Green Onions

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This article is about the instrumental. For other uses, see Green onion (disambiguation).
"Green Onions"
Single by Booker T. & the M.G.'s
from the album Green Onions
B-side "Behave Yourself"
Released September 1962 (1962-09)[1]
Format 7" 45 rpm
Recorded 1962, Memphis, Tennessee
Genre R&B, soul, instrumental rock[2]
Length 2:52
Label Stax 127
Writer(s) Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg, Al Jackson, Jr.
Producer(s) Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg, Al Jackson, Jr.
Certification Certified Gold by RIAA certification June 1, 1967[3]
Booker T. & the M.G.'s singles chronology
"Behave Yourself"
(May 1962)
"Green Onions"
(September 1962)
"Jelly Bread"
(February 1963)

"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."[4] The tune is twelve-bar blues with a rippling Hammond M3 organ line. The guitarist Steve Cropper used a Fender Telecaster on "Green Onions" as he did on all of The M.G.'s instrumentals.[5] The track was issued originally in May 1962 on the Volt 102 subsidiary of Stax Records as the B-side to "Behave Yourself"; it was quickly reissued as the A-side of Stax 127, and it also appeared on the album Green Onions.[1] 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.[6], however, ascribes the track's title to Booker T. Jones. When asked by Jim Stewart what he'd named his track, Songfacts reports, Jones replied, "Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it's something you throw away."[7]

On a Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! broadcast on June 24, 2013, host Peter Sagal asked Booker T. why his song was called, "Green Onions". Booker T. 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."

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Single track listings[edit]

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

Chart performance[edit]

"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 soul singles chart, for four non-consecutive weeks: an unusual occurrence in that it fell in and out of top spot three times.[8] On the UK Singles Chart it first appeared December 15, 1979 at #74; it then hit its highest position on January 26, 1980 at #7, then left the charts on March 1, 1980 at #51, and ended up staying on the charts for a total of 12 weeks.[9]

Similar recordings[edit]

"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,[10] although on that LP the songwriting credit was to John L. Hooker, not Jones/Cropper/Steinberg/Jackson.[11]

Booker T & the M.G.s released a continuation of "Green Onions" titled "Mo' Onions" on the album Green Onions on November 1962 and later released it as a single in February 1964 and reached #97 on both the R&B Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts.[12]

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.[13]


"Green Onions" was ranked No. 183 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and 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.[14] British rhythm and blues singer Georgie Fame credited the single with being a main influence on his switch from piano to Hammond organ.

In 1999 "Green Onions" was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.[15]

In 2012 it was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" American sound recordings.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

"Green Onions" has been used extensively in radio, television, film and advertising, such as 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 a season one episode of the popular TV series, Prison Break and in several episodes of another popular TV series, Heartbeat. The song was also featured on the soundtrack to Quadrophenia. It was used in the menu screen and various cutscenes in EA's game Skate. The song is prominently used in the TNT comedy-drama series Memphis Beat. It was also featured in X-Men: First Class and was used in a commercial for the animated movie Chicken Run. It was also used in a promo for the first season of the HBO drama series The Sopranos. The track is used as the opening and closing song 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 of Anaheim 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 other 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 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, on the in-game radio station Master Sounds 98.3. The song plays as part of the area music loop in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure park in Anaheim, California, which opened in 2012. The song is also heard in the Hellas World Home Video logo from Greece. An episode of BBC's Top Gear used this during a segment called "Quaint My Ride" where Jeremy modifies the inside of a Mercedes-Benz to resemble the inside of his house. The track also appears in commercials for the drug Viagra. The opening riffs (on a loop) were also used as station identification music during regular programming for KETC out of St. Louis, Missouri before the switch to 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!"


  1. ^ a b Strong, Martin Charles (2002). The great rock discography. The National Academies. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-84195-312-0. 
  2. ^ Allmusic review by Richie Unterberger (retrieved 29 September 2015)
  3. ^ "Type "Green Onions" under '''Title'''". Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  4. ^ Allmusic review by Richie Unterberger (retrieved 29 September 2015)
  5. ^ Electric Guitar Classics: 2010 Calendar Published by Sellers Publishing, Inc.
  6. ^ Greenberg, Steve (1994). The Very Best of Booker T. & the MGs [CD liner notes]. Los Angeles: Rhino Records.
  7. ^ "Green Onions by Booker T. & the MGs Songfacts". Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 802. 
  9. ^ "Booker T & the MGs - Green Onions". Chart Stats. 1979-12-15. Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  10. ^ "John Lee Hooker Vinyl Discography V-Z". 2010-03-14. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  11. ^ Eder, Bruce. "((( The Big Soul of John Lee Hooker > Overview )))". allmusic. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 450. ISBN 1-55728-252-8. 
  14. ^ "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 27 May 2009. 
  15. ^ (2011-03-16). "Get Green With Music". Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  16. ^ "The National Recording Registry 2011". National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Library of Congress. May 24, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"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
Succeeded by
"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