Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey

Let's celebrate a spring Saturday with a totally solid, kickass Little Richard cover cum shout-out to the midwest, shall we?

"Kansas City" was written by Leiber and Stoller, two of the most awesome songwriters ever-- it's thanks to them we have songs like "Hound Dog," "Yakkity Yak," "Jailhouse Rock," and probably 500 other total classics that I'm just blanking on. There have been a ton of versions of "Kansas City," though the gold standard might be the Little Willie Littlefield one from the late '50s, which is a piano-driven boogie-woogie kind of thing. You may have heard many covers in that style in piano bars-- I know I have, and I always like hearing it that way. His version has that "crazy little women there and I'm gonna get me some" lyric, which is cute, and there's lots of room for some good piano improv stuff. Oh, hell, I'm just going to include a video, because it's too awesome not to.

The Beatles, though, did their version in the style of Little Richard, who used somewhat different lyrics and blended it with an original song, "Hey Hey Hey Hey," into a short medley. (I can't seem to find Little Richard's original anywhere online right now, sadly.) During the flustered sessions for Beatles for Sale, when a crazy touring schedule had resulted in too few solid Lennon-McCartney songs to fill an album, the Beatles dusted off some covers that they hadn't played in a while, and this was one of them. In fact, they debuted their rejiggered cover during an American tour stop in Kansas City proper, and apparently the kids went nuts for it. So onto the album it went.

The video above is a live performance in October of 1964 on "Shindig!", a short-lived American variety show of the mid-'60s. Unfortunately, though, Americans wouldn't get to hear the studio recording of "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey" until July of 1965, about 9 months after they heard it on TV. That's due to Capitol's oft-mentioned-here perverse decisions to screw up the Beatles' discography with their system of fake albums; while this track found its rightful place on Beatles for Sale in the U.K., it had to wait for Beatles VI in the U.S.

As for the song itself, it rules, right? Right from George's killer triplet-infected intro, which sounds like a straight guitar transposition of a piano part, it gets off on this swinging, rollicking beat that's a lot less chill and more rocking than Little Willie Littlefield's. The studio recording adds George Martin on piano (which the live version above doesn't include), which just fills it out and stabilizes the beat a bit more. Of course, Paul rocks his Little Richard voice as well as ever, and George plays a particularly impassioned solo that leads naturally right into the "Hey Hey Hey Hey" bit. I like this second half even better, I think, because of the way John and George are screaming and hand-clapping with such abandon on the backup vocals. For the sake of completism, here's the album track.

And as a bonus, and just because I can't seem to stop listening to this thing, here's a bootlegged recording from the Get Back sessions of the Beatles playing the song as Leiber and Stoller actually wrote it, with Billy Preston (I presume) playing that fabulous keyboard part. Even this one devolves into a medley with "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," though, which I guess just goes to show what a versatile tune this is. And also that even when they were on the verge of breaking up, this song was just fun as all hell to play-- and to listen to. Rock on.

"Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey," released in the U.K. side A track 7 of Beatles for Sale, December 4, 1964; in the U.S., side A track 1 of Beatles VI, July 10, 1965.


  1. Great tracks, Megan. Thanks for digging them up. Too bad the sync is off on the roof top clip. Probably the result of being bootleg.

  2. Seconded; I like Hey Hey Hey Hey a lot more than Kansas City.

    On another topic, I just 'discovered' the mono mix of Sgt. Pepper and Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane. Have you heard these? Killer. These guys are gonna bankrupt me on Sept. 9. I'm not even gonna try to slip Rock Band past the wife.

  3. I have heard a few tracks from the mono Sgt. Pepper, but nothing more than that. Even my vinyl is all in stereo-- back when I bought it all, I wasn't really paying attention. In fact, I've never really been one of the audio-geekier Beatles fans, and I've always assumed that my cheapie stereos wouldn't make anything sound great anyway. It's when Love came out that I, like the rest of the world, started realizing that they really needed to freaking remaster the whole catalog, and it's only since then that I've been paying attention. I know that Purple Chick has Sgt. Pepper (and everything else) in mono, but somehow I just haven't checked it out yet. Embarrassing, right? I feel like a bad fan.

    I can't not own Rock Band, and since it means we're buying an X-box, I think my husband has been philosophical about it so far. But when I told him I want both remastered box sets, he seemed a little flustered. But we have all summer to dither about it. And I've gotta have that mono set. I might be more excited about that than anything else-- to me, it'll be a whole new way of listening.

  4. Thanks for your site, Megan, found it tonight so I'll post twice. There is an old story, told by John, and now with great affection by Paul, that this was one of John's favorite songs for Paul to do. John always had to egg Paul on: "You can do it, you've just got to scream, you can do it!" You don't instinctively think of John as nurturing, and certainly not nurturing Paul. But he did. I always think of this song as just two rock "gods" enjoying a good ol' rock and roll song, with Paul singing it FOR John. It's a golden moment for me, to think of a singer like Paul, with such great talent, still needing some support and encouragement to really go for it. (There's another quote somewhere, which I can't find, about John egging on Paul to do it just to trash all the engineer's settings in the studio, something they supposedly did once an album.) The two of them really did have a special, almost predestinated bond.