No one told them it was going to be this way. When Rembrandts partners Danny Wilde and Phil Solem got a call from Friends, a new sitcom asking them to record the theme song, they figured it might be good for a giggle. ”We were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to hear ourselves on the TV?”’ says Wilde. ”’No one will ever know it’s us.”’
Yeah, right. With its catchy chorus and signature quartet of handclaps, the 42-second ditty jumped out of TV sets with a vitality seriously lacking in other modern themes (”Tossed Salads & Scrambled Eggs,” anyone?). Written by Michael Skloff with lyrics by Allee Willis, the tune was conceived as a duet for Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant, who declined. Then the producers stumbled onto a little-known band called the Rembrandts. ”They had almost a Lennon/McCartney kind of harmonization,” says Skloff. ”It really seemed compatible with what we were going for.”
Viewers agreed, and the song took off after radio DJs started playing a version recorded off the TV. ”It was a bit blindsiding,” says Wilde. ”It was exciting, but it wasn’t who we were…. We lost a lot of credibility with our fans.”
Credibility? Fans? In fact, the pre-Friends Rembrandts had a certain amount of both. Wilde and Solem played in the ’80s power-pop cult act Great Buildings, and in 1990 they formed the Rembrandts. Their self-titled debut produced the minor hit ”Just the Way It Is, Baby.”
As Friends was taking off, the band’s upcoming third album, L.P., was shaping up to be its breakthrough. A single had already been sent to radio. But when the Friends song started to take off, all that preparation went out the window. ”Our label put the brakes on it,” says Wilde. ”They started smelling money.” The band recorded a three-minute rendition, which was appended to L.P. with such haste that early pressings didn’t even list the track. The full-length ”I’ll Be There for You” spent eight weeks atop the Billboard airplay chart, and L.P. eventually went platinum.
Predictably, the Rembrandts’ mainstream success faded. Overexposure and a hokey video featuring the Friends cast didn’t help. ”There was a backlash almost immediately,” says Skloff. ”[The song] had such a friendly quality — no pun intended — that people got annoyed with it quickly. It was the height of grunge, and here comes this squeaky-clean song.” Subsequent singles from L.P. didn’t make much noise. The upshot: Solem and Wilde split (Solem later formed a band called Thrush). In 1998, Elektra released Spin This, a little-heard CD credited to Danny Wilde + the Rembrandts, which received positive reviews but scant sales. Wilde was dropped soon after.
Now, however, the duo is getting back together; Wilde and Solem have recorded a reunion album, Lost Together, due in stores Oct. 23. As for lingering perceptions of the Rembrandts as a manufactured novelty act, ”I can’t help what the rest of the world thinks,” says Wilde. ”I know we have people [at our shows] who we care about and who care about us…. That song — I’m not ashamed of it. It put us on the map.”