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Arts & Life

How The Royals Chose Between Two Of The Coolest Songs Ever

C.J. Janovy

At Kauffman Stadium, Royals victories are accompanied by The Beatles' "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey." The City of Kansas City's official song is Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City" — arguably one of the coolest songs in the history of American music — which the Royals play at Kauffman Stadium only after the Royals lose.

Why is that?

Curt Nelson, director of the Royals Hall of Fame, knows everything there is to possibly know about Royals culture. Nelson has been with the team since 1999, so he was in on the discussions a few years ago about the existential dilemma: which Kansas City song to play after Royals games.

“We were trying to figure out: How can we make a tradition? We knew that several other teams had songs: they play 'New York, New York' at Yankee’s stadium, they play 'Sweet Home Chicago" at Comiskey Park, or U.S. Cellular Field as it's called now, and they play 'I Love L.A.' at Dodger Stadium. We didn’t really have one of those, but we had songs that were perfectly good and hadn’t really been used that way.”

How did they decide?

“I always tell this story about Paul Simon, who wrote 'Mrs. Robinson' and it’s got this line: 'Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?' Paul Simon grew up in New York, but he grew up in the Mickey Mantle era, not the Joe DiMaggio era. And he actually got to know Mickey Mantle. He says Mickey came up to him one time and said, 'Paul, why in Mrs. Robinson do you say Joe DiMaggio and not me?' And he said he just looked at him and said, 'It’s simple, Mick: syllables, syllables.' So it’s similar when people ask about this. I say: tempo, tempo."

Nelson notes that The Beatles' "Kansas City" starts with a high-energy guitar riff. 

"That’s what you want right after the game. The players are going nuts, they’re shaking hands, Sluggerrr’s waving the flag. And that’s what you want – that big guitar riff coming over the speakers.”

There’s also another Kansas City baseball story associated with the song.

“The Beatles song goes back in Kansas City lore," Nelson notes. "We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America. Kansas City was not originally on that tour schedule. Charlie Finley was the owner of the Kansas City Athletics. He was a big showman and The Beatles were the biggest thing. He wanted to get them here, so he made contact with The Beatles' management and said, 'What would it take to add Kansas City to the tour?' He was rebuffed – they said, 'The boys only have a couple of days off on this tour and we’re not adding anything.' He insisted, and asked what it would take. Evidently The Beatles and their management got together and said, ‘Just throw some ridiculous figure at him that’ll make him go away.’ So they said $150,000 for a 25-minute show. And Finley says ‘Deal!’ That’s how that concert here in Kansas City happened."

The concert was at Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn — home of the Kansas City Athletics, also where  the Kansas City Monarchs and the Kansas City Blues played and where the Royals played their first couple of seasons.

"And when they played that concert, they began with that particular song," says Nelson. "Later on that year, they came out with their second album, at least in the United States, called Beatles for Sale. And there’s the song: 'Kansas City.'"

So, Nelson speculates, maybe the song is on the album because of their visit to Kansas City.

If that's the case, seems as if Wilbert Harrison might approve.

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