Up the Ladder to the Roof

Album: Right On (1970)
Charted: 6 10

Songfacts®:

  • This was the first Supremes single without Diana Ross, who left the group to start a solo career. Her replacement was Jean Terrell, who sang lead on this track. In this new-look Supremes, Mary Wilson, the only original member, split lead vocal duties with Terrell, the sister of heavyweight boxer Ernie Terrell. Though Jean Terrell's vocals sounded similar to Tammi Terrell's, they weren't related.
  • In this song, Jean Terrell asks her man to be hers forever so that even after they die, their spirits will climb the ladder that leads to the roof of heaven. Many listeners thought it was simply about making love on a rooftop, where they can get "closer to heaven."
  • On January 14, 1970 Diana Ross made her farewell appearance with the Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Her solo career was championed by Motown boss Berry Gordy, who had her record an album with Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the team behind many of Marvin Gaye's Motown hits. The Supremes were no longer a priority at the label, but "Up the Ladder to the Roof" proved they could land a hit without Ross. Soon after it was released, Ross issued her first single, "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)," which despite the Motown muscle behind it, made just #20 US. Ross getting outcharted by her former group was a surprise, but it didn't last long: her next single, a new version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" went to #1. The Supremes had just one more Top 10 hit ("Stoned Love" at #7) before disbanding in 1977.
  • With Diana Ross out of the picture, Motown assigned less accomplished songwriters to The Supremes. This one was produced by Frank Wilson, an associate of Motown songwriter Norman Whitfield. Wilson also wrote the music for the song, with the words written by Vincent DiMirco, a Puerto Rican teenager. DiMirco also contributed the lyrics for "Thank Him For Today" on the Supremes New Ways But Love Stays album."
  • The Supremes performed this on Ed Sullivan Show, February 15, 1970, the last of their 16 appearances on the show and only one without Ross. The group appeared on the show more than any other Motown artist.
  • Terrell, whose roots were in gospel, possessed a much stronger and soulful voice than that of Ross. During the recording of the song, Wilson had to ask Terrell to cut down on the amount of vocal runs she was doing.
  • Al Green covered this on his 1984 Trust In God album, and Bette Midler recorded it on her 1977 Live At Last album.

Comments: 9

  • Paul Osman from Liverpool, England.On some versions of this song, the sound of a cat's "miaow"can be heard 40 seconds into the song.This was caused by a "wah" pedal distorting the guitar sound. So sadly not a cat!
  • AnonymousGreat song, that’s the problem with lead vocals given to one person!She was a much better singer ! And the do wop girls, were now Supremes!
  • Floy Joy from The United StatesIt was a good song but the critics assess it as terriffic music but uninspiring singing. The background is background and only die-hard Supremes' fans coud distingusied Mary and Cindy. The music of the "New Supremes" was quite, compliments of Frank WIlson, particularly, on "New Ways But Love Stays." The recod-buying public never took to the Supremems sans Diana Ross and so, by the very end of 1972 when "I Guess I'll Miss The Man" sung beautifully by Jean, the Supremes were abviously finished. They just had nothing to sing about anymore.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaGreat tune, she outsings Diana in my mind. Loved those bongo drums.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyAddition to the second post below:
    The 'new' Supremes did chart twelve times on the Top 100 between 1970 and 1976; and they also charted two more times in duets with the Four Tops; "River Deep - Mountain High" {at #14} and "You Gotta Have Love In Your Heart" {at #55}, both charted in 1971...
    And on the day the 'new' Supremes appeared on the 'Sullivan' show, the old Supremes with Diana Ross were still on the Top 100, "Someday We'll Be Together" was at position #29.
  • Bronxgirl from NyDiMirco was an Italian-American who wrote the music and lyrics.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 15, 1970, the Supremes performed "Up the Latter to the Roof" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    Two weeks later on March 1st it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #57; and on April 12th it peaked #10 (for 1 week) and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #5 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    The 'new' Supremes had eleven more records make the Top 100; with "Stoned Love" being their biggest hit, it reached #7 (for 2 weeks) on December 13th, 1970.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhWhat a terrific sound. This song is at the same time soft and subtle yet strong. I don't agree with Songfacts assessment that "the narrator invites her man to be hers forever so that even after they die, their spirits will climb the ladder that leads to the roof of heaven". Nothing about death in this song! The woman simply wants to be with her man, to escape from it all and have some alone time with him. She wants her surroundings to mirror her feelings, which is that being with each other and in love is like being as close to heaven as you can get. I agree, Anthony, about it never being on the radio.....
  • Anthony from Union Point, GaThis is my favorite song the Supremes did. Too bad I never hear it on the radio.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Kevin Godley

Kevin GodleySongwriter Interviews

Kevin Godley talks about directing classic videos for The Police, U2 and Duran Duran, and discusses song and videos he made with 10cc and Godley & Creme.

Danny Kortchmar

Danny KortchmarSongwriter Interviews

Danny played guitar on Sweet Baby James, Tapestry, and Running On Empty. He also co-wrote many hit songs, including "Dirty Laundry," "Sunset Grill" and "Tender Is The Night."

Frankie Valli

Frankie ValliSong Writing

An interview with Frankie Valli, who talks about why his songs - both solo and with The Four Seasons - have endured, and reflects on his time as Rusty Millio on The Sopranos.

How The Beatles Crafted Killer Choruses

How The Beatles Crafted Killer ChorusesSong Writing

The author of Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles, explains how the group crafted their choruses so effectively.

Art Alexakis of Everclear

Art Alexakis of EverclearSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer of Everclear, Art is also their primary songwriter.

Martyn Ware of Heaven 17

Martyn Ware of Heaven 17Songwriter Interviews

Martyn talks about producing Tina Turner, some Heaven 17 hits, and his work with the British Electric Foundation.