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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"

"Up on the Roof" is a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and recorded in 1962 by The Drifters. Released at the tail end of that year, the song became a big hit, reaching number 5 on the U.S. pop singles chart and number 4 on the U.S. R&B singles chart.

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

  • Jimmy Nottingham, Jimmy Sadler (trumpet)
  • Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Sarraco (trombone)
  • Carole King, Ernie Hayes (piano)
  • Al Casamenti, Don Arnone, Bob Bushnell (guitar)
  • George Duvivier (bass)
  • Gary Chester (drums)
  • Bobby Rosegarden (strings)
  • George Devens (percussion)

Reception and legacy

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

The Drifters' version was not a hit in the United Kingdom; however, a recording by English variety show entertainer Kenny Lynch, released at almost the same time, was hitting number 10 on the UK Singles Chart. Leeds singer Julie Grant followed it with another rendition, posting modestly on the UK Singles Chart at number 33 in 1963.

Goffin-King babysitter and song recipient Little Eva included it as a track on her only LP offering, LLLLLoco-Motion, in late 1962. The song has been recorded by other artists numerous times since, including by The Cryan' Shames (1968, a very minor hit at number 85 on the U.S. pop singles chart), Laura Nyro on Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (1970, an even more minor hit at number 92 on the U.S. pop singles chart, but nonetheless Nyro's only appearance there), Carole King herself on the 1970 album Writer, Tony Orlando and Dawn (on several 1970s albums), James Taylor on Flag (1979), Neil Diamond on the appropriately titled Up On The Roof: Songs From The Brill Building (1993), Kenny Rankin on his early "Family" album, Billy Joe Royal, Peter Cincotti and Robson and Jerome. The song is still performed by Rockapella at many of their concerts, and appears on the live album In Concert (2001).

Of these, the best known in the U.S. is Taylor's; it was released as a single, charting modestly into the Top 30 of the U.S. pop singles chart in 1979. Rearranged around Taylor's trademark acoustic guitar playing and vocal accents and interjections, it became a concert staple of his, 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.

The best known of these in the UK is that of Robson and Jerome; recorded in 1995 and released as a double A side along with their version of "I Believe," it reached number one on the UK Singles Chart. Its arrangement hewed close to The Drifters' original; the accompanying music video showed the duo cavorting atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper.

Preceded by
"Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single
Robson and Jerome version
double A-side with "I Believe"

5 November 1995 for 4 weeks
Succeeded by
"Earth Song" by Michael Jackson


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