It’s Elvis Week, so it’s hard to focus on anything but the King — but did you know that Booker T. and the M.G.’s hit song “Green Onions” turns 52 on August 11?
The song is an instrumental that was recorded at Stax and released on August 11, 1962. By the end of the next month, “Green Onions” had peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the soul singles chart. In the years since, it’s been ranked as No. 183 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. In 1999 “Green Onions” was given a GRAMMY(R) Hall of Fame Award, and in 2012 it was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry for being culturally, historically or aesthetically important to the American people.
So just how exactly was one of the most popular songs of all time named? There doesn’t seem to be a straightforward answer to that question. In 2013, Peter Sagal asked Booker T. about it. “The bass player thought it was so funky, he wanted to call it, ‘Funky Onions,'” he said. “But they thought that was too low-class, so we used ‘Green Onions’ instead.”
Songfacts.com reports that the name came from Booker T, when Jim Stewart (co-founder of Stax Records) asked him what the song should be called. “Why “Green Onions”?” Jim asked. Booker T said it was “because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it’s something you throw away.”
Steve Cropper, guitarist for Booker T. and the M.G.’s, claims that the song is named after the Green Badger’s cat, Green Onions, who inspired the riffs with his strange gait.
But it’s not just popular on the charts — “Green Onions” has been used extensively in movies and in television shows as well as on the radio and featured in advertisements.
Films such as X-Men: First Class, Chicken Run, Happy Gilmore, The Sandlot, Glory Road, Houseguest, Get Shorty, The Flamingo Kid, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, American Graffiti, and The Single Man all had “Green Onions” in their soundtracks. Television shows have been known to use it as well, such as Prison Break, Supernatural, American Dad, and Ed, Edd n Eddy.
“Green Onions” has been covered by a variety of big names over the years. Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers performed a live version in 1997, Pink Floyd played it for the BBC in 1968, Roy Buchanan created an extended version for his album Loading Zone in 1977, and Shaggy and Maxi Priest sampled it in their 1996 collaboration Man with the Fun.
Wherever the name came from, it’s safe to say that funky little cut exceeded everyone’s expectations.