Monday, February 02, 2009

Number 421 - Booker T & The MGs


Number 421

Booker T & The MG's

"Green Onions"

(1962)
.
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Genre: Instrumental
Happy Days are here again
One of my biggest influences came from this film, no, not the car driving scenes, Richie Cunningham, Hans Solo or even the over obsessive girl chasing [well OK, but only that]. The film is adequate at best, but what makes this film, is the music. To put it simply, the soundtrack is stunning. It captures a time period superbly and ... it is great for people like me who were born Gen X and were to young [by a decade] to know most of the tunes inside this double album, and way back in the 70's listening to "Green Onions" for the very first time? Well that's just something special.
That time period will never be recreated again and even if they try to, it will be a epic fail. For part of this music success and charm is owned to the fact it had to do with the people and the way they lived back then. It is unfortunate that we now live in unmoral times and the music of today reflects that, but even more sadening is, you could quite justify in blaming my generation.
Hey uh, which one us is pretending to be George?
As the house band at Stax Records in Memphis, Booker T. & the MG's may have been the single greatest factor in the lasting value of that label's soul music -- not to mention Southern soul as a whole. Their tight, impeccable grooves can be heard on classic hits by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, Albert King, and Sam & Dave, just to name the very most prominent examples. For that reason alone, they would deserve their spot in rock & roll's hall of fame. But in addition to their formidable skills as a house band, on their own they were one of the top instrumental outfits of the rock era, cutting classics like "Green Onions," "Time Is Tight," and "Hang 'em High."
For Otis Redding see Number 623
See, there was unity before Obama [sorta]
The anchors of the Booker T. sound were Steve Cropper, whose slicing, economic riffs influenced tons of other guitar players, and Booker T. Jones himself, who provided much of the groove with his floating organ lines. In 1960, Jones started working as a session man for Stax, where he met Cropper. Cropper had been in the Mar-Keys, famous for the 1961 instrumental hit "Last Night," which laid out the prototype for much of the MG's (and indeed Memphis soul's) sound with its organ-sax-guitar combo. With the addition of drummer Al Jackson and bassist Lewis Steinberg, they became Booker T. & the MG's. In a couple years or so, Steinberg would be replaced permanently by Donald "Duck" Dunn, who, like Cropper, had also played with the Mar-Keys.
Gillette sponsorship anyone?
The band's first and biggest hit, "Green Onions" (number three, 1962), came about by accident. Jamming in the studio while fruitlessly waiting for Billy Lee Riley to show up for a session, they came up with a classic minor-key, bluesy soul instrumental, distinguished by its nervous organ bounce and ferocious bursts of guitar. For the next five years, they'd have trouble recapturing its commercial success, though the standard of their records remained fairly high, and Stax's dependence upon them as the house band ensured a decent living. In the late '60s, the MG's really hit their stride with "Hip Hug-Her," "Groovin'," "Soul-Limbo," "Hang 'em High," and "Time Is Tight," all of which were Top 40 charters between 1967 and 1969. As a band that featured two blacks and two whites playing as tightly together as possible, they also set a somewhat under-appreciated example of both how integrated, self-contained bands could succeed, and how both black and white musicians could play funky soul music.
Hip indeed
As is the case with most instrumental rock bands, their singles contained their best material, and they're best appreciated via anthologies. But their albums were not inconsequential, and occasionally ambitious (they did an entire instrumental version of the Beatles Abbey Road, which they titled McLemore Avenue in honor of the location of Stax's studios). Though they'd become established stars by the end of the decade, the group began finding it difficult to work together, not so much because of personnel problems, but because of logistical difficulties. Cropper was often playing sessions in Los Angeles, and Jones was often absent from Memphis while he finished his music studies at Indiana University. The band decided to break up in 1971, but were working on a reunion album in 1975 when Al Jackson was tragically shot and killed in his Memphis home by a burglar. The remaining members have been active as recording artists and session musicians since, Cropper and Dunn joining the Blues Brothers for a while in the late '70s.
For The Beatles see Number 489, #587, #894 & #947
For The Blues Brothers see Number 875
This notes for you bud
The MG's got back into the spotlight in early 1992 when they were the house band for an extravagant Bob Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden. More significantly, in 1993 they served as the backup band for a Neil Young tour, one which brought both them and Young high critical marks. The following year, they released a comeback album, arranged in much the style of their vintage '60s sides, which proved that their instrumental skills were still intact. Like most such efforts, though, it ultimately failed to recreate the spark and spontaneity it so obviously wanted to achieve. ~ [Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide]
For Bob Dylan see Number 491, #841 & #929
For Neil Young see Number 479, #677 & #938
The Song
Can i bum a smoke bro?
"Green Onions" entered the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1962 where it remained for 16 weeks, peaking at number 3. Originally issued on the Volt subsidiary of Stax Records, it was quickly reissued on Stax proper; it also appeared on the hit album Green Onions. The recording did not chart in the UK until January 1980 after being featured in the 1979 film Quadrophenia. In a live cover of this tune from the album Everybody Needs the Blues Brothers, 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 Glen Miller, and your Booker T. & the M.G.s!" ~ [Source: Wikipedia]
Booker T #92 in RS 100 Immortals
What do RS think of Booker T & the MGs?
Booker T. pioneered a lot of sounds on the organ. When you heard him play, you knew it couldn't be anyone else. I remember one time, Booker accidentally had two dates booked at the same time, so he took some other band and went somewhere in Kansas, and I went with the MG's to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I had to go pose as Booker T. Halfway through, some guy yells out, "Hey, man, that guy ain't no Booker T.! He ain't got no hair!" We said, "Oh, shit." But the groove took over, and that calmed them down. ~ [Source: RS, From Issue 946 — April 15, 2004]
Rolling Stone magazine deemed their '421st Song of all Time' was "Piano Man" by Billy Joel. Billy Joel has appeared in The Definitive 1000 @ Number 469 & #849
Other songs with reference to Booker T #536, #664
Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs ranked this song at Number 181 and an Album ranked at Number (Theres more than one song???)
This song has a Definitive 1000 rating of 77.9 out of 108
Search Artist here:1-2-3-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z
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