Browse by Title
A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W X Y Z #  




Kansas City

by

Wilbert Harrison



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This was written in 1952 by the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who went on to write hits for Elvis, Ben E. King, and many others. While this is certainly one of the first songs penned by Leiber and Stoller to become widely recorded, it was not their first ever written song, nor even their first published song. The book Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography names "Nosey Joe," "Hard Times," "Real Ugly Woman," "Ten Days in Jail," and "That's What the Good Book Says" as previously written and released songs.
The original title was "K.C. Lovin'." The song was first recorded in 1952 by the R&B singer Little Willie Littlefield. It wasn't until 7 years later that Harrison turned the song into a hit, becoming by far his most famous track.
In the UK, this was a #26 hit for Little Richard also in 1959. He would play it in a medley with his song "Hey, Hey, Hey."
The Beatles recorded a version of this song with Little Richard's "Hey, Hey, Hey" in 1964. In 1993, a recording of The Beatles playing "Kansas City" and "Some Other Guy" at the Cavern Club in 1962 was auctioned for about $32,000 at Christie's auction house in London.

One notable Beatles performance of the song came on September 17, 1964, when Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Kansas City Athletics baseball team, paid them $150,000 to perform at their stadium. Only 20,000 people came to the show in a stadium that could seat 35,000, as many fans stayed away in protest of Finley, who was taking some heat over his management of the losing franchise. The Beatles played 12 songs that night, and included a special rendition of "Kansas City" in their set. It was the only time The Beatles played the song in the United States - they performed it on the US TV show Shindig, but it was part of a taped segment recorded in London. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
In an interview with Leiber and Stoller in Mojo magazine April 2009, Leiber explained how the pair settle arguments over what sounds best. He said: "Each of us would give in to the other who really had jurisdiction over the choice. If it was words, most of the time it was in my pocket to make the music." Stoller added that if it was music most of the time it was his decision. Leiber then illustrated his point by giving the writing of this song as an example: "I had a beef with the song, Mike was playing a tune (Leiber sings a different tune to the one we know), and I said, 'That's really corny, it sounds like Benny Goodman or something, let's do something that's really original.' And he said, 'Like what?' (Leiber sings a bluesy version). He said, 'I don't like that, that's like a hundred other blues.' He said, 'Who writes the music?' I said, 'you do'. And he wrote it the way he wanted and I came into it and we had a smash."
Mike Stoller claims it wasn't until 1986 that the songwriters went to Kansas City for the first time. He explained in an appearance on the UK show Songbook: "I wanted to make it have a melody that sounded like it could have come out of a little band in Kansas City, and so that if it was played as an instrumental, you'd still know what it was instead of just kind of 12-bar blues. And Jerry felt, as I recall, that that wasn't authentic enough."
Leiber replied: "Mike could go to a piano and noodle around and come up with a progression and a tune that was original. I couldn't do that. I wasn't a musician. I didn't play and I couldn't write. But I was singing my kind of a tune, and Mike heard it and didn't particularly like it. It wasn't a repeat blues, per se. It didn't have an original song, notes to it. And he insisted on writing it his way."
Wilbert Harrison
More Wilbert Harrison songs
More songs covered by The Beatles
More songs with names of cities in the title
More songs written by Leiber and Stoller

Comments (18):

Wilbert Harrison did a follow up song that said "Goodby Kansas City, New York City here we come". The music was exactly the same. Only the lyrics were different. The only time I heard this recording was on a juke box in Kansas City back in the early seventies. Anyone else ever heard of this song?
- John, Des Moines , IA
Wilbert Harrison did a follow up song that said "Goodby Kansas City, New York City here we come". The music was exactly the same. Only the lyrics were different. The only time I heard this recording was on a juke box in Kansas City back in the early seventies. Anyone else ever heard of this song?
- John, Des Moines , IA
I find it interesting that three versions of this song were recorded in 1959 and they all made it onto the pop charts; neither of the others, by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and Little Richard,were as successful as Wilbert Harrison's however. Imo Ballard's can function as sort of a bridge between Richard's and Harrison's.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
I saw the video clip of Wilbert Harrison playing it on a TV show. It was in the key of Db. They showed him playing a Db walking bass line with his left hand and F, Ab, and Db in the right hand. Fats Domino also plays it in the original key of Db. I play Bb trumpet so I think in terms of Db rather than C#. They are both the same sound (enharmonically).
- Matthew, GREENVILLE, NC
Actually, if you look at that location in person, you will find that that corner DOES NOT EXIST. It is an extrapolated estimate of where those two streets *should* meet and is located in the middle of a small park. Due to the history created by this song, there is now a street intersection sign at the location where the streets would meet if they did continue through the park. It is located directly North of the Kansas City Jazz District and, my take on it is that it was maybe a hangout for after-hours drinking and carrying on by patrons of the Jazz District. Prostitution may have gone on there, but that park is too small to find any privacy.
- Bob, Kansas City, MO, MO
On May 11th, 1959 "Kansas City" reached #1 on the R&B chart and stayed there for seven consecution weeks!!! {The song it replaced at the top spot was "It's Just a Matter of Time" by Brook Benton, that song was #1 for nine straight weeks}
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
What Dave in Omaha is talking about it is the history of "12th street and vine" was a known prostitute area and he was going to look for some crazy lovin. Most KC people figure thats what the song is about.
- Frances, Parkville, MO
The song was probably recorded in C and sped up which was a very common thing back then. Many records were sped up to fit the shorter time restraints and to pick up the beat.
- John, New Orleans, LA
From what I've read about the song's history, the original lyric was "They've got a funky [crazy] way of lovin' there and I'm gonna get me some." Not "... crazy little women ... get me one."

In Peggy Lee's version, she sings "They've got some swingin' little fellahs there ... "

Wilbert Harrison had by far the biggest hit with the song but he did not have the original version.

Genie, Seattle
- Genie, Seattle, WA
what ever key it was done in, I'm thinking 2 things...
it was a "Head arrangement".. meaning it wasn't written down..
and also that if it was in as our friend says
in c#,i'm sure the musicians were thinking of Db instead.(samepitch)
Steveo
- steve dotstar, los angeles, CA
I just made my first YouTube of my piano playing...and I picked....."Kansas City" !

Please have a look and post a comment there.

Thanks fellow "Kansas City" fans!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H17WmSS_6YU

Yours,
Memphis "Piano" Joe
- Memphis "Piano" Joe, Los Angeles, CA
The first time I heard the Wilber Harrison version of this song in 1959, I along with the young dancing club crowd...were blown away. We were a dancing generation and did a dance we called the "PUSH". The dance and this song were a perfect fit. There's been dozens of other artist cover this song...none can match Harrisons. It was a hugh hit in 1959 and I still think of it as an important notch in R&B and R&R history.
- Shirley, Houston, TX
Working girls and song keys aside, "Kansas City" by Wilbert Harrison is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT song than the tune by Little Richard, and later the Beatles. The only thing they have in common is the title!
- Jerry, Seattle, WA
BTW, the original hit version, by Wilbert Harrison, is in the key of C #.
- Garrett, Nashville, TN
Since when does "crazy li'l women" signify prostitution?
- Garrett, Nashville, TN
The version by the Beatles is in G...
- Sam, Shanghai, China
I'm surprised how much commercial success a song about prostitutes had
-great song
- Dave, omaha, NE
What key was Kansas City done in? Or was it done in more than one by Wilbert Harrison. Thank you
- james liedel, monreoe, MI
You have to to post comments.
Adam Duritz of Counting CrowsAdam Duritz of Counting Crows
"Mr. Jones" took on new meaning when the song about a misguided view of fame made Adam famous.
Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)
The Brazilian rocker sees pictures in his riffs. When he came up with one of his gnarliest songs, there was a riot going on.
Songs About MoviesSongs About Movies
Iron Maiden, Adele, Toto, Eminem and Earth, Wind & Fire are just some of the artists with songs directly inspired by movies - and not always good ones.
Richard Patrick of FilterRichard Patrick of Filter
"Hey Man, Nice Shot" was nearly a Nine Inch Nails song, as Richard was working with Trent Reznor when he came up with it.