ll Be There For You”…
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about another of my favourite songs. I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to spend a few moments in the company of a song that I love.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find this track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/15tHagkk8z306XkyOHqiip