"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 #1 hit when it was recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1959. "Kansas City" became 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.


 [hide*1 Original song

Original song[edit]Edit

"Kansas City" was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two nineteen year-old rhythm and blues fans from Los Angeles, who had their first success writing Charles Brown's #7 R&B chart hit "Hard Times". 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 (2x)
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 (2x)
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. Lovin'", 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.

Wilbert Harrison version[edit]Edit

In 1959, after several years of performing Littlefield's "K. C. Lovin'", Wilbert Harrison decided to record the song. In March 1959 Harrison, with a trio including guitarist Wild Jimmy Spruill, recorded it in a New York studio for producer Bobby Robinson of Fury Records.[4] "Kansas City" was released on a single by Fury, catalog number 1023, later that year.[5]

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][6] 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" 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 release of a version by Little Richard (Specialty 664), which was a medley of "Kansas City"[7] with some new lyrics and an earlier Richard song "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey". 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,[8] and became one of the top selling records of 1959.[9]

Harrison also recorded an answer song to the same tune as "Kansas City", entitled "Goodbye Kansas City", which was released on a single by Fury Records in 1960 (catalog number 1028).[5]

The Beatles version[edit]Edit

"Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey"
Song by The Beatles from the album Beatles for Sale
Released December 4, 1964 (mono and stereo)
Recorded October 18, 1964
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:33 (mono version)

2:38 (stereo version)

Label Parlophone
Writer Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller/Richard Penniman
Producer George Martin
Beatles for Sale track listing

In 1964, The Beatles' recorded Little Richard's medley of "Kansas City" and "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey", a song they began performing in their early Hamburg days. 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. 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 album Live at the BBC 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.

James Brown version[edit]Edit

"Kansas City"
Single by James Brown
B-side "Stone Fox"
Released 1967
Format 7"
Genre Rhythm and blues
Length 2:59
Label King


Writer(s) *Jerry Leiber*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 #21 R&B and #55 Pop.[10] 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.

At Brown's request, singer Marva Whitney performed "Kansas City" at the conclusion of his public funeral in Augusta, Georgia in 2006.[11]

Other versions[edit]Edit

"Kansas City" has been recorded by hundreds of performers, including Bill Haley & His Comets from the album Bill Haley and His Comets (1960),[12] Brenda Lee fromAll the Way (1961), Peggy Lee from Blues Cross Country (1962) and Miss Peggy Lee Sings the Blues (1988), Trini Lopez as a #23 pop chart single (1963), 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. fromSammy Davis, Jr. Sings the Big Ones for Young Lovers (1964), The Everly Brothers from Rock & Soul (1965), Tom Jones from From the Heart (1966) and Muddy Waters from Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live (1979). Ten versions of the song are featured on the 1994 album, The Best of Kansas City. In 1995, it was included inSmokey Joe's Cafe, the musical revue about the songs of Leiber and Stoller.

Recognition and influence[edit]Edit

In 2001, Harrison's "Kansas City" received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award [13] and it is included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll."[14] 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.

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