The Rembrandts bear the burden of any one-hit wonder: A smash song brings mainstream fame, massive air play and a nice payday, then overshadows an entire career. Unlike most musical sensations, however, the Rembrandts’ hit happened on television – and it still gets heard by millions almost every night.

“I’ll Be There for You” lasts only 42 seconds. But for the Southern California band that recorded the near-minute of jangly guitars, cooing harmonies and hand claps that introduces the sitcom “Friends,” the song has been an inescapable soundtrack to the last decade.

The good news is, they’re getting paid.

“Let me put it this way: I can’t retire on it, but it’s putting my kids through college,” says Danny Wilde, 47, father of two, and musical partner to Phil Solem, the other half of the Rembrandts.

Every time that Monkees-esque ditty introduces “Friends,” including the show’s finale Thursday night, the Rembrandts earn a performer’s fee. Not bad for a tune that had been largely written when the duo was brought in to polish and put music to it.

After “Friends” became a hit show in 1994, and fans started requesting the theme song from radio stations, the money and air play that the Rembrandts earned came at a cost to their reputation. Especially when their record label awkwardly stitched a full-length version onto the end of the band’s 1995 album, “LP.”

“We were a little embarrassed,” Wilde says. “We had a solid reputation as darlings of alternative radio. So it was hard to always hear, “Hey, do you hang out with Courteney Cox?”

Eventually, “I’ll Be There for You” came between them. Wilde and Solem steered clear of each other after 2000. “We felt a bit like we sold out. We had no control over the direction where the Rembrandts were going,” Wilde says.

They have gotten back together to record (a new collection, “Choice Picks,” is available on their Web site, and, of course, to play their signature song at performances during the week of the sitcom’s final episode.

Wilde says he knows what to expect from audiences whose dedication to “Friends” outweighs their dedication to the band. “If so, you play (the song) up front and in the middle and then at the end. Then you play it again, backwards.”

(c) 2004, The Hartford Courant

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-05-05-04 0825EDT

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