The Rembrandts Play 'I'll Be There For You' on Letterman: Watch - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: The Rembrandts Play ‘I’ll Be There for You’ on Letterman in 1995

‘Friends’ was such a phenomenon after its first season that their theme song became a giant pop hit

A little over 17 years since the series finale of Friends aired, the cast is finally reuniting for a special appearing today on HBO Max. But this isn’t like Return to Mayberry or A Very Brady Christmas where he cast appears in character and has a new zany adventure. It’s instead in the style of the recent Fresh Prince of Bel-Air special where everyone returns to the set to share memories, visit with surprise guests, and make a boatload of money promoting the show’s arrival on a new streaming platform.

Unlike shows like The Office and Seinfeld that took a little while to find an audience, Friends was a major hit from the very beginning. By the end of the first season, it was so popular that a Nashville radio station began playing a loop of the brief theme song as if it were an actual single. This was never the intent of power pop act the Rembrandts, who cut the theme somewhat against their will at the behest of Warner Bros. And once radio began playing it, they were again pressured into fleshing it out into a full-length song and placing it as a bonus track on their 1995 album L.P.

Needless to say, by the time the Rembrandts released L.P. in May 1995, nobody wanted to talk about anything besides “I’ll Be There for You.” It spent two months on the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart and peaked at Number 17 on the Hot 100. Here’s video of them playing it (with help from Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra) on a June 19th, 1995 episode of Letterman.

They start the song by playing a bit of the I Dream of Jeannie theme. At this very moment, the single was peaking and their CD was selling in malls all across America. But they seemed to already know they were a TV theme song band and the world would never view them any other way. They split up before even attempting a follow-up, and when they reformed in 2001 and cut a CD without the Friends theme anywhere on it, interest was very, very minimal. They continue to occasionally record and play live to this day.

Rembrandts members Phil Solem and Danny Wilde are credited on the Friends theme and say they’ve made very good money from it over the years. “Let’s just say I’m not going to retire on it, but I’ve managed to put both my kids through college,” Wilde told the Independent in 2011. “We get paid for performance, which means we make something every time it’s on TV, but we never got publishing royalties.”

He said that before streaming services introduced Friends to an entirely new generation of fans. Hopefully that shoved even more money into the pockets of Solem and Wilde. “With the repeats, that show is sure to outlive me,” Wilde said in 2011, “But I guess that’s kind of cool, isn’t it? That way, the Rembrandts will never be forgotten.”

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