Kansas City: Dylan’s New Basement song that goes back to staggering heights

By Tony Attwood

May I say from the start I utterly love this song and since discovering it, have played it over and over, time and time again.

The lyrics are, by Dylan’s standards, simple, but it is what the composer/s of the music have done by refusing to allow the music to follow the simple lay out of the lyrics, that makes this recording so utterly wonderful.

Never once doing the obvious but finding endless twists and turns in the music while endlessly placing what I feel is an all-important emphasis on the fact that it is Kansas that the song is about, makes this a brilliant composition.  And not just because Dylan needed to make it about a city, but because it was important that it was Kansas.  Or at least it was important that it was about THIS place, not somewhere else.

On this recording Johnny Depp plays guitar (Elvis Costello being involved in a gig with The Roots on the day of the recording.)   Johnny Depp also appeared on stage for what I think was the one and only live performance of the song in LA.  (I may have got that wrong – correct me if so).

As for the compositional credits these are given to Bob Dylan for the lyrics (obviously), and Marcus Mumford and Taylor Goldsmith for the music.  If you missed this song upon its release stop everything and just play it.

Then play it again.

And again.

Of this song T Bone Burnett said, “In 1967, he had gone, in five years, from being an obscure folk singer to an international rock ‘n’ roll icon of the highest magnitude.   And, in the process, his original supporters turned on him and it seems like he’s saying: ‘Just how long can I keep singing the same old song?'”

“There’s a great line: ‘You invite me into your house, then you say you got to pay for what you break.’ I think that resonated very strongly with Marcus, because he has had a similar trajectory.   He came out of the box very strong, became internationally successful and suffered an extreme backlash. Kansas City is his song as well.”

Concerning  this song Marcus Mumford is quoted in Mojo magazine as saying that he took some liberties with the original.  In ‘Kansas City’ he says “the last verse of that song is stolen from another song we had. I was just reading through the lyrics and I thought, ‘Ooh, that works.’ So I asked T Bone and he said, ‘We can do whatever we want, man,’ in true T Bone style.”

Also commenting on the piece, T-Bone Burnett in an interview confirmed his view that  Dylan was saying, “I played these songs, and you want me to keep playing them. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going back to the blues. I’m going to Kansas City.”

This notion leads to the view that many have offered that the Basement Tapes, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline are albums that deliberately set out to focus on the origins of American music rather than the new approaches that were dominating rock. It is also pointed out during the constant touring years Kansas has been a regular venue.

Such theories are of course just that: theories.  They are possible, but so is it possible that Kansas City was just a name that scanned in a way that many other places would not.  And as many songwriters have found, once you start using a reference point (be it a place or a person or an image or a colour or whatever) it can keep coming back as a continuity in song after song or book after book or painting after painting.  And there’s nothing amiss with that – it gives the creator and the recipient a sense of constancy in an ever changing landscape.

But whatever theory you follow, or whether you follow none at all, do listen to this song – even if you have heard it 1000 times before.

I listen to you time and time again
While you tell me just what’s right
And you tell me a thousand things a day
Then sleep somewhere’s else at night
I’m going back to Kansas City

And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
I’m going back to Kansas City

And you call me to come, then I do
And you say you made some mistake
You invite me into your house
Then you say you gotta pay for what you break
I’m going back to Kansas City

And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
And I love you dear, but just how long
And I keep singing the same old song
I’m going back to Kansas City

Gypsy woman, you know every place I go
Even a thousand miles away from home
You don’t care if I’m asleep or I’m awake
This fickle heart just turn to stone
I’m going back to Kansas City

And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
I’m going back to Kansas City

And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
And I love you dear, but just how long
Can I keep singing the same old song
I’m going back to Kansas City

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6 Responses to Kansas City: Dylan’s New Basement song that goes back to staggering heights

  1. Aaron G says:

    I also wondered if it was a reference to the old Fats Domino song (which the Beatles also covered-although the lyrics were substantially different to Fats version) – still sticks to your theory of heading away from the “same old song” and towards the blues

    I’m going to Kansas City
    Kansas City here I come
    I’m going to Kansas City
    Kansas City here I come
    They got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one
    …..
    Well I might take a plane I might take a train
    But if I have to walk I’m going just the same
    I’m going to Kansas City
    Kansas City here I come
    They got some crazy little women
    there and I’m gonna get me one

  2. Aaron G says:

    May I also argue that the lyrics are “deceptively “ simple – which is different from just plain simple… I could say the same for When I Get My Hands On You…another song I love from the album… both with music by Mumford. Always disliked Mumford and Sons…maybe I need to reinvestigate!!

  3. Jochen Markhorst says:

    I think you have a good point, Aaron. Although I think that Dylan has thought of the Wilbert Harrison original (the song is written by Leiber/Stoller, Fats Domino’s version is a cover too). That is also the version he plays in Theme Time Radio Hour (episode 20). The lyrics are pretty much the same:

    I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
    I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
    They got some crazy lil’ women there
    And I’m gonna get me one.

    I’m gonna be standing on the corner
    Of Twelfth Street and Vine
    I’m gonna be standing on the corner
    Of Twelfth Street and Vine
    With my Kansas City baby
    And a bottle of Kansas City wine.

    Well I might take a train
    I might take a plane, but if I have to walk
    I’m going just the same
    I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
    They got some crazy lil’ women there
    And I’m gonna get me one.

    Oh but you know yeah

    Now if I stay with that woman, I know I’m gonna die
    Gotta find a brand new baby
    That’s the reason why
    I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come

    They got some crazy lil’ women there and I’m gonna get me one

    These lyrics also echo in “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (They got some hungry women there) and in “Honey, just allow me one more chance” (To ride your aeroplane / To ride your passenger train), but especially in “High Water (For Charley Patton)”: He made it to Kansas City / Twelfth Street and Vine.

    Apparently this song has been under the skin of our bard for more than half a century now.

    Great find, Aaron!

  4. Aaron G says:

    I knew that it was a leiber Stoller track but didn’t know it had been done before Fats did it…will have to check that one out! Thanks!

    That’s some interesting points you make regarding Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, Honey and High Water!! Guess Bobby just loves Kansas City…the song and the place!! Great stuff!

  5. Aaron G says:

    Also, in case anyone wants to know more about the album there is a documentary available on dvd and blu ray called “Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued”

    The film presents an exclusive and intimate look at the making of the ‘Lost On The River’ album set against the important and historical cultural backdrop of Bob Dylan and The Band’s original ‘The Basement Tapes’.

  6. Luis Q says:

    I couldn’t help but thinking about the song “Mississippi” while reading the lyrics to this one. Maybe Kansas City is where the singer was going after staying in Mississippi a day too long.

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