This is the 100th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Musician Andrew Gold had more success working with other musicians on their songs. Credited with making Linda Ronstadt a household name, he played on a five albums for her, contributing the iconic instrumental breakdown on Ronstadt’s 1975 song, “You’re No Good.”
But Gold had some minor successes with his own solo work. He had three songs chart on the Billboard Hot 100. “Lonely Boy,” reached Number 7 in the US and Number 11 in the UK. “Never Let Her Slip Away” peaked at Number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100. But the Andrew Gold song that’s probably his most famous was a song he thought was “just this little throwaway thing.”
Appearing on Gold’s 1978 album “All This And Heaven Too,” “Thank You For Being A Friend” took Gold “about an hour to write.” It spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number 25. In the UK, it reached Number 42.
Gold paid no mind to the “throwaway thing” until the mid-’80s, when he got a call to ask if it could be used on television. Bea Arthur — “the girl from ‘Maude,'” as Gold called her — had a new show and they wanted to use “Thank You For Being A Friend” as the theme song. Gold said yes, and the song was re-recorded by Cynthia Fee, who had sung commercial jingles.
That show, of course, was “The Golden Girls.”
Starring Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan, “The Golden Girls” aired for seven seasons, from 1985 to 1992. A spinoff called “The Golden Palace,” featuring all the Golden Girls but Arthur, ran from 1992 to 1993. It was cancelled after one season. That show had a different version of “Thank You For Being A Friend” as its theme song.
Immensely popular when it was on the air, “The Golden Girls” has continued to be a huge part of pop culture in subsequent decades, particularly among LGBTQ+ audiences. Much has been written and said about how and why the show has continued to resonate among LGBTQ+ audiences, especially gay men. The podcast “Nancy” dedicated an episode to the relationship that queer people have with “The Golden Girls.”
That episode of “Nancy” was named “Thank You For Being A Friend,” which was fitting, given how “The Golden Girls” had been a friend to the community. But that also showed just how much “Thank You For Being A Friend” has become associated with the series that used it as its theme song.
And yet, Gold’s stake in the song has not been completely erased or forgotten. The most clear sign of that is in the cover versions, most of which include all of Gold’s lyrics, even the ones not in the theme for “The Golden Girls.” Specifically, many of the covers use the bridge:
And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You’ll hear me call, as we ascend
I’ll see you there, then once again
Thank you for being a…
Thank you for being a friend…
Of all the “Thank You For Being A Friend” covers, the one least influenced by “The Golden Girls” would probably be the version that Bernadette Peters performed in concert. But that’s because that version predated “The Golden Girls” by about six years.
Pretty trippy, eh?
Most of the other covers have come out in the last decade and a half, long after the end of “The Golden Girls” and “The Golden Palace.” And while some stick close to the version by Fee, some of them venture far, far away from Shady Pines, Sicily, or anything remotely related to the TV shows.
Electronic/dance act Animated Coochie Wonders recorded a version of “Thank You For Being A Friend” that spanned more than nine minutes. Appearing on the 2006 album, “Undermedicated,” the track was a slow burn, taking about three minutes before the song was recognizable. But as the song progressed, it got more familiar. When it got to the part about dying, flying, and the Milky Way, those lyrics didn’t feel so out out place given that the vibe of the cover was already spacey.
Pop country singer Brynn Marie covered “Thank You For Being A Friend” for her 2008 release, “Start Now.” Vacillating between radio-friendly pop and twangy country, the song had handclaps, banjos, and even the sounds of a crowded party (expertly timed with the lyric about throwing a party.)
Singer and actress Elaine Paige has been called “first lady of British musical theatre.” Her 2010 album, “Elaine Paige and Friends,” paired her with a variety of singers, including Johnny Mathis, Paul Anka, Olivia Newton-John, Barry Manilow, and Idina Menzel. Some of the covers stayed closer to the source material than others, but on her duet with Dionne Warwick, the two managed to make “Thank You For Being A Friend” their own. The back-and-forth made the song seem like a lovefest between two great friends. And yet even their great chemistry couldn’t make the bridge sound not weird.
Begun in 2006, Voice of McDonald’s was a global singing competition in which McDonald’s employees competed to be “the music industry’s next breakout star.” (Think any of the “Idol” series, but with fries.) In 2012, some of the semifinalists participated in a video where they were shown, arm in arm, singing “Thank You For Being A Friend.” As one does.
Nashville singer-songwriter Alyssa Bonagura grew up around music, as her parents are Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura of Baillie & the Boys. She’s currently performing with Ruby Stewart, Rod Stewart’s daughter, as the duo The Sisterhood. Before that, though, Bonagura recorded a springy cover “Thank You For Being A Friend.” Already bouncy from the first second, the song got even cheerier as Bonagura brought in backup singers and hand-claps.
K. John Stewart’s YouTube channel is a treasure trove for many reasons, but particularly because of his “Will It Metal?” series, in which he recast a variety of songs as grim, scream-laden metal tracks. His “Thank You For Being A Friend” was especially metal. And if you’ve heard his version before, it could be because it came up in the Q&A with Danielle Soto about her podcast, which uses Stewart’s cover as the theme song.
That same year, California ska/punk band Suburban Legends recorded a version of the song as a way to thank fans for supporting the band’s Kickstarter campaign.
The following year, in 2015, a studio version of “Thank You For Being A Friend” appeared on the band’s seventh album, “Forever In The Friendzone.” With sunny horn blasts and backup vocals, the song sounded even happier than the versions by Gold or Fee. But then again, it’s hard to not be happy when you’ve got horns and guitars.
In January 2017, on the “Family Guy” episode “Passenger Fatty-Seven,” Peter Griffin and some of the other characters were trapped on a hijacked plane. During that crisis, Lois imagined what her life would be like if that plane crashed. In that scenario, Lois and the other widows were living together as “The Quahog Girls,” with Lois (Alex Borstein) singing a nasally “Thank You For Being A Friend.” Because of course.
That same year, “The Golden Girls” began streaming on Hulu. To mark the occasion, Australian-born singer-actress Clare Bowen (of the show “Nashville”) and her fiancé Brandon Robert Young played an intimate version of “Thank You For Being A Friend.” As the performance was meant to celebrate the TV show, they only sang the parts from the theme song. And thus left out all the stuff about dying and the Milky Way and all that.
English singer-songwriter Charlie Law recorded a bare, acoustic version of “Thank You For Being A Friend” for his 2017 album, “Daydreams.” Law restructured the song, singing it as a quiet track that only resembled Gold’s version in lyrics only. The lyrics, divorced from the arrangent, allowed the song to breathe in a new way. Most of the versions had a happy, exuberant tone, but Law’s version had a melancholy reflectiveness.
Vocal harmony group The Overtones ended up with a record deal after a talent scout happened to hear them singing in London’s West End. Since then, the group has earned the moniker “the Take That of doo wop.” The group’s 2017 EP “Happy Days” featured a handful of reimagined TV tunes, which made “Thank You For Being A Friend” a perfect pick to include.
Rachel Platten had a song called “Thank You For Being A Friend” that appeared on the soundtrack for “My Little Pony: The Movie.” I hazard to call it a cover, as it was more of a sample. The title, along with bits of the lyrics, were the only parts of Gold’s original that remained in Platten’s version, which otherwise had new words and a different arrangement.
In the summer of 2017, Toni Braxton posted an Instagram video of her and others singing “Thank You For Being A Friend.” Braxton was on the set of “Faith Under Fire: The Antoinette Tuff Story,” a 2018 Lifetime movie starring Braxton as a woman who talked a school shooter into surrendering himself to the police. Braxton, who thought she sounded like Bea Arthur on the final day of filming, led the room in singing the song.
Susanna Hoffs, former singer of The Bangles and an established solo artist in her own right, recorded a version of “Thank You For Being A Friend” for a 2018 episode of “The Goldbergs.” Called “The Goldberg Girls,” the episode featured many references to “The Golden Girls.”
One of the things that sticks out to me about these covers is how many of them include the entire, unedited set of lyrics, even though the theme song for “The Golden Girls” only used one of the verses. It makes sense to used the song as it was written, because otherwise, you’d have a pretty short song. The subsequent verses have the same vibe as the rest of the song, but that bridge about death and the Milky Way will sound jarring to anyone whose only frame of reference is “The Golden Girls”.
In previous posts, I’ve written about how a song’s inclusion in a movie or a TV show can affect the way you remember it. I’ve reviewed a few songs tied to TV shows or movies, including “Batman Theme,” “Cantina Band,” “Three Is A Magic Number,” and “The Chanukah Song.” But all of those songs were introduced to fans as part of the projects, where “Thank You For Being A Friend” existed on its own before “The Golden Girls.”
A few of the other songs in the Cover Songs Uncovered series have become associated with movies or TV shows long after the songs were first released. The use of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” in “The Big Lebowski” was weird enough that I can’t hear it without thinking of Jeff Bridges having a drug-induced hallucination. Rupert Everett’s crooning of “I Say A Little Prayer” was how I was introduced to the song. I am willing to bet there are people who know “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” from “The Blues Brothers” and have yet never heard the original. And when I wrote about “Wonderful, Wonderful,” I pointed out that hardcore fan of “The X-Files” will find it hard to not to associate that song with the brutal episode, “Home.”
And yet, of all of those songs that existed before becoming associated with a TV show or movie, none of them have have become as intertwined with another part of pop culture the way that “Thank You For Being A Friend” became associated with “The Golden Girls.” It’s as if Gold’s version was just a placeholder until Cynthia Fee, Betty White, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan could transform it into something bigger than itself.
Fee’s cover of “Thank You For Being A Friend” might be one of the most recognizable covers of the last 35 years, even if people couldn’t tell you that it was Fee singing it (or that it was a cover in the first place). That’s why I thought it was an appropriate song to use for the 100th song in the Cover Songs Uncovered series. After all, part of the fun has been picking songs that people might not have expected had such detailed histories. But that’s the thing I have learned about songs: whether it’s a beloved song like “All Along The Watchtower” or a hated song like Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” it’s probably got a decent backstory, even if the covers aren’t all decent.
Another reason I chose to use this song for this milestone was to show my gratitude. Cover Songs Uncovered — and Pop Culture Experiment in general — has been able to continue for more than two years because of the people who have been friends of the project. And there have been many friends who showed their support in many ways: friends who shared the links, friends who appeared on the radio show, friends who listened to me drone on about covers, friends who suggested covers to include, and friends who saw how important this had become for me.
To all of you who have supported this site and this series, thank you.