Iconic Song: “Up on the Roof”

Songstress, Carole King

As I learn more about my Medium friends and followers, my heart vacillates between joy, astonishment, grief, pride, amusement…well, the full range of human emotions.

This past week two very different stories by Iva Ursano and Jonathan Greene hit me. Neither of those two wallow for a moment! But that doesn’t prevent me from feeling their losses. Their stories serve as inspiration for today’s song!

Very quickly THIS beloved tune popped into my head. It’s brought me a lot of comfort over the years. It’s filled with hope but integrity, too. Nothing silly, unrealistically romantic, or frivolous here. Just a simple, beautiful tale acknowledging that life’s not always easy, but we don’t have to feel isolated.

My favorite versions of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s enduring “Up on the Roof”…

Right or wrong, this is MY iconic version of “Up on the Roof.” When I crave this song, I default to good ol’ JT!

Does everyone go through a James Taylor phase at some point? I don’t know. But in high school and college, James Taylor’s greatest hits happily resided alongside Nitzer Ebb, Sisters of Mercy, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.

Regarding this particular song, I hear Carole King’s lyrics the MOST in JT’s delivery. For whatever reason, when James Taylor sings about the escape from life’s troubles, it feels tangible in a way that no other version does. I believe James Taylor.

The roof feels the most inviting; the hazy sky, the blinking stars, the city lights are within sight; the warmth of companionship emanates. No matter how many times I hear his version, I’m always whisked away for a few moments.

The Persuasions take us to the revival!

Vivacious and boundless. These guys hold nothing back and I’m enchanted!

A uniquely exuberant interpretation.

I dare ya not to smile while listening to this live performance!

I had the chance to hear Gregory Porter in Austin about 18 months ago. I had a pair of center front row seats in the mezzanine. Score!

Even better: the elusive Brit ended up joining me! Double score!

I actually had a proper date to see this amazing vocalist! (My followers/readers know that my good dating tales are few and far between.)

In any case, regrettably, the audio skips a bit on this live performance but it’s a worthy inclusion.

What a talent! And don’t miss that exchange of smiles and gratitude between Carole King and Gregory Porter at the end. Adorbs!


Trying to find good versions of this song has proven far more challenging than you would ever think!

I was stubborn and relentless. Eventually, my tenacity was rewarded with this deeply embedded live take by guitar virtuoso Jose Feliciano.

The guitar work is stunning! And the vocal starts perfectly fine but improves a lot as the song progresses.

So glad I hung in there to find (and share) this little nugget!

This one had me within 3 notes. That uncomplicated piano. I’m assuming that Carole King is playing! Strong, but no embellishments. She is relying on the strength of the melody. Very little flourish or extraneous notes. What a confident style!

And then the singing starts…and my musical heart beams!

This is a very special stripped down performance. The singing and piano-playing have a purity that deeply resonate with me.

(Note: I have dug through Wikipedia and YouTube. I can confirm that this is NOT Gerry Goffin singing. There’s some chatter about it being Rudy Lewis, but I’m not hearing it. Rudy is brighter — this has too much of a gravelly quality. It’s a disappointment that I can’t give credit to the outstanding vocalist!)

I was not feeling the Cryan’ Shames cover of “Up on the Roof” initially, but I’m really glad I gave it a chance. The drums come in at :30 and the energy shifts elevating the entire endeavor. By the minute mark, the listener is rewarded with a lushness that’s fully engaged. At that point I was officially sold!

It’s trippy but in a pretty sort of way. The Cryan’ Shames manage to uniquely combine several sounds from the music world of 1967: groovy psychedelia, rock ‘n roll, Motown crooning, and Beach Boys-inspired harmonies. Theirs is the most bombastic version.

Repeated listenings are a must to appreciate how complex and layered this interpretation is.

The original! I’m certain that the Drifters’ cut is the definitive version for an entire generation. Rudy Lewis croons against the breezy melody.

Rudy would overdose just 2 years later. His bright vocal camouflaging his internal struggles.

Although his life would end abruptly and far too soon, what a legacy! A special song all these decades later!

What a find! I can’t confirm whether this is lip-synched or not, but I’ve decided that’s irrelevant.

It clearly IS a live video: the honking in the background, the cooing pigeons, and sounds of the wind if you listen carefully. I think the ending is delightfully bizarre and endearing!

I’m also including it to highlight the Drifters’ replacement lead singer, Johnny Moore. There’s a depth to his voice, a weight to it. His version retains the hopefulness of Rudy Lewis’s, but I think it feels a little heavier, wearier.

For anyone who’s followed my music, you know that I’m a sucker for that sound and feeling. It shouldn’t be surprising that I prefer Johnny Moore’s vocal delivery to Rudy Lewis’s.

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