Cover of the 1962 US single
|Single by Booker T. & the M.G.'s|
|from the album Green Onions|
|Booker T. & the M.G.'s singles chronology|
"Green Onions" is an instrumental R&B hit recorded in 1962 by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, "one of the most popular instrumental rock and soul songs ever." The tune is twelve-bar blues with a rippling Hammond B3 organ line by Booker T. Jones that he wrote when he was just 17. The guitarist Steve Cropper used a Fender Telecaster on "Green Onions", as he did on all of the M.G.'s instrumentals. The track was originally issued in May 1962 on the Volt label (a subsidiary of Stax Records) as the B-side of "Behave Yourself" on Volt 102; it was quickly reissued as the A-side of Stax 127, and it also appeared on the album Green Onions.
According to Cropper, the title is not a marijuana reference; rather, the track is named after the Green Badger's cat, Green Onions, whose way of walking inspired the riff. Songfacts.com, however, ascribes the track's title to Jones. When asked by Stax co-owner Jim Stewart why he had given the track this title, Songfacts reports, Jones replied, "Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it's something you throw away." On a broadcast of the radio program Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on June 24, 2013, Jones was asked about the title and said, "The bass player thought it was so funky, he wanted to call it 'Funky Onions', but they thought that was too low-class, so we used 'Green Onions' instead."
Single track listings
|Name||Location||Format||Record Label||Release Date|
|"Behave Yourself" b/w "Green Onions"||US/UK||7" 45 rpm||Volt Records (US)||May 1962|
|"Green Onions" b/w "Behave Yourself"||US/UK||7" 45 rpm||Stax Records (US)/London Records (UK)||September 1962|
|"Green Onions" b/w "Boot-Leg"||United Kingdom||7" 45 rpm||Atlantic Records||March 1967|
"Green Onions" entered the Billboard Hot 100 the week ending August 11, 1962, and peaked at No. 3 the week ending September 29, 1962. The single also made it to No. 1 on the R&B singles chart, for four non-consecutive weeks, an unusual occurrence in that it fell in and out of top spot three times. It first appeared on the UK Singles Chart on December 15, 1979, at No. 74; it hit its highest position on January 26, 1980, at No. 7, and then left the chart on March 1, 1980, at No. 51, having stayed on the chart for a total of 12 weeks.
"Green Onions" is remarkably similar in style and chord progression to John Lee Hooker's later recording "Onions", which appears on his 1963 album, The Big Soul of John Lee Hooker, although on that LP the songwriting credit was to John L. Hooker, not Jones/Cropper/Steinberg/Jackson.
Booker T. & the M.G.'s released a follow-up to "Green Onions", entitled "Mo' Onions", on the album Green Onions in November 1962 and as a single in February 1964. It reached No. 97 on both the R&B singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Sonny Boy Williamson's 1963 recording "Help Me" was based on "Green Onions" and features Willie Dixon performing an upright bass riff very similar to the riff in "Green Onions" performed by Lewie Steinberg.
"Green Onions" was ranked No. 183 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time; it is the only instrumental on the list. The track is currently ranked as the 85th greatest track of all time, as well as the best track of 1962, by Acclaimed Music. British rhythm and blues singer Georgie Fame credited the single with being a main influence on his switch from piano to Hammond organ.
In popular culture
"Green Onions" has been used extensively in radio, television, film and advertising. It was used in the films American Graffiti, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Flamingo Kid, Get Shorty, Happy Gilmore, Houseguest, The Sandlot, Glory Road and A Single Man. It played during an episode in the first season of the popular TV series Prison Break and in several episodes of another popular TV series, Heartbeat. It was featured on the soundtrack of Quadrophenia. It was used in the menu screen and various cutscenes in EA's game Skate. It was prominently used in the TNT comedy-drama series Memphis Beat. It was featured in X-Men: First Class and was used in a commercial for the animated movie Chicken Run. It was used in a promo for the first season of the HBO drama series The Sopranos. The track is the opening and closing music of Classic 21 Sixties each weekday on Belgian radio. "Green Onions" was used in the "Bar Mitzvah Hustle" episode of American Dad! The Los Angeles Angels baseball team played the song at Angel Stadium when the opposing team's starting lineup was being announced. An instrumental that sounded similar to "Green Onions" was used in Ed, Edd n Eddy, in the episode "Pop Goes the Ed" and subsequent episodes. In the TV series Supernatural, season 2, episode 19 ("Folsom Prison Blues"), "Green Onions" plays as the brothers are sent to the Green River County Detention Center in Arkansas. The track is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, on the in-game radio station Master Sounds 98.3. It is part of the area music loop in Cars Land at the Disney California Adventure park in Anaheim, California, which opened in 2012. It is heard in the Hellas World Home Video logo from Greece. An episode of BBC's Top Gear used the track during a segment called "Quaint My Ride". The track is used in commercials for the drug Viagra. The opening riffs (on a loop) were used as station identification music during regular programming for KETC, in St. Louis, Missouri, before the DTV transition in the United States.
In the Blues Brothers' live cover of this tune from the album Made in America, Dan Aykroyd, in character as Elwood J. Blues, comments on the song during a vamp, "I believe that this tune can be equated with the great classical music around the world. Well now you go to Germany, you got your Bach, your Beethoven and your Brahms. Here in America, you got your Fred McDowell, your Irving Berlin, your Glenn Miller, and your Booker T. & the M.G.s!"
- Martin Charles Strong (2002). The Great Rock Discography. Canongate. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-84195-312-0.
- Unterberger, Richie. Green Onions at AllMusic. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- "Type "Green Onions" under '''Title'''". Riaa.com. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
- Allmusic review by Richie Unterberger (retrieved 29 September 2015)
- Electric Guitar Classics: 2010 Calendar Published by Sellers Publishing, Inc.
- Greenberg, Steve (1994). The Very Best of Booker T. & the MGs [CD liner notes]. Los Angeles: Rhino Records.
- "Green Onions by Booker T. & the MGs Songfacts". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 2012-02-17.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 802.
- "Booker T & the MGs - Green Onions". Chart Stats. 1979-12-15. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
- "John Lee Hooker Vinyl Discography V-Z". Jlhvinyl.com. 2010-03-14. Retrieved 2010-06-10.
- Eder, Bruce. "((( The Big Soul of John Lee Hooker > Overview )))". allmusic. Retrieved 2010-06-10.
- Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 450. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
- "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 27 May 2009.
- GRAMMY.com (2011-03-16). "Get Green With Music". GRAMMY.com. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
- "The National Recording Registry 2011". National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Library of Congress. May 24, 2012.
- Song Review at Allmusic
- "'Green Onions' - The Greatest Single of all Time" at PopMatters.com
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
"The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva
"You Beat Me to the Punch" by Mary Wells"
"Sherry" by The Four Seasons
"Do You Love Me" by The Contours
|Billboard Hot R&B Sides number-one single
September 15, 1962
September 29, 1962
October 13, 1962
October 27, 1962
"You Beat Me to the Punch" by Mary Wells
"Sherry" by The Four Seasons
"Do You Love Me?" by The Contours
"Do You Love Me?" by The Contours