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, 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 – and earned it the nickname “The Paris of the Plains.”
It’s no wonder multiple artists have written songs about Kansas City over the years. Read on to discover them for yourself, 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 “standin’ 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 of Sin has to offer.
This tune embodies the laid-back sound of early rock-n’-roll, and was also covered by Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Wilbert Harrison, and others of that era.
It takes on the form of a typical twelve-bar blues format, which makes it accessible and easy to sing along to. 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-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.
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”s in the verse, that seem to sum up the mindless fun the singer anticipates having once they get to KC.
3. “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” by Rodgers and Hammerstein
Ironically, this song about the largest metro area in Missouri is from a musical titled Oklahoma!.
The classic Broadway songwriting team goes tongue-in-cheek for this number, in which small-town cowboys explain to the townspeople the various wonders of the big city.
Their perspective is quaint and hilarious, with observations on the tall buildings and attractive women. The song’s refrain is a statement that everything’s “up to date” in this metropolis, and the travelers’ astonishment is palpable when they aver in an Oklahoma drawl that Kansas City has “gone about as ‘fur’ 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
A modern Americana classic, this song rolls back the tempo and takes on a somber feel as a lover mourns his failed relationship. Though there is still love present, he understands that the connection has faded, and returns to his hometown to lick his wounds.
The New Basement Tapes is a collection of musicians gathered by T-Bone Burnett to record lost lyrics written by Bob Dylan.
“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 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” 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.
Later artists like Hank Williams and Janis Joplin borrowed the melody for their own acts, with Joplin including a new line about “bringing Jim Jackson home.”
6. “Kansas City Star” by Roger Miller
In this silly narrative, an ambitious TV actor from Omaha sets his sights on the big leagues. The catch is, that he isn’t aiming for Hollywood – instead, he wants to be a star in KC.
He enjoys notoriety with the barber and at the local grocery store, bragging about his big Cadillac, as he claims to be 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 tune in 2018 as part of a tribute to Roger Miller, the song’s original artist.
7. “Kansas City Lights” by Steve Wariner
Singer-songwriter Steve Wariner never saw monumental commercial success, but this song of his is moderately well-known.
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” – Tech N9ne
A departure from Kansas City’s rock-n’-roll and blues traditions, hip-hop artist Tech N9ne gives a new perspective on the area.
Rapping 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. “Train From Kansas City” by The Shangri-Las
Besides being an entertainment destination, Kansas City 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, or even just across the Midwest.
In this old-fashioned tune from the Motown era, a woman mournfully sings to her lover that there’s a train coming into the station and there’s “nothing [she] can do to turn it around.”
A former flame had sent her a letter saying he was visiting, so now she feels stuck between him and her current boyfriend.
The combination of rumbling piano and bass with a forward-driving percussion and sound effects creates an atmosphere evocative of the approaching train.
10. “Kansas City Southern” by Pure Prairie League
In another tune about KC as a transportation hub, 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 dreams of a different life.
The uses of the phrases “onward bound” and “homeward bound” give conflicting ideas – is he wanting a new start, or did he come from Kansas City and longs to return?
Either way, he yearns for the freedom the train would give him, as he hears the train whistle in the distance.
A modern country band from Oklahoma, the Turnpike Troubadours have a song also named “Kansas City Southern,” with the same driving rhythm as the sound of a train in motion. However, the chords and lyrics are different than the Pure Prairie League version.
Summing Up Our List Of Songs About KC
It’s tough not to feel the charm of Kansas City, and even tougher to keep it to yourself!
These are just ten of the best songs that showcase the beauty of Kansas City.
Make sure to keep them in your playlist for your next visit!