Wilbert Harrison’s 1959 version of “Kansas City” is the song’s most famous recording. Its lyric spotlights an intersection of 12th Street and Vine, even though natives say these streets never actually meet to form a true intersection. Instead, you can think of this as a mythical party point. It’s a place where a guy longs to visit to have a good time.
In the first verse, Harrison dreams of being with his Kansas City baby, “and a bottle of Kansas City wine.” The second verse speaks of how “they got a crazy way of loving there/And I’m gonna get me some.” This could mean wild women. It could also refer to prostitutes. But because songs about prostitutes didn’t get on the radio back in 1959, we’ll just need to use our imagination regarding what he truly meant.
Kansas City sure didn’t seem to have a great reputation among right living folks, though. In fact, Harrison tries his best to keep this party journey a secret.
I’m gonna pack my clothes Everybody will be sleeping Nobody will know where I’ve gone
Ironically, when Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller originally wrote the song, they gave it the title “K.C. Lovin’.” Little Willie Littlefield was the first artist to track it, seven years earlier in 1952. The Beatles and Little Richard also recorded the tune. On May 11th, 1959, Harrison’s version of "Kansas City" reached #1 on the R&B chart and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks.
“Kansas City” is a rollicking rhythm and blues song. However, in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Kansas City had a thriving jazz scene. Today, it hosts the annual Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival.
Although the song has a basic blues chord progression, it bops along with a rocking dance beat. With its rolling piano part, it could easily pass for a Fats Domino song. In fact, Fats Domino also does a wonderful version of the song.
People don’t likely think of Kansas City when it comes to good-time destinations. Instead, the sin and gambling locales of Atlantic City and Las Vegas are probably the first party choices. However, with its classic Kansas City-style barbecue, which blossomed in the inner city and can be traced back to barbecue pioneer Henry Perry from Memphis, Tennessee, restaurants like Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q, which opened in 1946, made this downtown area a place for good music, crazy women, and tasty food.
Sadly, America in the 21st century has lost a lot of its original regional flavor. However, in the late ‘50s, back when Wilbert Harrison was riding high with this Midwestern road song, there was still good reason to hit any highway that would take you to Kansas City. Nevertheless, you can still hear this song sung and played by bar bands in nightclubs today. With a drink in one hand and dancing shoes on your feet, you can always go to downtown party central in your mind. Kansas City, here I come! ~ Dan MacIntosh
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)
Album : Kansas City: The Best of Wilbert Harrison Released : 1959 US chart position : 1