This week, I’ll be sharing a new song each day to remind you (and myself) that how we use this time at home is as varied and limitless as our collective imagination. There’s at least one song, if not hundreds, for everything we’re experiencing in this singular moment, and it wasn’t easy to pick five! But I hope my choices delight, inspire, move, and comfort you, as they do me.
Right smack dab in the middle of town
Carole King, hit songwriter of the Brill Building’s heyday (and inspiration for the Broadway hit musical, Beautiful), says she came up with this melody while driving. Imagining a song entitled “My Secret Place,” she presented it to lyricist (and then-husband) Gerry Goffin. Inspired by the images in the 1961 film version of West Side Story, Goffin chose a tenement rooftop as the song’s urban haven.
The song was not only a major hit of 1962, but it has since been named to Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. While there are many notable recordings to choose from, from The Drifters to James Taylor, and Carole King herself, I chose Laura Nyro’s 1970 version for the way it captures the languid quality of a summer night in the city. I love the moment when she suddenly catches fire on the phrase, “I get away from the HUST-lin’ crowds!” The way Nyro sings it, there’s not a trace of loneliness in her solitude. In fact, she revels in it, even if she does say “there’s room enough for two.”
Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner said of Goffin’s lyrics, “From the internal rhyme of ‘stairs’ and ‘cares’ to the image of ascending from the street to the stars by way of an apartment staircase, it’s first-rate, sophisticated writing.”
But I like it because it makes me feel like dancing.
“Up on the Roof”
Carole King (b. 1942) and Gerry Goffin (1939-2014)
Performed by Laura Nyro