With the Friends reunion out on HBO Max, there’s never been a better time to talk about the most under-examined element of the hit sitcom: the iconic ska music that sometimes played for a few seconds in between scenes. That’s an idea and a peg, right? I think it’s good enough. We reached out to the cast and crew behind the show to reminisce about the sound that changed the way we experienced establishing shots of Manhattan apartment buildings.
“So No One Told You Scene Transitions Were Gonna Sound This Way”
1996 was known as the “Summer of Ska,” and America could not get enough of the upstrokes, downbeats, and punk flavor of third-wave ska bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sublime, and Reel Big Fish.
STEPHEN THOMAS ERLEWINE (MUSIC CRITIC): Your premise is way off here… the ska transition music in Friends started playing during season one, well before the “Summer of Ska” you’re referencing. You should have done this research yourself. Also, hold on, your piece is specifically about this one type of interstitial music? You do realize that only represented a tiny proportion of the music they used between scenes on Friends, and most people aren’t even going to remember it. Are you recording this? I haven’t given you permission to record our conversation.
LARRY (A VOICE IN MY HEAD): This is a good concept, but get more granular with it. Keep going, Jon.
“Your Job’s a Joke, You’re Broke, Your Scene-Transition Music Is Ska”
The young cast of Friends was suddenly rich and famous — but they still had to share the spotlight with the ska transition music. Handling the conflict wasn’t easy.
JENNIFER ANISTON (THROUGH HER PUBLICIST): Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, Ms. Aniston is not available for this interview.
MY DAD: You should focus more energy on your job search. What was that sound? I told you to please stop recording our private conversations.
“I’ll Be There for Ska”
Everyone in America wanted to learn how to play the ska transition music on guitar so they could impress other single freshmen in their college dorms, but they needed help.
LAURA (GUITAR CENTER EMPLOYEE): The easiest way to play ska guitar is to make barre chords with your fretting hand and play the bottom strings with upstrokes, like this. Yeah, I love Friends. Ska transition music? Hmm… I remember a lot of ’90s-alternative-sounding stuff, maybe some jazzy songs. I guess there was some ska, now that you mention it.
ADAM CHASE (EXECUTIVE STORY EDITOR): I’m actually a different person named Adam Chase. It’s not that unusual of a name, so you might want to try a method other than just flipping through a phone book. But, yeah, sorry, I never worked on Friends.
MATT LeBLANC: He’s great. I love that guy [George Clooney].
Note: Matt LeBlanc didn’t respond to our emails, so we sourced this quote from a 2012 interview with Glamour.
“Because You’re There for Me, Too (Ska)”
Almost two decades after Friends left the airwaves, the interstitial ska music remains the key part of its legacy. This is most evident in the crowds of people who gather in Greenwich Village at 90 Bedford Street due to the building’s association with that transition music and for no other reason.
AARON BARRETT (LEAD SINGER, REEL BIG FISH): [Straight to voicemail.]
FRED STOLLER (STU, A COOK WHO WORKED WITH MONICA): How did you get this number? Are you recording this?