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(Jerry Leiber - Mike Stoller - Richard Penniman)
"In our imaginations back then, John was Buddy (Holly) and I was Little Richard...You're always someone when you start." This was how Paul McCartney described who Lennon and himself aspired to in their teenage years. Paul acquired the knack to imitate Little Richard's screaming vocals, which he was proud to display among his peers even before there were Beatles.
After the group was formed and they began their long engagements in Hamburg, there was a dire need for more material to play. "We had to learn millions of songs," explained George Harrison. "We had to play so long we just played everything...We'd get a Chuck Berry record, and learn it all, same with Little Richard...Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people."
Under these circumstances, The Beatles ended up perfecting eleven Little Richard songs, including most of his big hits (such as "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Tutti-Frutti" and "Lucille"). Being always in search of new material, they even delved into the more obscure tracks Little Richard recorded, such as "Miss Ann," "Send Me Some Lovin'" and an obscure medley that he had recorded in 1959 that paired the Leiber/Stoller song "Kansas City" with a self-penned b-side named "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" "'Kansas City' is one of my all-time favorite records, actually," McCartney told engineer Geoff Emerick in October of 1964.
The Beatles were very proud of the fact that they were able to premier relatively unknown material to their growing audiences. So much so, in fact, that when it came to choosing cover songs to properly record for their albums, many times they picked these, as evidenced by "Devil In Her Heart" and "Boys." Once again, they opted for the obscure instead of the obvious. And I'm sure we all can be grateful for that because what we were treated to was an unfamiliar reading of a song America was familiar with by Wilbert Harrison. No mention of "crazy little women" in this version of Kansas City, but somehow we knew it was the same song.
Leiber and Stoller
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are known as one of the most popular and influential songwriting teams in the history of popular music. After meeting in Los Angeles and finding that they both shared a particular love with rhythm and blues, they began writing songs together. One of their first efforts was their 1951 composition "Kansas City" which was recorded under the title "K.C. Loving," by Little Willie Littlefield in 1952 on Federal Records. Ralph Bass of Federal Records changed the title to something he thought sounded a little "hipper."
The original lyrics to this song were considered a little risqué for its time, including the line "they got a crazy way of loving there and I'm gonna get me some." One of the first cover versions of the song was recorded on November 29th, 1955 by Little Richard. While he kept pretty strict to the original lyrics, he incorporated a recurring "Bye-bye, baby, bye" section to the song in his own flamboyant style. This version of the song did not get a single release but took a back seat to his high energy original compositions, such as "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up."
It was then picked up by North Carolina born Wilbert Harrison who released the song under its original title "Kansas City" in 1959 which earned him a number one hit on the Billboard pop charts. While staying mostly with the original lyrics, he did change one key line which became the focal point of the song: "They got some crazy little women there, and I'm gonna get me one."
Probably because of the immense popularity of this new version of the song, Little Richard re-recorded it in 1959 with a whole new approach. Back on May 9th, 1956, Richard recorded an original composition entitled "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" which ended up as the b-side of his top ten 1958 hit "Good Golly Miss Molly." A decision was made to combine his original version of "Kansas City" (with his "bye-bye, baby, bye" section) with "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey," complete with the staccato introduction. This time Richard was backed by Guitar Slim's band and had the vocal group The Chimes perform answering vocals during the "hey-hey-hey-hey" section of the song. While this version of the song peaked at number 26 in Britain, Little Richard's popularity in America had diminished by mid 1958 and this record only made it to number 95 in the states.
This, of course, was enough for The Beatles to take notice of. They incorporated this medley into their live act by 1961, spurred on, no doubt, by witnessing Little Richard perform this rendition himself when they shared the same bill on different occasions.
In reality, the version of the song recorded by The Beatles has extremely limited ingredients of the original "Kansas City" as written by Leiber and Stoller, the obvious influence being the Little Richard adaptation of 1959. This is not to say that The Beatles were strangers to Leiber and Stoller material. Amongst their early repertoire were classic tracks by The Coasters such as "Searchin'", "Young Blood" and "Three Cool Cats," all Leiber and Stoller compositions. Two of these Beatles renditions were recorded during the Decca audition on January 1st, 1962 and can be found on "Anthology 1," while the other one can be found on "Live At The BBC."
Leiber and Stoller's songwriting career grew to staggering heights well beyond "Kansas City." Having written some of Elvis Presley's biggest early hits, such as "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock," they also wrote many other popular classics. Among them are "Poison Ivy," "Ruby Baby," "Stand By Me," "Love Potion #9," "On Broadway" and the Grammy Award winning Peggy Lee hit "Is That All There Is?" Having a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame doesn't hurt their credibility either.
The Beatles fourth British album "Beatles For Sale"
Since they were in "crunch time" in getting their fourth British album released before the end of 1964, The Beatles agreed to a marathon recording session at EMI Studio Two on Sunday, October 18th in-between their hectic touring schedule. This nine hour session ran from 2:30 to 11:30 pm, which resulted in no less than eight finished songs. The first hour was taken up recording edit pieces to the previously recorded "Eight Days A Week." Then came some quick rehearsals for the next thing on their agenda, which was recording their version of the Little Richard medley of "Kansas City" and "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey."
In a 2018 interview he gave on a Marc Maron podcast, Paul explains his love of singing Little Richard-style and the rehearsals of this day: "The little screamy voice, that's something I just loved, I loved his records, you know, and I wanted to do that. So that gave me a, sort of, feature thing within The Beatles, 'cause John couldn't do that. And I remember him saying to me, 'How do you do that, how do you do that?' I said, 'I don't know. I feel like it just comes out of the top of my head.' And he was like, 'Oh, wow!' And then we had a session once where we were, the early days, and I'm about to do 'Kansas City,' so I'm on the mic...and I'm going 'Ka...Kansas City, cough...,' and I'm not making it, I'm not getting it at all. So John comes down and he says, 'Remember, it comes out of the top of your head!' I said, okay, "KANSAS CITY...' And that's the take you hear."
Geoff Emerick, the 2nd engineer on this day, relates in his book "Here, There and Everywhere" his recollections of this session: "Everyone's attention then turned to the first full song of the day, a cover medley of "Kansas City" and "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey." From the way Paul was singing - nearly ripping his vocal cords apart - I was surprised that they had decided to do this song first, but after years of performing onstage, his voice was strong and could take the abuse. Notably, all the other Beatles - even Ringo, who hardly ever sang backing vocals - joined in on the chorus, doing the "hey hey hey" answering part. This medley was an established part of their live show at that point, and they really cut loose on it, playing with a confidence and a sheer, innocent joy that was positively infectious. I knew from that minute onward that it was going to be a great session. It was simply incredible to hear that much energy coming from the group so early in the day...They were locked in, right from the start, and that track is the definitive proof of what a great live band The Beatles were when they were in their prime."
All four Beatles played this live, including all vocals, in two complete takes. The first take was determined to be the better one, therefore a couple overdubs were recorded onto this take. George Martin added a piano part throughout the song, although it ended up being quite low in the mix. The Beatles then added handclaps to the closing measures of the song, beginning with the "bye-bye, baby, bye-bye" section. The whole song was probably completed within a half hour, from approximately 3:30 to 4:00 pm.
Both the mono and stereo mixes of the song were done on October 26th, 1964 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Tony Clark. A decision was made at this stage to fade out the song just before The Beatles performed their usual trademark ending. The mono mix fades out slightly earlier than the stereo mix.
On January 26th, 1969, The Beatles hit upon the song once more during the recording of the "Get Back / Let It Be" sessions at Apple Studios. This time they opted for the Wilbert Harrison instead of the Little Richard version, even singing about the "crazy little women." After a couple verses, they immediately made it into a medley with two other Little Richard songs, "Miss Ann" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy."
Paul McCartney took it to the recording studio himself on July 20th, 1987 for his Russian album entitled "CHOBa B CCCP." This version combines both the Wilbert Harrison version ("crazy little women") and the Little Richard version ("hey-hey-hey-hey").
A recording of Paul and his band playing "Kansas City" live was made on May 31st, 1993 in Kansas City. This recording was then included on his live album "Paul Is Live," which was released later that year.
Although some sources claim that this medley was among the many songs The Beatles recorded with Tony Sheridan in Hamburg in 1961 or 1962, listening to the existing recording suggest otherwise. The saxophone and organ arrangement, along with the guitar work that is very uncharacteristic of either George or John, is evidence that a different backing band was utilized for this rendition.
The Beatles with Little Richard, 1962
Song Structure and Style
Here we finally have, in its purest form, a Beatles song in a straight 12-bar blues pattern without any deviances whatsoever. Apart from a four-measure introduction, every section consists of twelve measures and follows a natural blues chord progression. Since these are actually two songs melded together, the "Kansas City" part consists of three verses, the last of the three taking the form of a guitar solo. The "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" part consists of four straight verses, the last one fading out during the ninth measure. Together it simply becomes 'verse/ verse/ verse (solo)/ verse/ verse/ verse/ verse' (or aaaaaaa). What's simpler than that?
Although the song pattern, lyrics and even the key come directly from the 1959 Little Richard rendition, The Beatles do deviate from his arrangement in many places as we will see. The staccato four-measure introduction comes straight off of the Richard arrangement, but when the blues 'groove' begins with the first verse, Paul sings Richard's second verse first, which ends with the line "it's a long, long time since my baby's been gone." The Beatles also include a transitional chord in the twelfth measure that Richard didn't include, which works well to introduce the next verse.
The second verse is, therefore, Richard's first verse, which includes the nonsense lyrics "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine." Then, instead of going directly into the "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" section of the song as Richard does, The Beatles feel that the solo section works better here. George Harrison performs an inventive ad-libbed guitar solo over the same verse chord pattern. One reason that this first take was used instead of the second was because George's solo was less inspired and fell apart toward the end, leading Paul to throw in some off-the-cuff vocal embellishments to try to cover it up. This wasn't needed the first time around, since the solo worked perfectly.
The twelfth measure of the solo consists of the trademark 'Beatles break' (which also happened to be on the Little Richard version), which allows for Paul's introduction of the "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" section of the song. The band kicks in for the fourth verse with John, George and Ringo answering Paul's yelps in unison just as The Chimes did on the Richard recording. While Richard put the instrumental (saxophone) section in-between two verses of "hey-hey-hey-hey," The Beatles put both of them together for good effect.
This is then followed by the sixth and seventh verse which focus on the lyrics "bye-bye, baby, bye," which come from Richard's "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" as well as his original version of "Kansas City" that was recorded in 1955. The Beatles really 'bring it home' by adding harmonized answer vocals from John and George that are absent from the original Richard recording. And with the appearance of handclaps and piano accents for the remainder of the song, it fades with the general feeling that we've just experienced The Beatles at their best!
The Beatles had the incredible experience of being, by manager Brian Epstein's doing, the support act of Little Richard at a couple local British shows in October of 1962, not to mention during their Hamburg stay in November of that year. McCartney took advantage of this opportunity by not only meeting his hero but having Richard teach him the secret of his scream. The evidence of this is heard, and felt, on this recording of "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" Coupling this with his walking blues bass lines, Paul is without a doubt the showcase player on this cover song.
George Harrison, as mentioned above, shows his guitar prowess by concocting a more-than-suitable ad-libbed guitar solo, as well as displaying his usual rhythm guitar flare throughout. George and John both play backing vocalist with spot-on accuracy with the nasal overtones of Lennon's voice dominating the "bye-bye" portion of the recording. Lennon's Rickenbacker rhythm work, coupled with Ringo's driving swing beat, propels the song convincingly. And they all clapped well too.
Also worthy of mention is George Martin's piano work, which shows his ability to transcend his classical upbringing to 'rock with the best of them.' His fast moving chorded triplets add a fullness to the proceedings, even though their appearance is more subtle than dominant in the mix.
If one is to pay attention to the lyrics, we'll see that Little Richard's adaptation of the original Leiber and Stoller song changes the story from "going to Kansas City" to get some of the "crazy way of loving" for themselves (or "crazy little women") to getting his "baby back home." Richard says that it's been "a long, long time since my baby's been gone" and he asks her, "what's been wrong with you?" This is a far cry from the original sentiment of the song, which was to be "standing on the corner...with his Kansas City baby and a bottle of Kansas City wine." But with Richard lyrics that include counting from one to nine, I guess we're really not supposed to be paying attention to lyrics anyway.
June 14th, 1965 was the release date of Capitol's "Beatles VI" album. Whether they planned it or not, Capitol held off placing "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" on their previous album "Beatles '65" in order to use it as the "potboiler" opening song of the next album. What more of an exciting introduction to an album could there be than this rousing rock 'n' roll anthem? "Beatles VI" was then released on compact disc on January 21st, 2014, both the mono and stereo versions of the album contained on one CD.
What is interesting to note about this release is the flaw that appears in the fifth measure of the guitar solo. The entire recording actually cuts out for a miniscule second. This is probably due to a tape flaw in the copy that was sent to Capitol and not from an edit, since this was a complete live recording. This flaw was corrected on every compact disc release.
Capitol even thought enough of the song to issue it on a single. On October 11th, 1965, they released six singles on their budget Star Line label, four of which were originally released through Vee Jay Records in 1964. To sweeten the pot, Capitol concocted two more singles, one of which paired "Kansas City" with "Boys." All six of these singles were only in print until December 31st, 1965 and are highly collectable today.
Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes." These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two seperate truncated four-song versions of "Beatles VI" were released in this portable format, "Kansas City" being on one of them. These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.
On June 6th, 1976, Capitol released a double-compilation album as a companion to the dual sets that were released by Apple three years earlier. This third set focused on the harder edged songs in The Beatles catalog, hence the name "Rock 'n' Roll Music." Not surprisingly, "Kansas City" found its way onto this highly successful album.
May 2nd, 1977 saw the first release of the rough recording of the song made on December 31st, 1962 in Hamburg, Germany. "Live! At the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962" was a double album that came out on the small Lingasong label, which limped up the charts to #111 until Beatles fans realized what a poor recording it was.
That didn't stop Pickwick Records from acquiring the tapes and releasing it in 1979. "First Live Recordings, Volume One" contained "Kansas City" while a second volume was also released to cover the other half of the tracks contained on the double Lingasong album noted above.
Capitol decided the market the double "Rock 'n' Roll Music" album mentioned above differently in October of 1980. They decided to divide the double album into two single albums to sell as budget discs. "Rock 'n' Roll Music, Volume 1" contained "Kansas City."
Also sometime in 1980, Pickwick decided to re-combine both of their single albums of the Hamburg tapes into one double-disc set entitled "The Historic First Recordings," which also includes "Kansas City." Try to find this one!
If that weren't enough, two more official releases of the Hamburg tapes surfaced that feature the song, first as a double-album set titled "Live 1962, Hamburg Germany" on the Hall Of Music label in 1981.
Then, in 1982, Collectables Records released this Hamburg recording as a single, under the name "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey" with "Ain't Nothing Shaking (But The Leaves On The Tree)" on the flip side.
The compact disc era brought the official 1964 recording by The Beatles to the public on February 26th, 1987 in the form it was intended. The British "Beatles For Sale" album, in mono only, was finally available in its entirety. The stereo version of the album was eventually released on the re-mastered CD on September 9th, 2009.
December 6th, 1994 saw the long-awaited release of "Live At The BBC," which featured a version of the song they recorded for the radio show "Pop Go The Beatles" on July 16th, 1963. This recording pre-dates the official EMI recording by over 15 months. On November 11th, 2013, this album was re-mastered, re-packaged and re-released.
Not to be overlooked is the successful November 21st, 1995 released set "Anthology 1." The very last song in this package is the never-before-heard "take two" of the song recorded on October 18th, 1964 in EMI Studio Two. While there are some flaws, it still comes across as a dynamite performance.
On April 11th, 2006, Capitol released its second box set featuring the original albums as they came out in the 60's. "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2" contains the entire "Beatles VI" album in both stereo and mono, including the stunning "Kansas City."
On September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released which features the entire mono Beatles catalog re-mastered. The original mono mix of “Kansas City” is contained on the “Beatles For Sale” CD in this collection.
November 11th, 2013 was the release date for the album “On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2” which featured yet another version of “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” This rendition was recorded on November 25th, 1964 for inclusion on the radio program “Saturday Club.” Interesting here is the background answering vocals from John and George which at times was a little uneven. It was ‘The Beatles Live,’ flaws and all!
Paul McCartney has also released albums featuring the song. On October 29th, 1991, his album "CHOBa B CCCP" was released in the US, which was an album Paul recorded in July of 1987 for release in Russia. His live album "Paul Is Live" also contains the song, which was released on November 15th, 1993. Both of these versions show Paul going back to the original lyrics of the song as written by Leiber and Stoller.
The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany
The Beatles added Little Richard's version of "Kansas City" to their repertoire in 1961 due to their need to expand their set lists while in Hamburg. Of course, since Paul McCartney had such a fondness for the song, they also included it in their Cavern Club performances back home.
In fact, The Beatles performed the song the first time they were filmed for British television. On August 22nd, 1962, a crew from Granada Television was sent to a lunchtime session at the Cavern Club to film a sequence for an upcoming episode of "Know The North." This filming was done only six days after drummer Pete Best was fired and new drummer Ringo Starr replaced him. Two songs were filmed, "Some Other Guy" and "Kansas City." Unfortunately, the footage was not considered good enough to air on television at the time. It was shelved until November of 1963 (just before their second album "With The Beatles" was released in Britain) where it was shown on the show "Scene At 6:30," but only "Some Other Guy" was viewed at that time.
With the shorter set lists of 1963, they put aside "Kansas City" for the time. The only known performance of the song this year was for the BBC radio program "Pop Go The Beatles," which was recorded on July 16th and aired on August 6th. After this, the song was again put on the back-burner for quite a while.
They loved the song enough to perform it once again for BBC radio in 1964, this time for the show "From Us To You," which was recorded on May 1st and aired on May 18th.
Then, near the end of their first extensive US tour in 1964, they were cajoled into adding another show to their hectic performance schedule. This show was to be in, none other than, Kansas City, Missouri. Even though Charles O. Finley (owner of the Kansas City Athletics) kept getting turned down by Brian Epstein, he convinced them to add the date September 17th for a Kansas City show by offering them $150,000 - the largest amount ever paid for a single performance up to that point in history.
Since Finley was supplying such an enormous fee, he decided to ask The Beatles to perform more than their usual eleven songs. John Lennon said no. Even when more money was offered, Lennon still refused, saying, "Chuck, you shouldn't have spent so much money on us." Nonetheless, The Beatles did add one song to the show, starting things off with McCartney's favorite song "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!," which resulted in a fantastic reception from the audience. This performance, no doubt, led to their proper recording of the song in EMI studios a month later.
Before then, The Beatles decided to include the song in an American television broadcast for the successful show "Shindig." The live performance was filmed at The Granville Studio in London on October 3rd and was shown in America only on October 7th, 1964. Then on November 23rd, British television got to see The Beatles perform the song on "Ready, Steady, Go!" This lip-synced performance was taped on November 23rd and was shown on November 27th, a full week before the album containing the song was released.
The last time The Beatles performed the song (with the exception of the quick impromptu jam during the "Get Back/Let It Be" sessions in January of 1969) was once again for BBC radio. They taped the song on November 25th, 1964 for the popular show "Saturday Club," which was broadcast on December 26th of that year.
Paul McCartney did return to "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" during his solo touring days on rare occasions. During his "New World Tour" of 1993, he performed the song just once - at his show on May 31st in Kansas City. Also, at the "Music For Montoserrat 1997" show, Paul stepped up to the microphone to sing the song fronting a celebrity band featuring Sting, Elton John, Phil Collins, Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton, Ray Cooper, Jools Holland and many more.
"It requires a great deal of nerve to just jump up and scream like an idiot, you know," McCartney stated in interview. "Anyway, I would often fall a little bit short, not have that little kick, that soul, and it would be John who would go, 'Come on! You can sing it better than that, man! Come on, come on, really throw it...Knock the shit out of Kansas City!' All right, John, OK...just when the engineers thought they had a vocal they could handle."
So while McCartney was obviously the key figure in their rendition of "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!," it was Lennon's encouragement that brought it to that next level. Writers and reviewers tend to view things individually within the band, saying 'Paul did this while John did that' and so on, but what we all fail to realize is that they always worked together and supported each other to construct the 'Beatles sound.' Possibly, looking at things as a whole instead of dissected will give us a clearer and more accurate picture, as Paul's quote above indicates. Especially during the first few recording years, The Beatles were four men cooperating for the same goal - to take the world by storm!
Written by: Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller / Richard Penniman
Song Written: 1951
- Song Recorded: October 18, 1964
- First US Release Date: June 14, 1965
- First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2358 "Beatles VI"
- US Single Release: Capitol Star Line #6066 (b-side to "Boys")
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3062 "Beatles For Sale"
- Length: 2:30
- Key: G major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick
Instrumentation (most likely):
- Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1), handclaps
- John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 325), backing vocals, handclaps
- George Harrison - Lead Guitar (1963 Gretsch 6119 Tennessean), backing vocals, handclaps
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), backing vocals, handclaps
- George Martin - Piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand upright)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
Collectables "Kansas City" picture sleeve