Lost or Forgotten Oldie of the Day: 1979 James Taylor – Up On The Roof

James Taylor was born in Boston and spent most of his childhood in North Carolina. He learned to play the cello before he even started playing the guitar, and that influenced his playing style.

While still in high school, James joined his brother’s band, The Corsayers. They released a single in 1964 and James wrote the B-side of the single, Cha Cha Blues.

In 1966, James moved to New York City and formed a band called The Flying Machine. They played regularly at the Night Owl Cafe in Greenwich Village. The group recorded a single written by James, Night Owl, but it failed to reach the Hot 100. James later covered that song on his first solo album.

James developed a serious heroin addiction which probably contributed to the break-up of The Flying Machine (a few years later, an unrelated British group that used the same name had a hit with Smile A Little Smile For Me).

James moved to London and pursued a solo career by recording a few demos. One of his friends got copies of the demos to Peter Asher, and Peter arranged for James to audition with a pair of Beatles (Paul and George). He signed a contract with Apple Records, becoming their first non-British act. He recorded his first album with some help from Paul, George, and Peter and some studio musicians in 1968 before falling into problems with drug addiction again. Apple released the album near the end of the year to glowing reviews, and his career finally was on track. His success on the singles chart began with the release of the autobiographical song Fire And Rain. The single dealt with his problems with drug addiction, the short-lived Flying Machine, and the suicide of his friend Suzanne Schner. It reached #3 on the Hot 100 in 1970.

Carole King found inspiration from a line in Fire And Rain: “There were lonely times when I could not find a friend.” While recording her Tapestry album, she wrote the song You’ve Got A Friend. James recorded the song and took it to #1 in 1971.

It wasn’t the only time James found success with a song Carole wrote. Carole and Gerry Goffin had gotten married in 1959 and worked together as a songwriting team for years in the infamous Brill Building. In 1962, the couple wrote and recorded a demo for Up On The Roof. The Drifters covered the song and took it to #5 on the Hot 100 in 1963.

The Cryan Shames recorded a very different version of the song and their single peaked at #85 in 1968. Songwriter Laura Nyro released her version of the single in 1970, but the best it could manage after two weeks on the hot 100 was #92…her only trip to the Hot 100 as a singer.

James Taylor recorded You’ve Got A Friend in 1979. His version topped the Adult Contemporary chart and reached #28 on the Hot 100. He and Carole also sang the song together live in concerts.

The song charted at least two more times in unexpected places. The group II D Extreme took their completely different version of the song to #17 on the R&B chart in 1993. The British duo Robson & Jerome found great success covering songs from the sixties. They patterned their version of You’ve Got A Friend after the original Drifters’ hit and topped the UK singles chart in 1995.


My books are on sale on Amazon (or free with Kindle Unlimited) and contain a lot more Lost or Forgotten Oldies. You can visit my author page to see them.

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