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 composition recorded in 1962 by Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Described as "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.
- Steve Cropper – guitar
- Booker T. Jones – Hammond M3 organ
- Lewie Steinberg – bass guitar
- Al Jackson Jr. – drums
The Surfaris recorded a version in 1963 on their album Wipe Out. (Dot DLP 3535 and DLP 25535). Harry James recorded a version in 1965 on his album Harry James Plays Green Onions & Other Great Hits (Dot DLP 3634 and DLP 25634). In 1969, "Green Onions" was covered by Dick Hyman; his version peaked at No. 87 on the Canadian singles charts. During the 1968 jam concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco that produced The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Al Kooper performed a jam of "Green Onions" that was included on the album. The song was sampled for Maxi Priest and Shaggy's 1996 recording of "That Girl".
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. 181 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 137th greatest track of all time, as well as the best track of 1962, by Acclaimed Music.
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 Legend, 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 digital television 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!"
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