The season’s most unlikely novelty hit started life as a 42-second musical snippet created for a TV comedy series.
When radio stations across the country began taping the itsy-bitsy theme from NBC-TV’s “Friends” and looping those 42 seconds into a full-length three-minute single, the duo that played and sang the suddenly popular song leapt into action.
But it was almost too late for the Los Angeles and Minneapolis-based Rembrandts to benefit from all the fuss. The band - singer-guitarists Phil Solem and Valley native Danny Wilde - had completed their third disc, “L.P.,” without including the song. And almost 300 album sleeves were printed with no mention of “I’ll Be There for You,” the theme from “Friends.”
The song is No. 1 in top-40 radio play, according to Radio & Records’ airplay charts. Meanwhile, “Friends” is in reruns on TV until September.
“It was in the (airplay) charts before we even recorded it,” said Wilde, referring to the fact that some disc jockeys had in effect created their own single out of the song straight off TV.
“Radio stations were getting calls from kids asking who did the song and where they could buy it,” Wilde continued. “The record company was getting pressure for us to do a version of it. So, we went into the studio, did a longer version, and stripped it into the album as a bonus track.”
“I’ll Be There for You” is the last track on the Rembrandts’ “L.P.” (East-West/EEG), which is currently on the national albums chart. And if the sleeve doesn’t mention the song, a sticker on the front of the CD package probably does.
The Rembrandts appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman” Monday. Next month, the band embarks on a three-week tour opening for Sheryl Crow, including an as-yet unannounced date in September at the Greek Theatre. There may also be a warm-up show at the Ventura Theatre next month.
The video for “I’ll Be There for You” is on regular rotation on MTV and VH-1. The lively clip features actors Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and other members of the “Friends” cast clowning around with the Rembrandts and pretending to play their instruments.
The album version of the song is credited to six people: “Friends” co-executive producers Marta Kauffman and David Crane; Michael Skloff; lyricist Allee Willis; and the Rembrandts. Skloff wrote the original 42 seconds.
It was Kevin Bright, one of the show’s three co-executive producers and a longtime Rembrandts fan, who asked Wilde and Solem if they would be interested in seeing the “Friends” pilot last September with a view toward recording the theme.
“We liked it, went into the studio and cut it on a Saturday, and it was on the TV show the following Tuesday,” Wilde recalled.
Wilde and Solem can only marvel at what the song has meant to their careers. The Rembrandts scored a hit once before, in 1991 with “Just the Way It Is, Baby.” That song took six months to break into the top 40. “I’ll Be There for You” entered the airplay charts at No. 22 the day it was released.
“We don’t want to hang our hats on the theme from a TV show,” said Solem, who lives in Minneapolis. “We’ve been working too long at our craft for that.”