The Beatles have a variety of songs with so many different moods and energies, especially with the size of their discography. There are so many songs that encapsulate mellow moods from them, but there are also plenty of Beatles songs that are imbued with heightened energy and a frivolous need to let loose.
There’s one song, in particular, that even Paul McCartney had to hype himself up a little bit in order to perform and feel comfortable doing, and that song is none other than ‘Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey’. The song was released in the UK in 1964, as a part of their album Beatles for Sale, but they actually first performed it when they were performing as Tony Sheridan’s backing group under the name “The Beat Brothers.”
The song was originally written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. “Another old Cavern thing of ours, which we’ve been asked to record. I mean, it’s one we used to play there – not one we wrote. I do most of the singing this time and some piano playing, and John and George join in on the vocal bit,” recalled McCartney at the time.
Speaking about the experience of performing the song 20 years later in 1984, Paul McCartney reminisced by elaborating, “It requires a great deal of nerve to just jump up and scream like an idiot, you know? 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!’ Alright, John, OK… He was certainly the one I looked up to, most definitely.”
And that wasn’t the only time it was on his mind, as in 1985 he was quoted again saying, “John used to egg me on. He used to say, ‘Come on, Paul, knock the shit out of ‘Kansas City,’ just when the engineers thought they had a vocal they could handle.”
However, it wasn’t only Lennon’s influence that can behear don the track. In truth, the song, or at least The Beatles’ performance of it, was largely inspired y Little Richard. The Fab Four had watched the rock and roll pioneer deliver a similar medley in 1962 and, naturally in awe of the singer, adopted it for their own sets. They performed twice with Little Richard that year, and McCartney picked up a few tricks, telling Barry Miles: “I could do Little Richard’s voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing; it’s like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it. You have to actually go outside yourself. It’s a funny little trick and when you find it, it’s very interesting.”
In truth, though, the song’s passion and poise are delivered by the Fab Four’s great songwriting pair. It’s no secret that even though Lennon and McCartney worked quite well together, they definitely weren’t able to see eye to eye on everything, and perhaps this song was one moment where their differences bore fruit. It took a lot out of McCartney just because of his personality type—one that’s more measured and less apt to, as he put it, “jump around and scream like an idiot”.
Regardless, it’s an interesting look into The Beatles’ early tracks, even if it isn’t completely representative of McCartney’s current tastes, or even his tastes at the time. If you want to take a look at the song that “took a great deal of nerve” for him, you can find it down below and listen.