TV & Music -- Hit Show, Hit Soundtrack: It's No Longer An Accident

"Friends" was a successful series before the Rembrandts returned to the recording studio last winter to cut a radio-length version of "I'll Be There for You," their catchy theme song for the series. In the great tradition of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" ("The Beverly Hillbillies") and "Secret Agent Man" ("Secret Agent"), the tune stormed the music charts, prompting a widely seen music video and probably helping the freshman show become the top-rated series of the summer.

Last January, the producers of "Friends" at Warner Bros. Television got together with their corporate cousins at Reprise Records - both under the Time-Warner banner - to compile a companion album to the series. It resembles a soundtrack but, in fact, mostly anticipates music in episodes yet to be aired.

Released at the end of September, the "Friends" soundtrack made its debut on the Billboard 200 at No. 46 and has remained in the Top 50 since.

Included on the album are new songs or remakes of old favorites by several high-profile alternative rock groups - including Toad the Wet Sprocket, Barenaked Ladies, R.E.M., Paul Westerberg and Grant Lee Buffalo - and such venerated old-timers as Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell and the Pretenders. The Rembrandts are represented with three separate versions of "I'll Be There for You" (including a karaoke track) while current pop flavor-of-the-month Hootie & the Blowfish contribute "I Go Blind."

It is an eclectic mix, designed to attract teenagers and the Gen-X coffeehouse crowd already drawn to the show, as well as fans from a slightly older, more affluent demographic.

This collaboration practically defines the concept of synergy in the contemporary entertainment world, as giant companies are able to extend their corporate tentacles throughout their many subsidiaries. Still, with the "Friends" album, at least, several competing interests saw a way to benefit by putting aside old rivalries.

"Some of the songs are from Reprise and Warners, some from Elektra, and Hootie & the Blowfish are on Atlantic," explained Howie Klein, president of Reprise. "The current single we have out right now is from Toad the Wet Sprocket, who are on Sony."

Over on the Fox network, "The X-Files" finally has managed to elevate itself above cult-success status and now is enjoying mainstream acceptance. The show's stars recently were featured on the covers of both People and Entertainment Weekly magazines.

It, too, soon will have an album to call its own.

David Was, of Was (Not Was), has been given the task of compiling a group of songs that are intended to dovetail with the otherworldliness of the series and, yet, be accessible to both fans and potential newcomers to the show. "X-Files" tackles unexplained occurrences and various conspiracy theories in a dramatic format.

"The hard thing about this is that it's not a show that lends itself to a crass, demographically inclined TV soundtrack album," said Was. "With a `Beverly Hills 90210' or `Melrose Place,' you've got a highly defined audience and are really only trying to sell them a bunch of songs they might have heard otherwise, but not on a single collection.

" `The X-Files' is a show whose use of original music has been very sparing, so it mostly uses a soundtrack to underscore a mood or setting, with no regard whatsoever to who's listening or what the audience is. It's simply something the creator of the show - Chris Carter - fancies."

Was - not to be confused, as often happens, with former partner and celebrated record producer Don Was - explains that, sonically, he's trying to find "the high, lonesome sound from Mars."

"Foo Fighters - the Nirvana survivor band - are huge fans of the show," he said. "They want to make sure their song is in a show - other guys want to be in a show."

He runs down a list of other confirmed artists: R.E.M., with a vocalist yet to be named, possibly Patti Smith or Marianne Faithfull; Glenn Danzig; Moby; and Chrissie Hynde. There will be around a dozen tracks, plus some remixes of the theme.

The soundtrack craze has become big business in Hollywood.

But, with the possible exception of the "Miami Vice" compilation from the '80s, television hasn't been able to exploit the soundtrack genre as effectively, if only because a musical track is less important in most shows than is a laugh track. But, things are changing.

Music taken from the MTV "Unplugged" series has proven to be a successful commodity, while Beavis and Butt-head have been influential in pushing such now-popular artists as White Zombie.

Similarly, cartoon characters Ren & Stimpy have just become the focal point of an album of original rock material, "Radio Daze." Nick at Nite Records has put out "Dick Van Dyke's Dance Party" and "Donna Reed's Dinner Party," featuring theme songs and period hits.

Rhino Records, which practically serves as a pop-cultural archivist for the nation, this summer released a three-album set of some of our most enduring TV theme songs. "Tube Tunes" covers the 1970s and '80s, and includes selections from such shows as "Welcome Back, Kotter," "The Love Boat," "Love American Style," "Cheers," "Square Pegs" and "WKRP in Cincinnati." All the songs are by the original artists.