‘Friends’ Almost Had a Very Different Theme Song

The Friends theme song is just as classic as the show itself. Millions of people across the globe can probably recite the lyrics, word for word, right now. While the infectious tune, “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts seems like a perfect fit to open a series about six friends making their way in New York City, it wasn’t the original theme song. Instead, studio executives were looking to use a well-known pop song by R.E.M. to open the show.

The Rembrandts recorded “I’ll Be There For You” specifically for Friends

Instead of using a pre-existing song from The Rembrandts catalog, the team behind Friends worked with the band members, Phil Solem and Danny Wilde, to craft the lyrics and the tune to the hit song. The tune, however, might sound a little similar to “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. While not exactly the same, both songs have an upbeat pop sound to them, making them memorably and infectious.

Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green and David Schwimmer as Ross Geller
The cast of ‘Friends’ | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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In an interview with Ink 19, Wilde revealed that the band doesn’t get royalties on the song, but there is a good reason for that. He said, “To this day, we only get performance royalties, not publishing splits for the TV version of the song. I mean, it wasn’t actually a song Phil and I even wrote. We had credit on it, but Michael Skloff, musical director for the show, came up with the tune and Allee Willis, [plus others such as show creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane] came up with the lyrics.”

The Rembrandts are thought of as a one-hit wonder

The Rembrandts are best known for the Friends theme song, but they had some success before and after the show aired. In fact, the reason they were even considered to pen the famed tune is because of their previous success. Kevin Bright, the show’s executive producer, was familiar with the band and had brought their name into conversation after R.E.M passed on the opportunity.

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Before working on the theme, The Rembrandts found success with their 1990 single, “Just the Way It Is, Baby”, which peaked at 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart. In 1992, their song “Johnny Have You Seen Her” peaked at number 54. “I’ll Be There For You,” however, is their most successful venture, hitting number 1 on multiple Billboard charts, including the United States Main Pop and Adult Contemporary charts. The song also found success in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Still, though, they are largely considered a one-hit wonder.

An R.E.M. song almost became the theme of Friends

While the Friends theme song was created specifically for the show, an existing R.E.M. song was first considered for the famous tune. Instead of “I’ll Be There For You,” the co-creators had seriously contemplated using “Shiny Happy People.” In fact, the song appears as the opening theme for the unaired pilot of the series. R.E.M. wasn’t particularly jazzed about the idea of their song being used in the series, and it was eventually scrapped in favor of a song produced specifically for Friends.

R.E.M. on 7/7/84 in Chicago, Il.
R.E.M. | Paul Natkin/WireImage

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Even though “Shiny Happy People” didn’t become the Friends theme song, it did appear in the show briefly. In season 1, the song played during Monica and Rachel’s New Year’s Eve party. In the episode, the gang agreed to forgo dates on New Year’s Eve, but each, except for Ross, caved. The party was a disaster. It’s probably for the best that the song wasn’t used for the wildly popular series. Michael Stipes, the lead singer of R.E.M., once suggested he hated being known for such a light pop song.