Up on the Roof (song)

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"Up on the Roof"
Single by The Drifters
B-side "Another Night With the Boys"
Released 1962
Writer(s) Gerry Goffin and Carole King
The Drifters singles chronology
"Sometimes I Wonder"
"Up on the Roof"
"On Broadway"
James Taylor and Carole King perform "Up on the Roof" together in 2010 during their Troubadour Reunion Tour.

"Up on the Roof" is a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and recorded in 1962 by The Drifters: released late that year, the disc became a major hit in early 1963, reaching #5 on the U.S. pop singles chart and #4 on the U.S. R&B singles chart.[1]


In addition to the hit appeal of the "second Drifters" lineup, "Up on the Roof" epitomized the urban romantic dream as presented by New York City Brill Building writers:

When this old world starts getting me down,
And people are just too much for me to face—
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space ...


The personnel from The Drifters' recording were

Reception and legacy[edit]

The 1980 Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll described "Up on the Roof" as "in every way a remarkable pop song for 1962," and in particular said of the above lyric, "From the internal rhyme of 'stairs' and 'cares' to the image of ascending from the street to the stars by way of an apartment staircase, it's first-rate, sophisticated writing."

In 2004, The Drifters' "Up on the Roof" was named number 113 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

The song was featured extensively in the 1992 episode of Reading Rainbow entitled "Tar Beach." The episode focused on urban rooftops and used the song in both a video segment and during the end credits.

Other recordings[edit]

In the UK the Drifters' version of "Up on the Roof" failed to reach the Top 50, being trumped by two local cover versions, sung by, respectively, Julie Grant and Kenny Lynch. The Kenny Lynch version, which largely replicated the Drifters' original, was the more successful, reaching #10 UK. The Julie Grant version, which reached #33 UK, reinvented the song as a Merseybeat number; its producer Tony Hatch would later be inspired to write Petula Clark's iconic hit "Downtown", which was originally envisioned as being in the style of the Drifters, with whom Hatch hoped to place it.[2][3]

Other early recordings of the song were made by Little Eva (album LLLLLoco-Motion/ 1962) and Jimmy Justice (album Smash Hits From Jimmy Justice/ 1963). Also Richard Anthony wrote French lyrics for the song, which he recorded as "Sur le toit" for his 1963 EP entitled En Écoutant La Pluie.

New Jersey-based garage band the Sidekicks remade "Up on the Roof" to serve as B-side for their 1966 regional hit "Suspicions" (#55), with the track being included on the band's album Fifi the Flea. Another garage band the Cryan' Shames remade "Up on the Roof" for their 1967 album A Scratch in the Sky; released as a single, the track reached #85 nationally in the spring of 1968 largely on the strength of local success in the band's hometown of Chicago.

Laura Nyro made a rare recording of a non-original song when she recorded "Up on the Roof" for her 1970 album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, for which the track served as a single affording Nyro her sole Hot 100 appearance with a #92 peak. Nyro's version slows down the song's tempo and also omits the lyrics sung to the first of the original's three bridge sections. Also in 1970, Carole King herself recorded "Up on the Roof" for her solo recording debut Writer, from which it was issued as a single without evident result.

James Taylor, who had played guitar on Carole King's remake of "Up on the Roof" on her album Writer and who had duetted with King on the song at her Carnegie Hall concert of June 18, 1971, remade "Up on the Roof" for his 1979 album release Flag. Issued as the album's lead single, Taylor's version of "Up on the Roof" evidenced the eclipsing of Taylor's impact as a mainstream hitmaker by peaking at #28 in July 1979 (the lead single from Taylor's precedent album JT, a remake of "Handy Man", had peaked at #4.) Although Taylor would reach #11 in 1981 with his duet with J.D. Souther entitled "Her Town Too", "Up on the Roof" would remain Taylor's final Top 40 hit as a soloist. Rearranged around Taylor's trademark acoustic guitar playing and vocal accents and interjections, his version of "Up on the Roof" became a concert staple, often with a star-lit urban dreamscape presented behind the stage halfway through the number as his band played unison ascending notes to echo the song's theme. It was included on his 1993 live album (LIVE) and his 2000 Greatest Hits Volume 2 compilation and was played at The Concert For New York City following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where he introduced it as representing his and the writers' positive feelings for the city. Taylor and King performed the song together, switching back and forth from one's arrangement to the other, as the first encore during their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour shows.

"Up on the Roof" had its most successful UK incarnation via a 1995 remake by Robson & Jerome released as a double A-side coupled with their remake of "I Believe." Its arrangement hewed close to The Drifters' original; the accompanying music video showed the duo cavorting atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper. The single reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart[4] and has sold 890,000 copies in the UK.[5] In addition "I Believe"/ "Up on the Roof" reached #3 in Ireland and was a minor hit in the Netherlands at #45.

"Up on the Roof" has also been recorded by Anita Harris (album Cuddly Toy/ 1969), Kenny Rankin (album Family/ 1969), Dawn (album Candida/ 1970), the Lettermen (album Reflections/ 1970), Ike and Tina Turner (album Let Me Touch Your Mind/ 1973), the Grass Roots (album The Grass Roots/ 1975), Viola Wills (album If You Could Read My Mind/ 1980), the Nylons (album The Nylons / 1983), the Cover Girls (album We Can't Go Wrong/ 1989), Neil Diamond (album Up On The Roof: Songs From The Brill Building/ 1993), Heather MacRae (album I Choose Love/ 2003), Peter Cincotti (album On the Moon/ 2004), Tuck & Patti (album A Gift of Love/ 2004), Marcia Hines (album Marcia Sings Tapestry), Frank Ifield, Billy Joe Royal, and II D Extreme on their self title debut in 1993 and reaching #13 on the R&B Billboard music chart. Also Viola Wills' disco remake of the song appeared on Belgium's Dutch charts reaching #23 in September 1980. "Up on the Roof" is still performed by Rockapella at many of their concerts and appears on the live album In Concert (2001). The Jamaican reggae band The Congos has also recorded this track on their Back In The Black Ark album in 2010.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band covered the song live in 1975 during the initial Born To Run tour.

Clifford of The Muppets performed the song on a 1997 episode of Muppets Tonight.


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 173. 
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 334. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 234. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  4. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 466. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  5. ^ "Simon Cowell: The Official Top 50". MTV. MTV Networks. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio
UK Singles Chart number-one single
Robson and Jerome version
double A-side with "I Believe"

5 November 1995
Succeeded by
"Earth Song" by Michael Jackson