(Stax/Concord Music Group)
Booker T & the MGs debut
full length from 1962, Green Onions, gets the reissue treatment from the
Concord Music Group’s Stax Remasters series, with two extra live tracks,
additional liner notes by Stax Records historian Rob Bowman and fabulous,
24-bit remastering by Joe Tarantino.
Recorded before the band’s
classic line-up of Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, drummer
Al Jackson, Jr. and bass player Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn had solidified, it features
the smooth moves of the original bass player, Lewis Steinberg. Dunn, who
recently passed away, appears on the two extra tracks, live versions of the
title track and “Can’t Sit Down.”
“Green Onions,” of course, is
not only a Southern Soul classic, but arguably THE classic Southern Soul
instrumental of the era, and one of the very first hits to showcase the
transition from 50s styled R&B into groove based 60s soul. It blasted to
the top spot on the Billboard R&B chart in 1962, and also hit number 3 on
the pop chart. In doing so, it helped put Memphis
soul and Stax Records on the map, and helped usher in the golden age of soul.
Pretty big stuff for a 2:45 organ vamp with a pulsating groove and a knock-off
title, but such is the stuff of history in pop music. The follow-up, “Mo’
Onions,” followed the same snaky groove to equally sublime musical heights, if
not exactly the same smash commercial success.
Although Green Onions has several fine, even classic tracks, it showcases a band that was still
growing into the astoundingly tight combo that recorded countless memorable
singles and provided untouchable back-up for Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett,
Carla Thomas and numerous other Stax and Atlantic Records acts. One certainly
has to credit the addition of Cropper’s teenage buddy Duck Dunn into the mix;
the band was great before he joined, but even greater after he signed on.
So, we have the MGs playing
fine but not particularly exceptional
covers of some of the hits of the day like “I Got a Woman,” “Twist & Shout”
“I Can’t Sit Down” and a very nice version of “Comin’ Home Baby.” I could have
done without “Stranger on the Shore” by Acker Bilk, or “One Who Really Loves
You,” but Doc Pomus’ “Lonely
Avenue” is a fine, moody noir number, and the
band’s “Behave Yourself” a terrific, slowly unfolding blues. The live numbers
show a considerably more aggressive attack from the band, as constant recording
and touring honed the MGs into one of the greatest combos to ever lay down a
It’s certainly worth noting
that the three originals here – “Green Onions,” “Mo’ Onions” and “Behave
Yourself” – are the best tracks on the record. It’s also worth remembering that
at this point LPs were largely extended vessels to showcase a hot single with
considerable padding added on, and no one really expected every track burn a
hole in the cosmos.
So, Green Onions is one
of the cornerstones of 1960s pop music, and thanks to Concord for another reissue job well done.
What’s next, guys?
Onions,” “Mo’ Onions,” “Behave Yourself,” “Lonely Avenue.” CARL HANNI