My iPod Classic is currently packing somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 songs, nearly a month’s worth of music if I listened non-stop, 24/7. Many artists are well represented: there are hundreds of tunes by Eric Clapton, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson. Generous helpings of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Al Green. Jazz from Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Genre-bending acoustic ragas from Harry Manx and Gutpuppet. Snaky slide guitar courtesy of Derek Trucks and Ry Cooder. New Orleans funk by the Meters and Allen Toussaint. Playlists dedicated to “Groove,” “Blues,” “Psychedelic,” and an eclectic collection of cover tunes: indie-rockers Clang twisting Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” into something altogether new, yet familiar; Cake turning “Mahna, Mahna” into a fractured, angular, stomp.
Some titles and artists get a lot more airtime than others. Some are there waiting for a certain mood to strike (I don’t want to listen to Tin Hat Trio every day), some are new releases cued up for a first listen when I have a long drive or flight ahead of me. Some see daily play: a day without Muddy Waters, well, I don’t want to think about it.
The last time someone asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” was probably in junior high school. You might think that with so many selections from which to choose, the question would be a difficult one, but nestled among these thousands of songs by hundreds of artists in dozens of genres is one clear favorite.
My all-time favorite song is “Up On the Roof.”
Favorite song as opposed to favorite recording...there’s a difference. Everyone knows “Good Vibrations” is a great recording but, personally, strictly as a song it doesn’t stand up against something like, say, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” leaps out of the speakers, rocks like nobody’s business, and features the best scream in the history of recorded music. It’s a great record. I don’t think there’s been a definitive recording of “Up On the Roof.” But I love the song.
Carole King wrote it with Gerry Goffin back in her Brill Building days. While King is probably best remembered for her mid-70’s singer-songwriter masterpiece “Tapestry,” she cranked out a lot of hits before the general public knew her name. “Locomotion” for Little Eva, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” for the Shirelles, “One Fine Day” for the Chiffons. She and Goffin also wrote the best record the Monkees ever released, “Porpoise Song,” an absolutely gorgeous slice of psychedelia that should have been an enormous hit, and would have been a year earlier when the Monkees were still appearing weekly in America’s living rooms. Instead, “Porpoise Song” was the signature tune in the band’s one and only movie, “Head,” an avant-garde art film that masqueraded as a comedy and stiffed; disappearing from theaters almost immediately. Thankfully, “Head” became a cult classic and “Porpoise Song” has found a home on numerous greatest hits collections and is readily available.
“Up On the Roof” was a hit for the Drifters, who recorded a bouncy version of the song that gets a lot of play on oldies radio. It’s okay, but not my favorite interpretation. James Taylor cut the song, and did a fine job with the exception of adding a middle eight that moved the song a little too close to eighties rock territory. Carole King has recorded the song herself a number of times too, and I prefer her renditions because they capture a sense of pathos the other covers miss. That’s not an easy task in a song that’s so hopeful.
And that’s what I like about “Up On the Roof.” While the song acknowledges that the world is a crazy place and that life is a rat race full of never ending obstacles, it also promises that, despite it all, we can find peace. That somewhere there is a place where we can hear the still, small, voice that whispers inside the whirlwind. When we’re up on the roof, all our cares “just drift right into space.”
It tells us of the delight we can take in the simple things once we stop and take the time to look and listen. And best of all, there’s room enough for two.
So maybe the next time you come home feeling tired and beat, take a loved one by the hand and head for the stairs. Climb on up to paradise. Remember, you just have to wish to make it so.
Lets go up on the roof.