Green Onions

Album: Green Onions (1962)
Charted: 7 3
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  • This is an instrumental with a simple but unusual 2/4 time signature. Booker T. & the MG's were the house band for the Memphis soul music label Stax Records. They recorded with many of the Stax artists, including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes, but they also recorded their own material between sessions.

    In a Songfacts interview with Booker T. Jones, he credited the success of the song to its "apparent simplicity." Said Jones: "'Green Onions' appears to be a simple song, but every time I play it I have to pay attention. I have to remember, and school myself on how the notes go, because it's just not as simple as it sounds."
  • The band developed this song while they were waiting for rockabilly singer Billy Lee Riley (a Sun artist) to show up for a session. In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), Booker T. Jones said: "That happened as something of an accident. We used the time to record a blues which we called 'Behave Yourself,' and I played it on a Hammond M3 organ. Jim Stewart, the owner, was the engineer and he really liked it and wanted to put it out as a record. We all agreed on that and Jim told us that we needed something to record as a B-side, since we couldn't have a one-sided record. One of the tunes I had been playing on piano we tried on the Hammond organ so that the record would have organ on both sides and that turned out to be 'Green Onions.'"
  • As the guys were calling it a night after recording this song, Jim Stewart asked them to listen to what he'd recorded on one particular take. They listened but weren't as impressed as Jim, who asked: "If we released this as a record, what would you want to call it?" "Green Onions," was Booker T. Jones' reply. "Why 'Green Onions'" Jim asked. Booker T: "Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it's something you throw away."
  • The group's guitarist, Steve Cropper, brought a copy of this song to the Memphis radio station WLOK the day after they recorded it. The morning DJ, Rueben Washington, was a friend of Cropper's, and put the song on his turntable to hear off-air. After listening to just part of the song, he cut off the record that was on air and started playing "Green Onions" for his listeners. Says Cropper: "He played it four or five times in a row. We were dancing around the control room and believe it or not, the phone lines lit up. I guess we had the whole town dancing that morning."

    The response to the song proved Cropper's point that it should be the A-side of the single instead of "Behave Yourself," and the singles were pressed with the sides flipped.
  • The group was named after the British MG sports cars, but when the company expressed disapproval, they claimed the initials as "Memphis Group." Members of the band were Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, and Lewie Steinberg (who was replaced in 1964 by Donald "Duck" Dunn). Jackson was killed in 1975, but the remaining members have gotten together often to play various events, including the "Bobfest" Bob Dylan tribute concert in 1992, and Neil Young's 1993 tour. The band was integrated, which was unusual at the time in Memphis: Three members were black, and one was white (Cropper). When Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Memphis in 1968, igniting already high racial tensions, they had two white and two black members.
  • The sound is driven by the Hammond Organ played by Booker T. Jones, who was 17 when it was recorded. The Hammond organ was invented in 1934 by Laurens Hammond. Its mournful sound made it the instrument of choice for military chapels, but then in the 1960s the rockers got wind of it and the device became a standard keyboard instrument for jazz, blues, rock and gospel music.
  • In the UK, this was popular in dance clubs, but didn't become a chart hit until 1979, when it was used in the movie Quadrophenia. A character played by Sting danced to it in the movie.
  • In his book Seekers Guide To The Rhythm Of Yesteryear, Shiloh Noone writes about the UK impact of this song: "The 'Green Onions' groove has maintained an epic accountability filtering into a variety of styles, yet its roots have a double-edged sword. Let us chop up the onions and savor the stinging that shed its tears over the last forty years. Strangely the infectious hook never charted in the '60s and took 17 years to reach UK #10. Admittedly Atlantic had slipped up failing to recognize that the instrumental 'Memphis Sound' had conjured a bluesy dance fashion in the '60s. The 1967 'Green Onions' single was backed by the badly recorded 'Bootleg.' The riff took fashion during the mod revival in the '70s and found itself included on The Who's Quadrophenia soundtrack. For many it was the first introduction to Booker T. It was re-issued as a single in 1979 and cracked the UK #10 due to Steve Cropper and 'Duck' Dunn joining the Blues Brothers and featuring in the film of the same name. The stinging riff again re-surfaced in 1985 on 'Old Gold Records,' this time backed by 'Chinese Checkers.' Some of the more definitive versions of 'Green Onions' were featured by Georgie Fame (Fame at Last), the Ventures (Lonely Bull), King Curtis (Memphis Hits). The irresistible groove also hooked the high and mighty as in 'Stoned' by the Rolling Stones that was issued as B-side to 'I Wanna Be Your Man.' The rhythm would move from generation to generation starting with the Blues Brothers (Made in America - 1980), Johnny Thunders (eponymous album 1982) and the acid jazz Penthouse Suite (1990) by the James Taylor Quartet. Barring the original that kicks like a mule, their are four exhilarating interpretations: Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper, which has Mike improvising on the decisive Al Kooper Hammond drone. Bloomfield's articulate tone frolics and jostles with absolute ease amazing the crowds at Bill Graham's Fillmore. England's Downliners Sect released the most authentic version and probably the only played purely on guitar in 1964, probably also the first British version and to my knowledge the first cover to wax the globe. For the purists the frenzied guitar solos were reinforced by Muleskinner axeman Ian McLagan, future organist with the Small Faces. Guitar maestro Roy Buchanan recorded this one in 1967 for his Loading Zone. He shares the lead solos with none other than authors Steve Cropper and bassist Donald 'Duck' Dunn."
  • This song provides broadcasters with a wonderful instrumental bed which they can talk over or leave on its own without losing the audience. The NPR program Fresh Air uses it to great effect, and the song has also appeared in a number of films and TV shows, as well as in TV commercials for Mercedes. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • According to Q magazine, a few years after this was released, Georgie Fame met Booker T and told him that he thought the Hammond sound on this song was amazing and asked him what the levers on the organ were set to. Apparently Booker T had been unaware that the settings could be changed and he replied, "What, those things move?"
  • "Green Onions" has been used in a number of popular movies and TV series. Among the movies:

    Legend (2015)
    Something in the Air (2012)
    X-Men: First Class (2011)
    Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
    A Single Man (2009)
    Glory Road (2006)
    Stepmom (1998)
    Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
    Striptease (1996)
    Get Shorty (1995)
    The Sandlot (1993)
    For the Boys (1991)
    Twins (1988)
    The Flamingo Kid (1984)
    Quadrophenia (1979)
    American Graffiti (1973)

    TV uses include:

    Twin Peaks ("Part 7" - 2017)
    Fringe ("Everything in Its Right Place" - 2012)
    Cold Case ("November 22" - 2009)
    Supernatural ("Folsom Prison Blues" - 2007)
    The Sopranos ("Watching Too Much Television" - 2002)
    Miami Vice ("Nobody Lives Forever" - 1985)
  • "Green Onions," "Jellybread," "Soul Dressing," "My Sweet Potato," "Red Beans and Rice": Booker T. & the MG's named plenty of their tunes after food. Booker Jones explained why to Uncut magazine.

    "That came from Al Jackson Jr., the drummer. He loved to name the songs after different foods according to how funky or how sweet they were, and he just never run out of names. That was Al: great drummer, great person. His jokes kept the mood up all the time."
  • The song has been used in a variety of TV ads. Steve Cropper told Mojo magazine in 2020: "When you're a successful songwriter, you might see your songs get in movies, cartoons, commercials. But I never knew that I would be a co-writer on a song for adult diapers (laughs). For four years 'Green Onions' was in a commercial for Depends. That song's gone from adult diapers to pita chips and now it's in a dog food commercial. As soon as they get through with it someone else will use it."

Comments: 38

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenHard to think of a better instrumental featuring the organ than this one.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaGreat instrumental.
  • Will from United StatesBarry & Will: RE the December 1968 Miami Pop Festival, the band did not play. I'm doing a book on the festival and have the organizers' confidential production notes which contain reviews of all the acts who played, and I've got around 4,000 photos and some film of the festival - none of which provide any evidence that the band played, and confirm that they did not. The word was that Booker T. had the flu so the band cancelled at the last minute.
  • Will from United StatesHey, Barry (of Sauquoit, NY): While it's true that Booker T. & the M.G.s were booked and advertised for the December 1968 Miami Pop Festival, I've been looking for credible evidence that they actually performed and can find none (no photos, news reports or documents, etc.). I think they may have cancelled. Do you have documentation? If so, I'd be grateful if you can describe it. Thanks!!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 27th 1968, Booker T. & the MGs performed at the Miami Pop Festival in Hallandale, Florida...
    At the time the group's "Hang 'Em High"* was at #40 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and six weeks later on February 2nd, 1969 it would peaked at #9 {for 2 weeks} and spent 18 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #35 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1962 and 1971 they had seventeen Top 100 records; with two making the Top 10, their other Top 10 record was "Green Onions", which peaked at #3 {for 1 week} on September 23rd, 1962...
    * Hugo Montenegro's original version of “Hang ‘Em High” peaked at #82 {for 2 weeks} on July 7th, 1968.
  • Chris from Norman, OkRight on when you said bladder than bad. I can and often do just put it on repeat.
  • Paul from Tilburg, NetherlandsAnd then let's mention some other fine versions of Green Onions: Jon Lord and the Hootchie coochie men, Tom Petty and the Heartbrakers, Michaela Rae, Graham Bond, the Japanese Les Cappuccino and Kenny Bernard and the Wranglers and last but not leasr:Ray Harris and the Fusion Experience. All Great versions with a capital G!
  • Paul from Tilburg, NetherlandsAnd then there is the version of jazz organist and vibrafonist Milt Buckner from 1977 recorded shortly before his death. The writers of the song are called D Jones and S Crooner in stead of B.T. Jones and S. Cropper. This error is repeated over and over on numerous jazz compilations with Milt's version without somebody ever correcting it!
  • Paul from Tilburg, NetherlandsThere is also a version of the Bobby Patrick Big Six from 1964 a version that nowhere can be found on CD but I found it on an LP in 1977 . Will this ever be re-released?
  • Jorge from Bronx, NyThis also was a cover song for The Great Latin Jazz artist Mongo Santamaria!
  • Camille from Toronto, OhOne of the all time, easiest to listen to, very best instrumental tunes ever. Yep, years ago, radio stations would always have news at the top of the hour, and they'd use a tune like this to fill in time gaps. We'd always be swimming at the local pool and they'd have the radio on over the loudspeaker. So over a number of summers, I heard this song many times and associate it with innocent, easy-going, carefree days of youth. The group's other hit song, as Teresa from Mechelen, Belgium says, is "Time is Tight", another fabulous instrumental. Reminds me of music you'd hear at a skating rink in the old days......
  • Trevor from Seattle, Wahey BRUCE FROM BOSTON-- interesting note. i like the way you think. i'm a Hammond guy, you seem like a guitar guy?
  • Trevor from Seattle, Wajust got me an M3... oh yes. man i love the way "Booker T" made good use of a Hammond Thing-- percussive "key click"... all you Hammond lovers out there, take good note of this technique-- and the M3 is one Hammond you can kinda tweek, you can go either way with it. M3's are FUN TO TUNE. man i love that percussive key click.
  • Trevor from Seattle, WaChopping onions... the "Hammond Chop" to great effect
  • Jeff from Boston, MaThis is an old favorite of mine. Listen to the original 1962 recording and you will be reminded that not everything needs digital multi-tracked effects to sound good.

    BTW, there is an episode of the Brady Bunch where Peter has two dates on the same night. He dances with one of the girls in the family room to an instrumental record - not this song, but sounds like it could be Booker T & the MGs.
  • Ed from Lake City, Flthis is one of the best instrumentel of all time no question. another top five song from the same studio ya"ll should listen to is last night by the markee.
  • Sebastian from Boston, MaThis was the walk-in music at my wedding. It was perfect.
  • Dylan from Dodge City, KsThis has been used in a variety of movies. One is one of my favorite mob flicks called Get Shorty.
  • Craig from San Diego, CaBadder than Bad!!
  • Craig from San Diego, CaThis track is beyond bad.
    The best instrumental there ever was, is,
    or will ever be.
    It says "don't f&@# with me" in every note.
  • Lester from New York City, NyRoy Buchanan does a KILLER version of this tune on his 'Loading Zone' album
  • Jessica from Hamilton, CanadaMaxi Priest and Shaggy sampled this song in "That Girl".
  • John from New Orleans, LaIn response to the question by Willie of Rivera Beach, FL: The original 1962 version of Green Onions(2:45) by Booker T. & the MG's is availabe on many CD compilations. These can be found at the website. I have it on Rhino's "Rock Instrumental Classics, Vol 4: Soul" which is widely available in stores or by mail-order.
  • Mike from Hueytown , AlThis is the coolest baddest song there is ! I love the scene in American Garffiti . May very well be my favorite song and favorite movie.
  • Chris from Cambridge, CanadaThis song was also featured in the 1995 movie, Houseguest.
  • Bruce from Boston, MaA very unusual feature of this song that is seldom mentioned is that the guitarist is actually cross-chording the chords of the song. It is as if he is playing in another key in the parts where he plays the single staccato chords, playing a C chord when the band plays a G chord, an F chord when the band plays a C chord, etc. This helps to make the song sound so tart.
  • Matthew from East Brunswick, NjThis song was also played in GTA: San Andreas. I used that song to perfection whenever it was on.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumI remember Booker T. and The MGs, they had a great hit called "Time is Tight". Classic 21, a radiostation in Belgium uses "Green Onions" as tune for their program "California Dreaming".
  • Raymund from Oxfordshire, Englandi have owned a 55 chevy for 22 years now and had it painted green and called it "green onions"
    Ray, England uk.
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaDoesn't anyone remember this song being in drag racing scene in American Graffiti?
  • Easy from Kennesaw, GaI always think of the movie Sandlot whenever i hear this song.
  • Ethan from Ridgely, MdBooker T. Jones was actually 16 when he recorded this. I saw them live at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival, 2005. they played this, and when they finished, they said "That is called Green Onions. Its one of my favorites. We recorded it when I was 16."
  • John Mescall from Yonkers, Nyi seen jorma play green onions in the limelight at a benefit for hell's was awhile back,buthesmoked that toon it was awesome watching andlistening thanks.
  • Shell from Riverdale, GaFor James in Rochester: Yes, Cropper and Dunn were in the Blues Brothers Band. Belushi and Aykroyd were blues fans. Their first "gig" on SNL was backed by the show's house band (led by Paul Shaffer at the time). Later "gigs" were backed by better-known musicians because John and Danny, while they both knew they weren't singers, wanted their shows to be as good, I guess you could say as authentic, as possible. Hence the inclusion of Cropper and Dunn, Tom Scott, Lou Marini, et al, all well known and rspected in music circles and among their fellow musicians. Shaffer, btw, played keyboards for all their shows but was unable to appear in the movie.
  • Bob from Mt. Laurel, NjThis Song was used in Sandlot
  • James from Ragin' Rochester, NyDidn't Steve Cropper and Donald "duck" Dunn get together to play in The Blues Brothers movie?
  • Willie from Riviera Beach, FlI want to buy the song (GREEN ONIONS) by Booker T, & The MGs. on Video or C D. 1962. Can you hekp me? Thank You.
  • Willie from Riviera Beach, FlI am learning to playthe Piano, Please tell me if you have music books that have the letters in the notes. (Easy Play) I like JAZZ. Thank You
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