"Green Onions" is an instrumental R&B hit recorded in 1962 by Booker T. & the M.G.s. The tune is a 12-bar blues with a rippling Hammond organ line. The guitarist Steve Cropper used a Fender Telecaster on "Green Onions" as he did on all of The M.G.'s instrumentals. Originally the song issued on the Volt 102 subsidiary of Stax Records in May 1962 as the B-side to "Behave Yourself", it was quickly reissued as the A-side of Stax 127; it also appeared on the album Green Onions. According to Steve Cropper, the name is not a marijuana reference; rather, the song is named after the Green Badger's cat, Green Onions, whose way of walking inspired the riff. Songfacts.com, however, ascribes the song's title to Booker T. Jones. When asked by Jim Stewart what he'd name the song, Songfacts reports, Jones replied "Green Onions." "'Why "Green Onions"?' Jim asked. Booker T: 'Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it's something you throw away.'"
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."
Single track listings:
"Behave Yourself" b/w "Green Onions"
7" 45 rpm
"Green Onions" b/w "Behave Yourself"
7" 45 rpm
Stax Records(US)/London Records(UK)
"Green Onions" b/w "Boot-Leg"
7" 45 rpm
"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. 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, it then left the charts on March 1, 1980 at #51, and ended up staying on the charts for a total of 12 weeks.
"Green Onions" is remarkably similar in style and chord progression to John Lee Hooker's "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 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.
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. The song is currently ranked as the 85th greatest song of all time, as well as the best song 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 1999 "Green Onions" was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
In 2012 it was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" American sound recordings.
In popular culture:
"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 and A Single Man. It played during a season one episode of the popular TV series, Prison Break. 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. 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. A 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 song 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.
Henry Mancini in album Uniquely Mancini of 1963.,
The Ventures included their version on their popular 1963 album The Ventures Play Telstar and The Lonely Bull,
In a live cover of this tune from the album Made in America, Dan Aykroyd, as his character Elwood J. Blues of the Blues Brothers 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!",
A live cover by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers appears on their career-spanning set The Live Anthology.,
British keyboardist Paul Hardcastle covered the song from his album Cover to Cover.,
Graham Bond released a version of "Green Onions" on his 1970 solo album Solid Bond.,
American guitarist Roy Buchanan played an extended version of the song "Green Onions" on the album Loading Zone.,
Johnny Thunders covered the song on his 1983 double album In Cold Blood. A live version is also included on the second record.,
Milt Buckner released the song on Green Onions.,
Jack Costanzo on his 2002 album Scorching the Skins.,
Georgie Fame released "Green Onions" as the b-side to "Do Re Mi" in April 1964.,
Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper recorded the song live on The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper in 1969.,
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires on several different albums.,
Jamaican Shaggy and British artist Maxi Priest. sampled the song on their 1996 album Man with the fun.,
Harry James did a version of "Green Onions" with his band in 1965 with Buddy Rich on drums.,
The Japanese garage rock trio The 220.127.116.11's performed a cover of "Green Onions" on their album Teenage Mojo Workout.