‘Friends’: How The Beatles Inspired the Theme Song ‘I’ll Be There for You’

The Friends theme song “I’ll Be There for You” is one of the most recognizable ones in television history. However, it didn’t necessarily come together overnight. The idea for the song came about in a stroke of genius thanks to the events of one fateful afternoon. The Beatles had a part to play in inspiring the Friends theme song.

‘Friends’ theme song ‘I’ll Be There for You’ is iconic

'Friends' opening song, inspired by The Beatles. The Friends cast wearing sunglasses on the set of The Rembrandts music video set.
L-R: The Rembrandts, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, and David Schwimmer | Kevin Mazur/WireImage

American pop rock duo The Rembrandts released the song “I’ll Be There for You” as an original track for Warner Bros. Television to use as the opening on the show. The theme depicts each of the Friends cast members dancing in and around the now-iconic fountain. The song ultimately enjoyed commercial success, largely thanks to the show. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 Airplay for a total of eight weeks.

“I’ll Be There for You” further established itself as the Friends theme song with its own music video. It features the band playing their famous song, but the sitcom’s cast joins in on the fun. The song captures the notion of how friendship is the solution to hardship, perfectly capturing the essence of what the hit sitcom stands for. It turns out that The Beatles ultimately helped inspire the Friends theme song in a unique way.

The Beatles generated a creative spark in the ‘Friends’ theme song

Saul Austerlitz’s Generation Friends detailed the creation and legacy of the NBC sitcom that stole the hearts of viewers around the world. Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman tasked her husband, a musician named Michael Skloff, with creating a Friends theme song. However, it was no easy feat.

“Skloff got in the car to pick up their 5-year-old daughter and turned on the car radio,” Austerlitz wrote. “The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’ came on the stereo and John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s euphoria captured the precise feeling that Skloff had while reading the script.”

Skloff kept the sound of 1960s pop music, including The Beatles and The Monkees, in his mind when he was writing the Friends opening theme. The “sunny” vocal tones of the early British Invasion inspired him for exactly the type of sound that he wanted to incorporate into the show. He described the feeling as “waking up on a Saturday morning with a smile on your face.”

According to Austerlitz, Skloff isn’t a lyricist, but he managed to put something together for the television show. He knew that the script was about friendship and being there for others. As a result, he came up with the chorus “I’ll be there for you,” which would also become the name of the song.

He wanted R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and 10,000 Maniacs’ Natalie Merchant to do a duo for the song, but they turned it down. They Might Be Giants also rejected the opportunity. However, Skloff still wanted an artist who could “channel” the energy of Lennon and McCartney. He ultimately decided to have The Rembrandts record the track.

The hand claps happened entirely by mistake

The Beatles playing on the FM dial helped inspire the sound for the Friends opening theme song. However, there were some elements that weren’t so intentional. The hand-clapping in “I’ll Be There for You” is one of the most recognizable parts of the opening, but it wasn’t originally supposed to be there.

According to Generation Friends, Skloff used processed drums to provide a drum fill in the song. After sending in the final version, he received a phone call asking him where the drum fill was. He responded, “Well, we have real drums now, so the drummer just did what felt natural in the moment.”

But, the credit sequence was already well under way by that point. Skloff worked with engineer Kerry Butler and someone in the studio suggested adding a series of hand claps. Skloff didn’t have any other ideas, so he went behind the microphone along with two assistants, who clapped along to the song.

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