How The Drifters Climbed to a New Peak with "Up on the Roof"

The Drifters in 1963
Photo Credit
James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

When The Drifters recorded "Up on the Roof" at the end of June 1962, the long-running group had no idea it would bring them an unbelievable third wave of chart success.

The vocal group had been together in some form or another since 1953. Originally a backing group for Clyde McPhatter, manager George Treadwell dramatically overhauled the group in 1958, replacing the line-up with that of a newer group called The Five Crowns. Led by the gorgeous tenor voice of Ben E. Nelson - who'd soon change his name to Ben E. King - The Drifters crossed into the pop charts for the first time in the late '50s and early '60s thanks to hits like "There Goes My Baby" and "Save the Last Dance for Me."

READ MORE: Ben E. King's "Stand by Me": A Hit in Two Decades

But King, who was not allowed to tour with the group after an argument between Treadwell and the group's road manager (who'd also manage King) would soon pursue a solo career. In his place came a gospel-trained singer named Rudy Lewis. While Lewis' first two singles with The Drifters - "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Please Stay" - were Top 40 pop hits, they didn't match the chart highs of King's work.

That's where another King came into the picture: songwriter Carole King, who with husband Gerry Goffin made a formidable writing team in New York. The duo had written "Some Kind of Wonderful' as well as a handful of chart-toppers for other groups like The Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care of My Baby." King, a full-time songwriter and mother, came up with the melody and the concept on a car ride and honed it with her then-husband. "I said, 'How about a place to be alone?'" Goffin later recalled. "She says, 'My secret place.' So the song was originally called 'My Secret Place.' I said, 'No, that's no good. How about 'Up on the Roof'? It was imaginary – maybe something that I copped out of West Side Story."

READ MORE: 'The Drifters' Golden HIts': Five Tracks to Know

The results were dynamite: "Up on the Roof" soared to No. 5 in 1963, re-establishing The Drifters as a formidable pop chart presence. Goffin later claimed it was his favorite of the songs he and King wrote together, and King began a solo career in earnest with her 1970 album Writer, featuring renditions of songs she'd written for others - including this one.

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