Is there a better song than “Up on the Roof”?
According to Rolling Stone, the answer is yes – 113 songs, to be precise, as the original rendition by the Drifters, which was released in 1962, ranks No. 114 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, which was put together in 2004.
I rate it higher.
Written by the husband-and-wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the single peaked at No. 5 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the R&B charts in early 1963. In the years since, it’s been covered by an array of artists, both in concert and on vinyl. The idea for the song came to King – who was all of 20 at the time – while she was out for a drive; her original title was “My Secret Place.” Goffin suggested the roof as the escape destination, as he was a West Side Story fan, and penned poetic lyrics that echo a universal truth. (American Songwriter delves deep into the song’s sophistication here.)
Here’s the demo for it, which features Goffin singing and King playing piano.
As wonderful as the Drifters’ single is, however, it flopped in England – but East London-born Kenny Lynch’s version made it to the Top 10.
Up-and-coming singer Julie Grant made her U.K. chart debut with the song right around the same time.
In 1970, fellow New Yorker Laura Nyro recorded it for her Christmas and the Beads of Sweat album; it became her sole single to crack the Top 100, peaking at…No. 97?!
That same year, Carole King recorded it for her debut album, Writer.
In February 1970, it was the opening song of her BBC in Concert set.
That same year, Dusty Springfield performed it on the BBC’s The Rolf Harris Show…
In 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered it in concert:
In 1979, James Taylor – who had performed it with Carole King on Writer and their early tours together – scored a Top 40 hit with it.
Jumping ahead a few decades, Neil Diamond covered it on his 1993 salute to Brill Building songs…
…and the British pop duo Robson & Jerome topped the U.K. charts with their faithful cover in 1995.
Actor-singer Sutton Foster does a sweet version of it on her 2009 debut album, Wish.
There are many more covers of the song – far too many to list here. So I’ll close with this: Carole King and James Taylor at the Troubadour in 2007. Does it get any better than this?