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How R.E.M. song 'Shiny Happy People' nearly became the theme song for 'Friends'

Friends remains one of the most iconic T.V. shows of all time. The iconography, the abundance of hilarious lines and scenes, and just the general narrative had all fed into its standing as one of our most beloved institutions. Running for ten seasons from 1994 before being axed in 2004, it serves as a nostalgic time capsule into days gone by.

The fashion, haircuts, the life before social media and the rest all feed into many of us wanting to back to the heady days of the ’90s where everything seemed possible. Jennifer Aniston was the “it” girl, and Matt LeBlanc’s character, Joey, has one of the most infectious catchphrases: “How you doin’?”

Friends is also iconic for the number of huge stars it had in supporting, minor or cameo roles. Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt are just a handful of those to have graced the small screen in the orbit of our titular friends. 

The sheer volume of episodes that Friends produced is dizzying, including the new one-off Friends: The Reunion Special; there have been 236 episodes of the hit show altogether. This leads us to our next point; the theme tune. Across literally hundreds of episodes, the theme tune is just about as iconic as the show.

‘I’ll Be There For You’ by the Rembrandts, even if you are not familiar with the duo’s name, you will almost certainly know the song. Let’s be honest, the song isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow it perfectly fits with the essence of Friends. Regardless of what you think about the one-hit-wonder, the song is as Friends as the characters are.

The funny thing about the song, however, it that wasn’t the intended opener for the classic sitcom. The Friends franchise was owned by Warner Bros. Television, who had initially wanted R.E.M.‘s 1991 hit ‘Shiny Happy People’ as the theme tune. In fact, ‘Shiny Happy People’ was used in the pilot for the U.S. comedy, which was then called “Friends Like Us”.

However, R.E.M. rejected Warner Bros. request to use their classic hit. Using their musical arm, Warner Bros. Records, the company enlisted the only available band on their roster at the time, the Rembrandts, to write an original theme. Since then, the duo has made it very clear that they were against the company’s request, although they relented in the end.

The original lyrics of ‘I’ll Be There for You’, which are the single verse included in the show’s opening credits, weren’t even written by the band. You have to feel sorry for them. They were co-written by Friends producers David Crane and Marta Kauffman, along with esteemed songwriter Allee Willis. The music was even composed by Kaufmann’s husband, Michael Skloff. At least the Rembrandts would get to expand the song by writing the second verse and bridge.

The theme was only made into a complete song by chance. Nashville, Tennessee based programme director Charlie Quinn, and radio announcer Tom Peace, looped the original short version into a full-length track and broadcast it on their radio station WYHY. Given how catchy the song was, the Rembrandts had to re-record it. 

Lead singer Phil Sōlem said, “Our record label said we had to finish the song and record it. There was no way to get out of it”. Moreover, the handclaps at the start of the song were a last-minute addition.

This tale serves as a warning to new bands not to bite the hand that feeds and sign to a major label, as your credibility will be diminished, and you will be forced to write a corny hit single. However, R.E.M. must be kicking themselves as the Rembrandts have made a tasty $5 million in royalties from the iconic theme. You win some you lose some.

Watch the ‘Shiny Happy People’ Friends intro, below.