I’m Going To Kansas City

In 1952, Ralph Bass an American rhythm-and-blues record producer and talent scout for several independent labels was running Federal Records a subsidiary of Syd Nathan’s King Records based in Cincinnati, Ohio when he asked Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, two nineteen year old students and song writers living in Los Angeles to write a song about Kansas City for Little Willie Littlefield.  Mike and Jerry had never been to Kansas City, but they both loved the swing, jazz and the blues music that the city was known for.  Mike Stoller wrote the music and Jerry Leiber wrote the lyrics.  They asked a bunch of R&B musicians for the names of big streets in Kansas City and they were told that 12th Street and Vine was a hot part of town, so they used it.

The true glory days of east 12th Street were the years before and directly after World War II, as that was when this street was known for jumping entertainment.  In the 1930s Count Basie and Charlie Parker both played there, and this was a place where black and white patrons could mingle together.  Count Basie left for New York in 1936, and after that the jazz scene in KC would never be the same.  People these days think of Beyoncé when they hear the name ‘Queen Bey’, but this Queen began singing professionally at the age of 12 at the Orchid Room in Kansas City, which was actually was located on 18th and Vine.  Other famous artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington also performed there regularly in the 1940s, and during the 1950s Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, and Fats Domino also played at the Orchid Room.  It is possible that Stoller and Leiber got the wrong information about 12th Street and perhaps they should have used 18th and Vine, anyway these lyrics have long outlasted the street.

The song was titled Kansas City but Federal had the publishing rights they were able to change the name to ‘K.C. Loving’, which they thought was more hip.  The song tanked for seven years until in 1959 when Wilbert Harrison recorded it under its original name.  Harrison changed part of Jerry’s lyrics to “They got some crazy little women there / and I’m gonna get me one”, maybe because the new record label thought the original lyrics “They got a crazy way of loving there / and I’m going to get me some” were too risqué.  Harrison’s version of Kansas City reached #1 on May 11th, 1959, on the R&B chart and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks.

This song is about a guy who dreams of being with his Kansas City baby, “and a bottle of Kansas City wine.”  He says how “they got a crazy way of loving there/And I’m gonna get me some.”  This could mean that Kansas City has wild women that like to party, or it could also refer to prostitutes.  Little Richard recorded this song with a whole new approach using  the “Hey, hey, hey, hey” lyrics which is the way the Beatles did it later.

Charles Finley a controversial Major League Baseball team owner, initially offered Brian Epstein the Beatles manager $50,000 for them to play in Kansas City Athletics stadium, but was turned down.  He increased his bid to $100,000 but was again rejected.  Finley then raised his offer to $150,000 which was at the time the highest sum ever paid for a single performance, which Epstein accepted to play on Sept. 17, 1964 at Municipal Stadium.  To put that in perspective, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were drawing $10,000 to $15,000 for a show, and a ‘64 Beatles concert was running from $20,000 to $40,000.  The Athletics were in last place at the time of the concert and only 20,280 fans showed up for concert, which only lasted just 32 minutes.  The Beatles added their version of the Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! medley and they played 12 other songs: Twist And Shout, You Can’t Do That, All My Loving, She Loves You, Things We Said Today, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Boys, A Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally.  I read that over 150 different groups have recorded this song and the Grateful Dead played it on October 28, 1985 the day after the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series.

Ah, Kansas City
Gonna get my baby back home
Yeah, yeah
I’m gonna Kansas city
Gonna get my baby back home
Yeah, yeah
Well, it’s a long, long, time
Since my baby’s been gone
Ah, Kansas City
Gonna to get my baby on time
Yeah, yeah
I’m gonna Kansas City
Gonna get my baby on time
Yeah, yeah
It’s just a one, two, three, four
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, wah
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Hey, baby, woo no clown
I say you’re no clown
Now, now, now, now
Tell me baby
What’s been wrong with you
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Hey, now baby, woo no clown
I say you’re no clown
Now, now, now, now
Tell me baby
What’s been wrong with you
Well, I’ll say bye
Bye, bye, baby bye, bye
Oh, so long
Bye, bye, baby I’m gone
Yeah, I said
Bye, bye, baby, bye, bye
Bye, bye, bye, bye
Well, I’ll say bye
Bye, bye, baby bye, bye

Written for 7/29/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “street”.

18 thoughts on “I’m Going To Kansas City

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