Deep Beatles: “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” (Cavern Club, 1962)

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What is a well-known Beatles track like “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” doing in a column called “Deep Beatles”? After all, their cover has appeared on official releases three times: Beatles for Sale, Live at the BBC, and Anthology 1.

Well, a rare performance has surfaced online, one dating from a period where only a few precious artifacts still exist.

This complete live version of “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” dates from 1962, and finally completes fragments previously heard in the Anthology documentary. Listening to the track, one can experience the excitement and rawness of the performance, imagining what lunchtime crowds heard in those pre-fame lunchtime Cavern Club appearances.

The track’s origins date back to 1952, when the legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller composed the song. They gave the track to Little Willie Littlefield, a Texan boogie woogie pianist/singer who released it under the title “K.C. Lovin.’” However, it wasn’t until 1959 that the renamed “Kansas City” found a mass audience, when R&B singer Wilbert Harrison’s cover reached No. 1.

As was customary at the time, a slew of other versions quickly followed, including Little Richard’s unique take on the track. He released his screaming version the same year as Wilbert Harrison, scoring a minor hit. Richard then later incorporated it into his live shows, fusing it with another obscure song: “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” — the original B-side to the 1958 smash “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

Meanwhile, the Beatles were slowly honing their skills, eventually arriving in Hamburg in 1960. For two years, they performed at various Hamburg clubs, learning how to connect with audiences and function as a tight unit. By 1962, Richard had staged a European comeback tour, having previously taken time off to concentrate on spiritual music. Beatles manager Brian Epstein caught wind of these successful appearances, and arranged for the group to open for Little Richard on select dates.

The Beatles first opened for the singer at New Brighton’s Tower Ballroom in October; in November, the Beatles returned to Hamburg to perform with the R&B legend at the famed Star-Club. In the past, the group saw Little Richard perform “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” and decided to incorporate it in their own act. Acting as a mentor, Richard instructed the Beatles in how to perform his tracks, and famously taught Paul McCartney his “ooh” trademark yell.

Before Richard’s tutoring sessions, the Beatles played the mini-medley for their Cavern Club appearances. Performing for lunchtime crowds at the Liverpool hangout, the Beatles excited audiences with their professional — yet still rock and roll — renditions of covers and a few originals. On August 22, 1962, Granada Television filmed the group at the Cavern, where they captured the band rocking the club with “Some Other Guy.” Intended to air on the program Know the North, the clip initially failed to air due to substandard sound.

Technician Gordon Butler returned to the Cavern on September 5 to create a better quality recording. Using three microphones, Butler recorded the Beatles for an hour — though only “Some Other Guy” and “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” survived. Butler made five acetate discs of the two songs; according to the Beatles Bible website, one acetate was sold at Christie’s auction house in August 1993.

Up to now, only fragments of the “Kansas City” performances were available, although other concert versions exist on bootlegs and the Live at the BBC collection. Thus, it is exciting to hear this previously unreleased complete rendition.

McCartney’s voice stands front and center, using a slightly different style on the “yeah yeah” sections on this recording. Unfortunately, Harrison and Lennon’s voices cannot be heard as clearly (perhaps due to insufficient microphone placement), so the call and response portion of “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” is a bit muted. Harrison’s guitar solo has a muddied sound quality, as well. The excitement remains, and the cheers at the end demonstrate the small the Cavern was. In a short time, the Beatles would play packed stadiums and incessantly screaming audiences, so it is a treat to experience them as they sounded pre-stardom.

The Beatles would largely drop the medley from their setlists in 1963, although they rerecorded the track for select BBC appearances and the Beatles for Sale album. However, “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” has endured due to its symbolic nature. It represents the group’s early raw power, and demonstrates how they drew from early rock and R&B to forge their unique and still unequalled sound.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at
Kit O'Toole
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