12 Of The Best Songs About Kansas City: The Heart Of America

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Many people who have never traveled to the Midwestern mecca of Kansas City still know of its allure. Barbecue and jazz and blues music dominate this mid-sized city. This was a mecca for drinkers, mob bosses, and other colorful sinners during 20th-century Prohibition.

Today, KC ranks within the top 40 most populous cities in the country and is the largest city in the state of Missouri. Its enticing mix of old-fashioned sensibilities with modern city life draws in people from all over to enjoy its charms. As such, it earned the nickname “The Paris of the Plains.”

It’s no wonder many artists have written songs about this city over the years. Read on to discover 12 of the best songs about Kansas City, and feel free to sing along!

1. “Kansas City” By Fats Domino

Though rock n’ roll legend Antoine “Fats” Domino was from New Orleans, he penned one of the most well-known songs about Kansas City.

The theme of traveling to KC is a common one, which isn’t all that surprising considering its central location. It was also the hub of much of the arts, technology, and entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In this song, the singer tells of “standing on the corner of 12th Street and Vine,” referencing a famous musical neighborhood of KC. He plans to pick up local ladies and enjoy himself with everything the city has to offer.

This tune embodies the laid-back sound of early rock-n’-roll. It takes on the form of a typical twelve-bar blues format, which makes it accessible and easy to sing along to.

This was also covered by Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Wilbert Harrison, and others of that era. The Willie Nelson and Susan Tedeschi recording features the piano more prominently than the guitar for a different flavor.

2. “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey Medley” By The Beatles

We can’t discuss the most famous songs of any theme without including one of the most famous bands of all time! Even though they hailed from the UK, The Beatles weren’t immune to Kansas City’s intrigue. Case in point, “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey Medley.”

This song mirrors the structure and sound of the Fats Domino version but with words that are almost entirely inane. There are a lot of whooping and nonsense sounds, including some call-and-response “hey” in the verse. That seems to sum up the mindless fun the singer anticipates once they get to KC.

This version became one of the most successful by The Beatles. The song appeared on their Beatles for Sale album.

3. “Everything’s Up To Date In Kansas City” By Rodgers And Hammerstein

Ironically, “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” by Rodgers and Hammerstein is from the musical Oklahoma! The classic Broadway songwriting team goes tongue-in-cheek for this number.

The lyrics follow small-town cowboys who explain to the townspeople the various wonders of the big city. Their perspective is quaint and hilarious. They talk about their observations of the tall buildings and attractive women.

The song’s refrain is a statement that everything’s “up to date” in this metropolis. The travelers’ astonishment is palpable when they aver in an Oklahoma drawl that Kansas City has “gone about as ‘fer’ as they can go.”

Though the words are supposed to be a facetious poke at the simplicity of farmers, the city’s appeal — as well as the catchiness of this upbeat tune — rings true.

4. “Kansas City” By The New Basement Tapes

Our next song on the list is a modern American classic. “Kansas City” by The New Basement Tapes rolls back the tempo and takes on a somber feel.

The lyrics follow a lover who mourns his failed relationship. Though there is still love present, he understands that the connection has faded. He returns to his hometown, Kansas City, to lick his wounds.

“Kansas City” features musicians from Mumford & Sons and Goldsmith to supply the music to Dylan’s words in a bittersweet mix of country and folk-rock perfect for a midwestern road trip.

5. “Kansas City Blues” By Jim Jackson

With this next tune, we go so far back in time that you can hear the record crackling on the audio recording! Written in 1927, “Kansas City Blues” by Jim Jackson provides one of the foundational blues-rock sounds when both genres were still in their nascent stages.

Jackson’s bluesy vocals layer over a series of repetitive guitar chords for this simple yet enjoyable song. Lyrically, the song is about a person who is dissatisfied with his current situation. He longs for a fresh start in Kansas City.

Later, artists like Hank Williams and Janis Joplin borrowed the melody for their own acts. Joplin included a new line about “bringing Jim Jackson home.” 

6. “Kansas City Star” By Roger Miller

Released in 1965, “Kansas City Star” is an entertaining song that conveys loyalty to the “Heart of America.” This classic song with “Kansas City” in the title was released from Roger Miller’s album The 3rd Time Around.

In this silly narrative, a TV actor receives an attractive job offer from Omaha. He is offered a better job, higher pay, and things he could only dream of. All of these things he turns down.

First of all, he enjoys many perks in his beloved Kansas City. He is the star, the kids love him, and he is popular. He enjoys notoriety with the barber and at the local grocery store. He is “the number one attraction” in parking lots around town.

Breathing new life into this song these days is Kacey Musgraves, leaving her Texas roots to pay homage to the Missouri location in its title. She recorded the song in 2018 as part of a tribute to Roger Miller.

7. “Kansas City Lights” By Steve Wariner

Singer-songwriter Steve Wariner never saw monumental commercial success. But his song, “Kansas City Lights,” from his self-titled album, is moderately well-known.

This 1982 track is an early ’80s staple of country music. It takes on a mid-tempo feel, with a traditional band setup plus orchestral strings in the background.

The lyrics tell of a lover who’s been away at sea for six months and is longing to see his woman again. The “lights” it refers to are the symbol of hope and homecoming and reflect brightly on the water amidst his loneliness.

8. “Kansas City” By Tech N9ne Ft. The Popper And Rich The Factor

Moving down the list, our next song is a departure from Kansas City’s rock-n’-roll and blues traditions. Hip-hop artist Tech N9ne gives a new perspective on the area through his song “Kansas City.”

In the lyrics, he raps about his upbringing in the KC “projects.” He references local restaurants and other landmarks for a modern twist on Missouri’s biggest city.

The Popper and Rich the Factor join Tech N9ne for this track, which lets them rap freely over sparse percussion and a funky bassline.

On the chorus, other vocals and an orchestra hit fill out the sound before returning to the next rapper’s chance to let the words flow.

9. “The Train From Kansas City” By The Shangri-Las

Our next song bears “Kansas City” in its lyrics. The American girl group The Shangri-Las released “The Train from Kansas City” in 1965.

Kansas City is not just an entertainment destination. It has always been a famous connection site for various forms of transportation. Its central location in the middle of the country meant it got heavy train traffic from passengers traveling long distances.

In this song, a train is arriving from Kansas City, with the narrator’s ex in it. She laments that there’s “nothing [she] can do to turn it around.” However, she reassures him that she’ll only meet with her ex to “break his heart.”

The combination of rumbling piano and bass with forward-driving percussion and sound effects creates an atmosphere evocative of the approaching train.

10. “Kansas City Southern” By Pure Prairie League

Another song with Kansas City in the lyrics and trains is “Kansas City Southern” by Pure Prairie League. This is another classic, released in 1975 from the album Two Lane Highway.

In the lyrics, the narrator sings of a train he watches take off from the station every night. He wishes he were on board so he could visit the big city and wistfully dream of a different life.

The use of the phrases “onward bound” and “homeward bound” gives conflicting ideas. Is he yearning for a new start, or did he come from Kansas City and longs to return? Either way, he longs for the freedom the train would give him as he hears the train whistle in the distance.

11. “KCMO Anthem” By Tech N9ne

A song that celebrates Kansas City, Missouri, is “KCMO Anthem” by Tech N9ne. This is the rapper’s hometown, and he pays tribute to the city, its culture, and its people.

The lyrics mention “Kansas City” as “world champions.” And so the narrator calls on his listeners to stomp their feet and clap their hands in celebration. The lyrics are filled with pride and joy for the city, serving as an anthem for its residents.

In some ways, “KCMO Anthem” serves as a love letter to this wonderful city. It’s also a way for Tech N9ne to showcase his pride in his hometown.

12. “The Kansas City Song” By Buck Owens

The country song “The Kansas City Song” by Buck Owens completes our list. Released in 1975, this song is the fifth track of the album I Wouldn’t Live in New York City.

The song is a story of love and longing, where the narrator’s lover is leaving for Kansas City for two weeks. With this separation, he implores her to take care of herself while she’s away.

And though he warns her about flirtatious “Romeos” in Kansas City, he also encourages her to have fun. This shows a balance of trust, love, and a dash of insecurity in their relationship.

Summing Up Our List Of Kansas City Songs

It’s tough not to feel the charm of Kansas City, and even tougher to keep it to yourself! These are just some of the best songs that showcase the beauty of Kansas City.

Make sure to keep them in your playlist for your next visit! And whenever you feel sentimental about this city, you’re welcome to re-listen to these songs.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.