One Perfect Song: Up on The Roof


“Up on The Roof”
Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Recorded by The Drifters
Released 1962

Cities can be crowded places. They are busy, hot and loud. The buildings tower overhead, blocking out the sun and the stars. It’s easy to imagine what peace and happiness a little sky, and a little stillness, may bring. It’s easy to imagine why “Up on The Roof” has been such a popular song ever since its initial release in 1962.

The original and seminal version of “Up on The Roof” is by The Drifters, but the story of “Up on The Roof” is much more about the song itself, rather than the performance.

Written by husband and wife Brill Building song writing team Gerry Goffin and Carole King in 1962, “Up on The Roof” is a perfect distillation of thematic and lyrical writing. All the words fit. When sung, there are no words that need to be shaped around the corner of a melody. Nothing needs to be stretched out, or hurried along. Every syllable is on a beat. Every beat is on a syllable.

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

On the roof it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me

Let me tell you now
When I come home feelin’ tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet
I get away from the hustling crowds
And all that rat race noise down in the street
Up on the roof

On the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Oh, let’s go up on the roof

At night the stars put on a show for free
And darling, you can share it all with me
I keep a-telling you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I found a paradise that’s trouble-proof
Up on the roof

So if this world starts getting you down
There’s room enough for two, up on the roof
Up on the roof, everything is all right
Up on the roof, oh, come on, baby
Up on the roof
Up on the roof

We can imagine Tony and Maria stealing a few moments alone on the roof in the movie West Side Story. Usnavi and Vanessa riding out the blackout on the roof in the musical In the HeightsCassie Lightfoot dreaming of a better life for her family while sitting on the roof in the children’s book Tar BeachThe roof is a place for peace, for dreaming, for escape.

2-sub-Goffin-obit-1-master1050Goffin and King were only kids when they wrote “Up on The Roof.” She was 20 and he was 23. They had a two year old baby at home. They went to work at the Brill Building every day, trying to churn out songs that other artists could record and have a chart topping hit with. It is easy to imagine their stress, it is easy to imagine their worries. It is easy to imagine that at the end of each day, there would be nothing they would like more than to climb to the top of the stairs so their cares could “drift into space.”

“Up on the Roof” was a hit, reaching number 5 on the charts, and though The Drifters first introduced the song, it has since been covered by dozens of artists. James Taylor, Ike and Tina Turner, Tuck & Patti, Neil Diamond, Carole King herself, and dozens of others. Like “Here Comes the Sun,” this song is so ubiquitous, so ingrained in our national culture, it’s hard to believe there was a time the song did not exist. It’s hard to believe that people did not have this valuable opportunity to imagine an oasis, just up a couple of flights of stairs. This is one perfect song.

So read the lyrics. Listen to the music. Imagine yourself up on the roof.


Carole King performs “Up on The Roof” at the beginning of her solo career in 1971.

Jazz vocalist Gregory Porter sings “Up on The Roof” at a Carole King tribute concert in 2012.

James Taylor has been singing “Up on The Roof” for years, and brought great percussion to the song.

3 thoughts on “One Perfect Song: Up on The Roof

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