Kansas City (Leiber and Stoller song)

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"K. C. Loving"
Single by Little Willie Littlefield
B-side"Pleading at Midnight"
Released1952 (1952)
Format45 rpm record
RecordedLos Angeles, August 12, 1952
Songwriter(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

"Kansas City" is a rhythm and blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952.[1] First recorded by Little Willie Littlefield the same year, the song later became a chart-topping hit when it was recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1959. "Kansas City" is one of Leiber and Stoller's "most recorded tunes, with more than three hundred versions,"[2] with several appearing in the R&B and pop record charts.

Original song[edit]

"Kansas City" was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two nineteen-year-old rhythm and blues fans from Los Angeles. Neither had been to Kansas City, but were inspired by Big Joe Turner records.[3]

I'm goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come (2×)
They got a crazy way of lovin' there, and I'm gonna get me some
I'm gonna be standing on the corner, of Twelfth Street and Vine (2×)
With my Kansas City baby, and a bottle of Kansas City wine

Through a connection to producer Ralph Bass, they wrote "Kansas City" specifically for West Coast blues/R&B artist Little Willie Littlefield.[2] There was an initial disagreement between the two writers over the song's melody: Leiber (who wrote the lyrics) preferred a traditional blues song, while Stoller wanted a more distinctive vocal line; Stoller ultimately prevailed. They taught the song to Littlefield at Maxwell Davis' house, who arranged and provided the tenor sax for the song.[2] Littlefield recorded the song in Los Angeles in 1952, during his first recording session for Federal Records, a King Records subsidiary. Federal's Ralph Bass changed the title to "K. C. Loving",[4] which he reportedly considered to sound "hipper" than "Kansas City". Littlefield's record had some success in parts of the U.S., but it did not reach the national chart.

Little Richard versions[edit]

"Kansas City"
Kansas City (Little Richard) cover.jpg
Single by Little Richard
B-side"Lonesome and Blue"
ReleasedApril 1959 (1959-04)
Format45 rpm record
RecordedLos Angeles, November 29, 1955
GenreR&B, rock and roll
Songwriter(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Producer(s)Art Rupe

In 1955, Little Richard recorded two rather different versions of "Kansas City": on September 13 (supervised by Bumps Blackwell), and on November 29 (with five vocalists, supervised by Art Rupe).[5] The first version, which was very close to the original song, was released much later, in November 1970, on the compilation album Well Alright!. This version was the first to bear the new title "Kansas City" (after Littlefield's original version titled "K.C. Loving"). Richard's second version which had the same name, but which had been substantially re-worked by Little Richard (in particular, this version featured the new refrain starting with words "Hey, hey, hey, hey; Hey baby, hey child, hey now") was released in late 1958 on The Fabulous Little Richard and in April 1959 as a single[6] (position 95 of US chart, and position 26 of UK Singles Chart). Later, this particular version was covered by the Beatles.

On May 9, 1956, Little Richard recorded his own song "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey", also known as "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! (Goin' Back to Birmingham)"[5] which turned out to be very similar to a part of the second version of "Kansas City" recorded six months earlier (and which had the same refrain as mentioned above). So a new song had been introduced — it included most of the changes made by Little Richard to the second version of "Kansas City" and had a new name and new writer, Richard Wayne Penniman (Little Richard himself). This song was released in January 1958 as the B-side of "Good Golly, Miss Molly" (Specialty 624) and in July 1958 on Little Richard.[6]

So it happened that the public perceived the song "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" (released in January 1958) as an earlier work than "Kansas City" (released in late 1958/March 1959) and as its predecessor (while in fact it was actually the other way around). This allowed Little Richard to claim co-authorship with respect to this version of the song. In 1964, when The Beatles released their album featuring their version "Kansas City" as performed by Little Richard (naturally, the second version, as the first one was not yet released at that time), the attorneys representing Venice Music made a complaint, and as a result the record label was revised to read: "Medley: (a) Kansas City (Leiber/Stoller) (P)1964 Macmelodies Ltd./KPM; (b) Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey (Penniman) Venice Mus. Ltd. (P)1964." Formally, however, this song could hardly be called a medley, as by definition a medley is a piece composed from parts of existing pieces. Moreover, when Little Richard was recording "Kansas City", the song "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" did not yet exist.

Wilbert Harrison version[edit]

"Kansas City"
Kansas City single cover.jpg
Single by Wilbert Harrison
B-side"Listen, My Darling"
ReleasedApril 1959 (1959-04)
Format45 rpm record
RecordedNew York City, March 1959
GenreR&B, rock and roll
Songwriter(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Producer(s)Bobby Robinson

In 1959, after several years of performing Littlefield's "K. C. Loving", Wilbert Harrison decided to record the song. In March 1959, just when the version of Little Richard was released on album, Harrison, with a trio including guitarist Wild Jimmy Spruill, recorded it in a New York studio for producer Bobby Robinson of Fury Records.[7] "Kansas City" was released on a single by Fury, catalog number 1023, later that year.

Although the song's arrangement varied little from Littlefield's, it "struck such a solid shuffle groove that it was unforgettable", with inspired rhythm and solo guitar work by Spruill.[3][8] Harrison's song was issued with Leiber and Stoller's original name, "Kansas City", but changed the refrain to "They got some crazy little women there, and I'm gonna get me one"[4] and dropped one twelve-bar section.

Shortly after the song's release, several other versions appeared. Billboard magazine's pop song pick of the week for March 30, 1959 listed five different releases of "Kansas City": Harrison's and versions by Hank Ballard and The Midnighters (King 5195), Rocky Olson (Chess 1723), Rockin' Ronald & the Rebels (End 1043), and a reissue by Littlefield (Federal 12351). A week later, the magazine announced the single release of a version by Little Richard. Although Ballard's and Richard's versions both appeared in the lower reaches of the Billboard charts, Harrison's was a runaway hit, reaching number one in both the R&B and pop charts, where it remained for seven weeks,[9] and became one of the top selling records of 1959.[10] It was also the final number one single in the U.S. to be released on a 78 record.

Harrison also recorded an answer song to the same tune as "Kansas City", called "Goodbye Kansas City", which was released on a single by Fury Records in 1960 (catalog number 1028).

After each loss at Kauffman Stadium, the Kansas City Royals play Harrison’s version over the stadium speakers.


Chart (1959) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[11] 18
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[12] 24
US Billboard Hot 100[13] 1
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[14] 1

The Beatles version[edit]

"Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey"
Cover of the song's sheet music
Song by the Beatles
from the album Beatles for Sale
ReleasedDecember 4, 1964 (1964-12-04) (mono and stereo)
RecordedOctober 18, 1964
GenreRock and roll
Length2:33 (mono version)
2:38 (stereo version)
Songwriter(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller/Richard Penniman
Producer(s)George Martin

In October 1964, the Beatles recorded Little Richard's "Kansas City" (titled "Kansas City"/"Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey"), a song they began performing in their early Hamburg days. They had already played it during a September 17 concert at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, a one-time addition to their usual setlist.[15][16] Their version, which uses somewhat different lyrics, appears on the albums Beatles for Sale (UK) and Beatles VI (US) and was the B-side of the October 1965 single "Boys" as part of Capitol Records' Star Line series. Piano on the track was played by George Martin. An alternate take was released on Anthology 1 and a live version, recorded in Hamburg in 1962, was released on Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962. Other live versions appear on the albums Live at the BBC and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 and in the film Let It Be. The Beatles were also seen on the American television program Shindig! performing the medley live in October 1964.


The Beatles version is also played following a Kansas City Royals victory at Kauffman Stadium.[17]

James Brown version[edit]

"Kansas City"
Single by James Brown
B-side"Stone Fox"
Released1967 (1967)
Format45 rpm record
GenreRhythm and blues
Songwriter(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Producer(s)James Brown
James Brown charting singles chronology
"Bring It Up"
"Kansas City"

James Brown recorded a version of "Kansas City" in 1967 which charted number 21 R&B and number 55 Pop.[18] A later, funkier version appears on the 1975 album Everybody's Doin' the Hustle & Dead on the Double Bump. Brown recorded live performances of the song for his albums Live at the Apollo, Volume II (1968) and Say It Live and Loud (1998; recorded 1968), and in his concert films James Brown: Man to Man and Live at the Boston Garden. This was also James Brown's first single to be reissued by Polydor Records.

At Brown's request, singer Marva Whitney performed "Kansas City" at the conclusion of his public funeral in Augusta, Georgia in 2006.[19]

Other versions[edit]

"Kansas City" has been recorded by hundreds of performers, including Bill Haley & His Comets from the album Bill Haley and His Comets (1960),[20] Brenda Lee from All the Way (1961), Peggy Lee from Blues Cross Country (1962) and Miss Peggy Lee Sings the Blues (1988), Ace Cannon did an instrumental version on his debut 1962 album Tuff Sax, Trini Lopez as a #23 pop chart single (1963), Dion DiMucci on his album "Runaround Sue" (1961), Jan & Dean from Surf City And Other Swingin' Cities (1963), Jay and the Americans from At the Cafe Wha? (1963), Fats Domino as a single (1964), Sammy Davis Jr. from Sammy Davis, Jr. Sings the Big Ones for Young Lovers (1964), The Everly Brothers from Rock & Soul (1965), Tom Jones from From the Heart (1966), Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign (1967), Muddy Waters from Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live (1979), and Dean Reed from the album Rock'n'Roll Country Romantic"(1980). Ten versions of the song are featured on the 1994 album, The Best of Kansas City. In 1995, it was included in Smokey Joe's Cafe, the musical revue about the songs of Leiber and Stoller. Also, the Grateful Dead played the song on October 28, 1985 the day after the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series.

Recognition and influence[edit]

In 2001, Harrison's "Kansas City" received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award[21] and it is included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll."[22] In 2005, Kansas City adopted "Kansas City" as its official song, dedicating "Goin' to Kansas City Plaza" in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz district. Due to redevelopment, the "12th Street and Vine" intersection mentioned in the song no longer exists, but a park roughly in the shape of a grand piano and with a path in the shape of a treble clef exists at the former location, marked by a commemorative plaque. Some versions have substituted "Eighteenth and Vine" for "12th Street and Vine," which sings just as well, and recognizes Kansas City's jazz history.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historian Gerard Herzhaft calls the 1927 blues song "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues" a "remote cousin". Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Kansas City". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 456. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ a b c Leiber, Jerry; Stoller, Mike; Ritz, David (2009). Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography. Simon & Schuster. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-4165-5938-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  3. ^ a b Marsh, Dave (1999). The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Da Capo Press. pp. 125–127. ISBN 978-0-306-80901-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. ^ a b Leiber & Stoller interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  5. ^ a b Little Richard – The Specialty Sessions (Box set booklet). Little Richard. London: Ace Records. 1989. p. 29. ABOXLP 1 (set), ABOXBK1 (booklet).CS1 maint: others (link) CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. ^ a b White, Charles (1994). The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock. Da Capo Press. p. 259. ISBN 0-306-80552-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  7. ^ Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. Billboard Books. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-8230-7677-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ Forte, Dan (1990). Legends of Guitar — Rock, The 50s Vol. 1 (Album notes). Various artists. Rhino Records. pp. 5–6. R2 70719.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). "Wilburt Harrison". Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 183. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  10. ^ Whitburn 1988, p. 600.
  11. ^ "Ultratop.be – Wilbert Harrison – Kansas City" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  12. ^ "Ultratop.be – Wilbert Harrison – Kansas City" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  13. ^ "Wilbert Harrison Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  14. ^ "Wilbert Harrison Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  15. ^ Kirkman, Paul (October 23, 2012). Forgotten Tales of Kansas City. Forgotten Tales. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781614237389.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  16. ^ Levings, Darryl (September 17, 2014). "50 years ago: The Beatles Played for 31 Minutes in Kansas City". kansascity.com. Retrieved July 13, 2016.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  17. ^ Pentis, Andrew (August 2, 2012). "Stadium Songs: Kansas City Royals". ESPN.com. Retrieved May 21, 2015.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  18. ^ White, Cliff (1991). Star Time (Album notes). James Brown. Polygram Records. pp. 54–59.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  19. ^ Smith, R.J. (2012). The One: The Life and Music of James Brown. New York City: Gotham Books. p. 379.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  20. ^ Several different versions of Haley's "Kansas City" exist, some featuring vocals by Haley and others sung by his saxophone player, Rudy Pompilli; all use Leiber & Stoller's original lyrics.
  21. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame – Kansas City: Wilbert Harrison – Fury (1959 Single)". The Recording Academy. 2001. Retrieved June 25, 2011.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  22. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on May 2, 2007. Retrieved June 25, 2011.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  23. ^ Cole, Suzanne P.; Engle, Tim; Winkler, Eric (April 23, 2012). "50 things every Kansas Citian should know". Kansas City Star. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
  24. ^ "12th Street and Vine, Kansas City". maps.google.com. Retrieved January 8, 2011.