For a couple of white guys, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote great music for black artists and, in the case of Elvis Presley, a white artist that sounded like a black artist. (They wrote Hound Dog not particularly for Elvis, but it still counts.) One of the first songs they wrote was “Kansas City,” which they wrote in 1952. It was an R&B hit by Little Willie Littlefield, except that the producer thought it was sexier to use the initials K.C. instead of the name Kansas City and so the song was renamed “K.C. Lovin’.” The song is pretty much the same, a little slower, perhaps, but still recognizable as “Kansas City.”
Wilbert Harrison was born in 1929 in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1953, he won first prize in a talent contest in Miami, Florida singing the Frankie Laine hit, “Mule Train.” This set his musical career on it’s way. By 1959, Leiber and Stoller’s success with The Coasters had made them well known among the writers of rock and roll. Wilbert wanted to re-record “K.C. Lovin’” but call it by it’s original name “Kansas City,” so he did. Over the next couple weeks, six versions of “Kansas City” were released, by artists such as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and Little Richard. They re-released Little Willie Littlefield’s original, but of them all, it was Wilbert Harrison’s version that became the hit.
Wilbert’s had reason to doubt if his record would be a hit. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 at the bottom, number 100. It rose from there all the way to number one, the only song in the history of the Billboard charts to do that. Wilbert was almost a one-hit wonder. He didn’t have another hit until almost eleven years later, when, in 1970, he charted with “Let’s Work Together (Part 1).” That was a minor hit, however, only peaking at number 32.
The song “Kansas City” was achieved a sort of immortality. The Beatles included it on their Beatles For Sale album and while it was never released as a single, when the Beatles record something, it never dies. The group often included it in their live shows as a medley with Little Richard’s “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.”.
“Kansas City” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 (at number 100) on April 27, 1959, worked it way up to number one, where it stayed for two weeks.