“When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month/ Or even your year, but/ I’ll be there for you.”
It’s safe to say that, for many, those 25-year-old lyrics to the “Friends” theme song have never rung more true.
“Friends” composer Michael Skloff came to the realization amid quarantine, as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the U.S., and created a new version of the classic theme song “I’ll Be There for You.” What started as a taped performance for NewGround — a community-building organization promoting dialogue between Jews and Muslims — during a public iftar on Facebook Live, turned into much more. He shared the video publicly on Facebook and Instagram on May 28, and following positive reception, plans on performing it live on a still-to-be-determined social media platform soon. The idea is to hold 30-minute concerts with original material and covers as a fundraising effort. He will match donations dollar for dollar, and distribute them to charities helping those affected financially by the pandemic and causes that help racial healing.
“It was this time of social distancing and our orders to be safer at home,” Skloff said. “That really was taking such an emotional toll on myself, frankly, but mainly I started to be aware of how much it was affecting everyone. And then also as a musician, not being able to perform live for people. I felt I wanted to reach out. I wanted to express myself and offer something that could serve as some comfort, some solace of some kind.”
Skloff said he realized the lyrics to “I’ll Be There for You” were quite poignant when put in a different perspective musically.
“I came up with this slower version, which is just a little more introspective, from the heart musically, and a lot of people apparently who saw it were moved by it,” he added. “It was moving me and that’s my first barometer: If I feel touched by it, sometimes there’s a sense that there could be a universality to that.”
Skloff, who used to be married to “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman, developed the song and wrote its demo versions in 1994. Songwriter Allee Willis then came on board to pen the lyrics (along with Kauffman and show co-creator David Crane) and kept one of Skloff’s contributions: “I’ll be there for you.” Because “Friends” was a Warner Bros. show, they had to find a Warner Bros. artist to sing the song. When they discovered The Rembrandts — Danny Wilde and Phil Solem — after a long search, they knew they had found the right match.
“They just had such a brilliant sound,” Skloff recalled. “They had like a Lennon and McCartney kind of vocal sound and their approach to playing the guitars as well.”
One (or should we say four) key difference between The Rembrandts’ version and the final version of the song? The four now-iconic hand claps.
The producers cut together the film for the opening title to Skloff’s demo recording, which had a drum fill, instead of the The Rembrandts’ version. After a panicked call from the producers asking where the drum fill was, to allow for four fast cuts, Skloff and the recording engineer came up with the out-of-the-box idea of the hand claps. So Skloff, a show producer and a couple of assistants stood around a microphone and … clapped.
Skloff says he had no idea how iconic the claps would become. It really hit home one Friday night during a live taping of the NBC series, which he attended weekly with his children, in 1994. When the packed 300-person crowd clapped along perfectly on cue four times during the opening song, he was blown away.
“What seems like something so insignificant became a signature of the song,” he said. “As an artist, as a composer, performer, you have no idea what kind of connection you’re making to people. All you can do is the best you can do and make the best creative decisions and hope that it’s good and that it holds up. And then when something like that happens, it’s like magic. It’s like proof of a higher power or something.”
The show was a family affair for Skloff, Kauffman and their three children, Hannah, Sam and Rose. Skloff would attend the Friday night tapings with the kids (the show ended when Rose was five so she wasn’t as involved as her siblings). The kids would serve as background actors (along with Skolff — the go-to “Friends” piano guy), hang out backstage and play with the actors during wrap parties at their house.
“It was a way for us to kind of have family time and appreciate what mom was doing,” he said. “You know, appreciate how hard she was working during the week and spend time together, even though we really couldn’t spend time with her because she was working very hard in the moment with the actors as they’re filming.”
That family dynamic is just as strong today on Netflix’s “Grace & Frankie,” which Kauffman co-created and executive produces, and Skloff scores with their son Sam KS. They were starting work on the seventh season when COVID-19 struck. Although everything is in flux, Skloff says they’re hoping to resume production in October.
The “Friends” reunion special for HBO Max was also derailed when the pandemic brought the entertainment world to a standstill. It was recently rescheduled for the end of the summer, but it’s unclear if that time frame will hold. Skloff said he’s in talks with production about his possible involvement, but he’s not scheduled to be a part of it at this point.