An instant earworm. That’s “Thank You for Being a Friend” a song written in under an hour by Andrew Gold, pop rock singer, and released in 1978 on his third album, “All this and Heaven, too.” Gold considered the song to be a “throwaway.”
A throwaway until the ditty was re-recorded for the NBC sitcom, The Golden Girls. Cindy Fee, a former Oak Park and current River Forest resident, has made a living recording jingles and themes. She recorded the song in just a couple of takes and it went on to become the theme song for The Golden Girls. The comedy, created by Susan Harris and starring Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, centered on the friendship and the daily lives of four older women sharing a Miami home.
All seven seasons are available on Hulu.
The show premiered in 1985 and nearly 40 years later the cheery tune remains among the most recognizable television show introductions. In a 2020 Paste Magazine list of the 50 best TV theme songs of all time, “Thank You for Being a Friend,” slid in at number 23. The song fell behind the themes from Cheers (1), Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, MASH and The Simpsons, but ranked ahead of themes from Mad Men, Knight Rider, The Sopranos and Friends.
“’Thank You for Being a Friend,’ was just one of maybe 10 songs I recorded that month,” said Fee. “I had no idea what it was going to be used for and certainly didn’t expect it to be what is has become today.”
She had never heard the song before stepping into the recording booth.
An accomplished vocalist, Fee was a demo-singer for the prolific songwriter Diane Warren and a frequent hire for product jingles. She explained success in the competitive field depended largely on speed and efficiency. Sight reading, quick tonal adjustments and limited takes made a singer more valuable to a client.
“I sang it twice, maybe three times and made a few vocal adjustments; that was it,” said Fee who continues to earn royalties for the theme song. “The most interesting thing about that song is how enduring it is and how much it means to people.”
During the pandemic, Fee called over-worked healthcare workers and sang the song to lift their spirits. She recollects being recognized and asked to sing “Thank You for Being a Friend” while she was blueberry picking and admits she leveraged her celebrity singer status just once — to help facilitate adopting a dog during the pandemic.
“Everyone was adopting dogs and when I called the shelter, I mentioned that I sang the Golden Girls theme hoping it might help me get a dog,” laughed Fee.
In her early twenties, with just $300 in her pocket, Fee packed up her car and followed her dream from New York to LA. She found success singing jingles for Hoover (“Nobody Does it Like You”) and Wheaties (“What the Big Boys Eat”) and recorded The Golden Girls theme song before making her way to Nashville to pursue solo projects with RCA. Soon after her arrival in Music City, Midwest song and jingle writers began flying her to Chicago. Fee fell in love with the city and the family relocated to Chicagoland. After a bit they settled in Oak Park because the “community aligns” with her values.
“This is just a very cool place,” said Fee who now splits her time between River Forest and Michigan.
Growing Community Media recorded a conversation with Cindy Fee at the Boulevard Studio, Crossfunction, 1033 South Blvd., in late December. Visit oakpark.com and search “Cindy Fee Podcast” and take a listen.
In the wake of Betty White’s death, Fee agreed to attend Growing Community Media’s Betty White Centennial Celebration this Saturday, Jan. 15 to sing “Thank You for Being a Friend” in her honor.
“Women’s’ issues are at the heart of The Golden Girls and those are the same issues women deal with now and keep the show relevant all these years later,” said Fee.