climb the ladder

Up the Ladder to the Roof

"Up the Ladder to the Roof" is a 1970 hit single recorded by The Supremes for the Motown label. It was the first Supremes single to feature new lead singer Jean Terrell in place of Diana Ross, who officially left the group for a solo career two weeks before the recording of this song in January 1970. This song also marks a number of other firsts: it is the first Supremes single since "The Happening" in 1967 to be released under the name "The Supremes" instead of "Diana Ross & the Supremes", the first Supremes single solely produced by Norman Whitfield associate Frank Wilson, and the first Supremes single to make the United Kingdom Top 10 since "Reflections" in 1967.

Frank Wilson wrote the music for the song, with lyrics written by an Italian-American songwriter from New York City named Vincent DiMirco. The lyrics to the song feature Terrell inviting her lover to be hers forever, through all of the good and bad in life, and eventually into the afterlife, where they will climb "up the ladder to the roof" to be "closer to heaven". Emphasizing the new sound Frank Wilson had crafted for the "New Supremes", "Up the Ladder to the Roof" features a rhythmic instrumental arrangement, with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong providing prominent, ethereal backgrounds for Jean Terrell's leads. Starting with this lineup Mary Wilson became the sole original Supreme and unofficial leader of the trio.

Unlike Diana Ross, Terrell's singing had its basis in gospel training. During the recording of the song, producer Wilson had to ask Terrell to scale back the number of vocal runs she was doing, because he felt that she was making her delivery "too soulful", and that Motown head Berry Gordy would not think such a record would be accessible to white listeners.

"Up The Ladder To The Roof" rose to number-ten on the Billboard pop chart in the spring of 1970. The Supremes scored a #7 (#1 R&B) smash with "Stoned Love", and enjoyed unprecedented success in the UK, scoring five consecutive Top 10 singles there between 1970 and 1972, in addition to another two Top 25 UK entries with The Four Tops.

The Nylons covered "Up the Ladder to the Roof" a capella in a 1983 recording, which was featured in the 1987 sleeper film Made in Heaven. In 1997, the Fox Network sitcom Living Single had its female leads Queen Latifah, Erika Alexander, Kim Fields, and Kim Coles perform the song, during a fantasy sequence depicting them as a Supremes-esque girl group called the Flavorettes.


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