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20 Years Of 'Friends,' 20 Songs From The 'Friends' Soundtracks

20 somewhat years ago, a little series called Friends first hit the airwaves, and despite the incredibly simple name, it quickly became a TV phenomenon, running for 10 seasons and 236 episodes. During that time, four collections of music were released in conjunction with the NBC series - Friends: Original TV Soundtrack (1995), Friends Again (1999), Friends: The One with All the Party Music (2004), and Friends: The Ultimate Soundtrack (2005) - and while the one that kicked it all off may have been more commercially successful than the rest, there's enough top-notch music in the mix for us to reflect on the 20 best songs in the bunch.

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1. The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There for You” (TV Version)

The Rembrandts’ original under-a-minute-long version of “I’ll Be There for You” that plays over the opening credits is credited to Allee Willis and Michael Skloff, with the latter composer having a bit of an “in” with the Friends folks: he was married to Marta Kauffman, one of the series’ executive producers.

"Kevin Bright [Friends executive producer], was a Rembrandts fan and didn't want a generic house band to record the theme for the show," said Danny Wilde, co-founder of The Rembrandts, in a 2004 interview with Ink 19. "He called our management and asked us if we'd be interested. So we watched the tape and thought it was very good for its genre and it had all the right people working on it. We thought it would be fun to do, no-one would even know it was us, and during the first season of the show, we weren't even listed on the credits as performers."

Although Wilde and fellow Rembrandt Phil Solem are credited for their contributions to the full-length performance of the theme song, Wilde feels that they should’ve seen their name in the credits of the shorter version as well. “To this day, we only get performance royalties, not publishing splits for the TV version of the song," he told Ink 19. “I mean, it wasn't actually a song Phil and I even wrote, (but) all they had was a 30-second verse and a chorus, so we tweaked the lyrics a little bit, Phil came up with the signature riff at the start of the song, and we went back a few days later and recorded the verse and the chorus."

That shorter version of the song was still catchy enough for a number of radio stations to start spinning it, most notably Nashville’s WYHY, which looped the short version into a full-length version. In turn, The Rembrandts’ label started nudging them – and not very gently – to go back into the studio and record a proper full-length version, which they did, of course, but...we’ll get back to that later.

2. Hootie and the Blowfish, "I Go Blind"


Two of the biggest entities in mid-1990s pop culture collided when Hootie and the Blowfish turned up on the first Friends soundtrack, covering a song by the Canadian band 54-40. "I Go Blind" wasn't a hit for 54-40 when they originally released it as a single from their self-titled 1986 album, but Hootie, who could do no wrong in 1995 at the time, turned it into one, taking it to #23 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart, #3 on the Adult Top 40 chart, and #13 on the RPM Singles Chart in Canada.

While the members of Hootie and the Blowfish never appeared on Friends in person, they were nonetheless namechecked in the Season Two episode, "The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant" (which, almost certainly not coincidentally, aired the same week that the soundtrack was released), when Monica, Chandler, and Ross went to see the band in concert, went backstage afterwards, and Monica ended up with a hickey which she semi-proudly identified as "the work of a Blowfish."

Ah, but which Blowfish?

"It was Mark (Bryan)," Rucker told Bullz-Eye in 2010, laughing as he threw the band's lead guitarist under the bus. "If it was me, they would’ve said, 'That would be the work of Hootie.' But if it was a Blowfish, then it was definitely Mark."

3. Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Good Intentions"

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Originally recorded during the sessions for Toad the Wet Sprocket's 1992 breakthrough album, fear, "Good Intentions" ultimately got the boot from that album's track listing in favor of "All I Want," a decision which obviously worked out well for the band. In addition to its appearance on the Friends soundtrack, "Good Intentions" was also featured as the single from Toad's 1995 odds-and-sods collection, In Light Syrup, providing the band with their sixth hit on Billboard's Modern Rock chart.

4. Madonna, "Take A Bow"

Although it didn't turn up on a Friends soundtrack until the Ultimate release, this Madonna song made its initial bow on Madonna's Bedtime Stories album, which hit stores only days after Friends debuted on the NBC schedule. It was used to great effect in the show's Season One finale, scoring the scene where Rachel - who's finally realized Ross's feelings for her and has decided that she shares them - is waiting for him at the airport, little realizing that he's disembarking his plane with his new girlfriend, Julie. Oops...and also ouch.

5. The Pretenders, "Angel of the Morning"


The Pretenders certainly weren't the first artist to record Chip Taylor's "Angel of the Morning" - Merrilee Rush, P.P. Arnold, Juice Newton, Melba Montgomery, Guys 'n' Dolls, and Jill Johnson all had hits with the song in various countries - but their take on the track got an extra boost beyond the Friends soundtrack when Chrissie Hynde turned up in the episode ""The One with the Baby on the Bus" as a singer who swipes Phoebe's regular gig at Central Perk. (This guest spot also resulted in Hynde and Lisa Kudrow jointly warbling Phoebe's signature number, "Smelly Cat.") Just as a closing note, it's amazing to think that this lovely song was composed by the same guy who wrote the brash "Wild Thing." Now that's diversity!

6. Grant Lee Buffalo, "In My Room"


Although its use in the episode "The One with the List" isn't remembered quite as well as the song which preceded it - U2's "With or Without You," which a DJ dedicates to Rachel from Ross, only to have the song end abruptly when Rachel calls in and tells the DJ what Ross did ("It's pretty appalling, and Ross, if you're listening, I don't wanna play your song anymore") - Grant Lee Buffalo's cover of the Beach Boys' "In My Room" serves as a perfect sonic summation of Ross's mournful mood.

7. Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game"


Ubiquitous throughout the '90s - and still used even now from time to time - as the go-to song for onscreen sex scenes, "Wicked Game" didn't make its Friends soundtrack debut on Ultimate, but it's what was playing when the series dispensed with the "will they or won't they" and gave viewers "The One Where Ross & Rachel...You Know." (Yes, that really was the title of the episode.) Of course, they ultimately went back to the "will they or won't they" well and continued dipping from it all the way through to the bitter end, but...hey, you still can't go wrong with "Wicked Game."

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8. k.d. lang, "Sexuality"

Although it made its debut on the first Friends soundtrack, k.d. lang got considerably more mileage out of "Sexuality" when she added it to her 1996 album, All You Can Eat, which resulted in the song turning into a top-five dance hit.

9. Barenaked Ladies, "Shoebox"


Although it can be found on its own EP as well as Barenaked Ladies' Born on a Pirate Ship album, "Shoebox" is so closely linked to Friends that Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc were originally supposed to be in the video for the song. As the band revealed on the audio commentary for the video on their Barelaked Nadies DVD compilation, however, both actors pulled out so late in the game that they had to be replaced by unknown actors...or, at least, they were unknown at the time: LeBlanc's fill-in was future Nerdist impresario Chris Hardwick!

10. R.E.M., "It's a Free World, Baby"


An outtake from the Out of Time sessions that made its debut as the B-side to "Drive" before finding its way onto the Coneheads soundtrack in 1993 as well, "It's a Free World, Baby" ended up on the first Friends soundtrack and - like several other songs on the compilation - can be heard playing in the episode called "The One with Two Parties." And, no, we don't know which party was spinning the tune. (Look, we can't be expected to remember everything!)

11 & 12. Paul Westerberg, "Sunshine" and "Stain Yer Blood"


For reasons likely known only to those responsible for putting together the compilation, the former Replacements frontman is the only artist to have two songs on the first Friends soundtrack: a cover of Jonathan Edwards' "Sunshine," and an original composition entitled "Stain Yer Blood." The former is only available on the soundtrack, but the latter turned up as a bonus track on the UK release of Westerberg's 1996 album, Eventually, and can also be found on his leftovers collection, appropriately entitled The Resterberg.

13. Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi" (TRAFFIC JAM MIX)


One of the more unique inclusions on the first Friends soundtrack was the so-called Traffic Jam Mix of Joni Mitchell's classic single, "Big Yellow Taxi." The mix was done by Robin Goodfellow, and though we have no way of confirming the veracity of the following comment, a person purporting to be Goodfellow wrote this on a YouTube posting of the song:

"I did this track back in '92. I had no intention of releasing it. It was a mash to show friends how I thought their track should sound. I was producing East 17 at the time, you can hear some of the same references in their track, 'Deep.' I took the vocal from Joni's CD; then added the beat, played the bass guitar part. A friend got it to Joni and she loved it. Joni phoned me and said that she thought the minor key really reflected the darker side of the lyric."

14. Smash Mouth, "Every Word Means No"

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The first track on Friends Again is this cover of a Let's Active classic, which can be heard in the fifth-season episode "The One Where Ross Moves Is," at a party held by Monica and Rachel's new neighbor, Danny (George Newbern), who you may remember as the guy who had a creepily-close relationship with his sister. As Smash Mouth's covers go, we'll take this one - which can also be found on their compilations The East Bay Sessions and All Star Smash Hits - over "I'm a Believer" any day of the week.

15. America, "A Horse With No Name"


Originally released as a standalone single but subsequently added to the track listing of America's self-titled debut, "A Horse with No Name" turned up on the Ultimate collection as a result of its use in the fifth-season episode, "Joey's Big Break," where it was played as he headed to Nevada for his big movie break...and then played again as he drove home after finding out that the movie had shut down production.

16. Robbie Williams, "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing"

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If you remember the episode where Joey helps Ross and Monica fulfill their lifelong dream of dancing on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, then you may recall hearing Robbie Williams' cover of this song from Pet Shop Boys' Very album. Originally released as the B-side to his "Let Me Entertain You" single in 1998, the cover then found its way onto Friends Again the following year.

17. Eric Clapton, "Wonderful Tonight"


This Clapton classic, which can be found on Ultimate, needs no introduction in and of itself, but just to cite its connection to the series, you can hear it playing as Monica and Chandler dance in the conclusion to the classic two-parter, "The One with the Proposal."

18. Billie Joe Armstrong and Penelope Houston, "Angel and the Jerk"

After making a name for herself in the late '70s as the frontwoman for the San Francisco punk band The Avengers, Penelope Houston bounced between a variety of gigs before starting to actively pursue a solo career in the late '80s, and by the mid-1990s, after several independent releases, she secured a record deal with Warner Brothers. Although she never managed to break through commercially in any significant way, Houston did catch the attention of a few folks when she teamed up with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong for this track, which can be found on Friends Again and can be heard during a party in the fifth-season episode, "The One with the Girl Who Hits Joey." (The girl in question, if you'll recall, was played by former Punky Brewster star Soleil Moon Frye.)

19. Barry Manilow, "Looks Like We Made It"

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Mr. Manilow's music was actually used to great comedic effect on two occasions during Friends' run, with the other song being "Weekend in New England," which played over Joey's reminiscences about the good times he had with the duck. (You remember the duck, right?) But as funny as that may have been, A) "Weekend" never made the cut for any of the Friends soundtracks, and B) its use was really just riffing on the first time they borrowed a number from our man Barry, when "Looks Like We Made It" - which is on the Ultimate collection - played as Ross spent his final day with Marcel...and if you don't remember Ross's monkey, you really shouldn't even be reading this article.

20. The Rembrandts, "I'll Be There For You (Theme from Friends)"


So, yeah, about that full-length version of the Friends theme song... Danny Wilde and Phil Solem figured they'd be able to handle writing that on their own, but, no, the producers of the show felt like they needed to get into the mix as well. As a result, The Rembrandts' first version ended up getting vetoed in favor of the version that subsequently went to #1 on Billboard's Mainstream Pop and Adult Contemporary charts and, after it was also tacked onto the end of the band's new album, LP, led to The Rembrandts earning their first platinum-selling record.

Unfortunately, it also led to the end of The Rembrandts, at least temporarily. "Yeah, it broke us up," Wilde told Ink 19 in 2004. "We were tired of it being the thing we were known for, and tired of doing matinee shows for 10-year-olds off the back of its success. When we finally broke up, there was no animosity. We were just burnt out in the aftermath of the whole Friends frenzy."

Thankfully, it didn't take long for Wilde and Solem to find their way back together - they split in 1997, reunited in 2000, and they're more or less stayed that way ever since, as evidenced by a recent appearance at the Central Perk pop-up shop where they performed "I'll Be There for You" (and with Gunther, no less). Better yet, they'll be releasing a new album - their first since 2001 - in the very near future.

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