“Up On the Roof”

As with Stephen Sondheim, my first entry for Carole King comes down to a choice of two songs. Both were co-written in the early ’60s with her then-husband, Gerry Goffin (he did words, she did the music), and both are simple, lovely and haunting: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Up On the Roof.”

I’m going to have to go with “Up on the Roof,” because it’s just a little less simple. Goffin’s lyrics (matched by King’s melody) are such a perfect expression of urban ennui, and a temporary vertical escape. The first stanza is classic:

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

Originally recorded by The Drifters in 1962, the song has been covered by the likes of Laura Nyro, Bruce Springsteen, Ike and Tina Turner, Kenny Rankin, and James Taylor, whose 1979 recording was his last top-40 single. JT still performs “Up on the Roof” in concert, often with simulated starlight at the line, “At night the stars they put on a show for free.” Here’s a version from 1998 (no stars, alas).

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