TODAY, SEPTEMBER 28, marks a special date for two memorable songs that never reached number one on the pop singles charts. On Sept. 29, 1958, nineteen-year-old Eddie Cochrane’s “Summertime Blues” peaked at number eight; exactly four years later, Booker T. and the MGs hit their highest mark, number three, with “Green Onions.”
Co-written by Cochran, “Summertime Blues” tells a rocking, funny tale of a frustrated kid who gets no help for his problems because he’s “too young too vote.” Blue Cheer, The Who, Rush, and country singer Alan Jackson (as well as Olivia Newton-John and Alvin and the Chipmunks) have recorded versions of “Summertime Blues.”
An early innovator, Cochran overdubbed his guitar work in the studio to create a unique sound on the record, which Rolling Stone ranked 73rd on its 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Less than two years later, Cochran died in an auto crash in England.
“GREEN ONIONS” BEGAN as a “little ditty I’d been playing on piano, except I switched to Hammond M3 organ,” Booker T. Jones told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 2012. Guitarist Steve Cropper said the song came together during a jingle session. He told Rolling Stone that he thought at the time, “This is the best damn instrumental I’ve heard since I don’t know when.”
Jones was just seventeen when “Green Onions” was recorded.
“Why did they call the song “Green Onions?” “We were trying to think of something that was as funky as possible,” Cropper said.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Green Onions” number 183 on its 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The four-man Memphis-based band had been named the MGs after a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from drummer Al Jackson. Jones told National Public Radio in 2003 that Jackson looked around one day, saw an MG sports car, and said, “Why don’t we call (the band) Booker T. and the, uh … MG’s?”
Later, the band called the MG car company, seeing if they would agree to be a sponsor. “They wouldn’t do it,” Jones said. “So we decided that it would be Booker T. and the Memphis Group, the MG’s.”
The MG’s released several other food-titled songs in the 1960s, including “Jelly Bread” (1963), “Mo Onions” (1963), and “My Sweet Potato” (1966). None sold nearly as well as the original “Green Onions.”