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Thursday, 7 January 2021

"Green Onions" by BOOKER T & THE M.G.s – October 1962 US LP on Stax, July 1964 UK LP on London – Both in Mono (September 2012 UK Concord Music Group, Inc/Stax Records Expanded Edition CD Reissue in the Stax Remasters Series - Joe Tarantino Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...


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"... Can't Sit Down…"

As I write this in the rainy and miserable Covid-19 wiles of January 2021 during yet another nationwide lockdown - October 2022 (next year) will see the sexy 60ts slink that is "Green Onions" become 60 years young. Can something as Soul-cool and utterly fantastic as this, really be six decades old! 

Re-listening to the whole "Green Onions" album (released October 1962 in the USA on Stax, delayed until July 1964 in Blighty on London Records) and for sure not all of it is as Mono-magical as that evergreen instrumental - a single A-side that surely must rank in the Top 20 of 45s ever released. But it is a total must for 60ts Soul, Funk, Mod and Instrumental fans everywhere. 

What we have here is Concord Music Group's CD attempt at revitalizing the Stax Albums roster in 2011, 2012 and a wee bit into 2013 - the "Stax Remasters" series that managed a haphazard 9-titles in all (each listed below with Barcodes so you can locate them accurately). The series probably didn't do as much business as they had hoped, or when you peruse the selection list provided, the release-title choices weren't exactly as grabby as the "Green Onions" song. So the "Stax Remasters" series quietly fizzled out, as I and others waited in vain for more releases that never showed. 

Just to digress a little and speaking of Stax - Craft Recordings of Los Angeles have since taken up the Concord Music Group, Inc mantle, doing stunning Stax Reissues both old and new. Their American website is well worth a visit for top quality reissues to do with the iconic American Soul label – check out their 22 September 2017 Isaac Hayes 4CD/45-Single Box Set "The Spirit Of Memphis 1962-1976" (Craft Recordings CR00050 – Barcode 888072016996) and the UK/European 6 November 2020 issue of The Staple Singers 7CD Box Set "Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection" (Craft Recordings CR00364 – Barcode 888072207899) that finally remasters their six albums on Stax between 1968 and 1974 and throws in a vital singles/rarity stragglers CD for good measure – all remastered properly and even issued on VINYL too. But I digress, back to the Booker T & The M.G.s CD in hand...

UK released Monday, 3 September 2012 (22 July 2012 in the USA) - "Green Onions" by BOOKER T. & THE M.G.s on Concord Music Group, Inc/Stax Records 0888072339606 (Barcode 888072339606) is an Expanded Edition with Two Bonus Tracks and is part of the "Stax Remasters" Series of CD Reissues (see list below). It breaks down as follows (43:48 minutes):

1. Green Onions [Side 1]
2. Rinky-Dink 
3. I Got A Woman 
4. Mo' Onions 
5. Twist And Shout 
6. Behave Yourself 
7. Stranger On The Shore [Side 2]
8. Lonely Avenue 
9. One Who Really Loves You 
10. Can't Sit Down 
11. A Woman, A Lover, A Friend 
12. Comin' Home Baby
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Green Onions" - released October 1962 in the USA on Stax Records ST-701 [Mono] and July 1964 in the UK on London HA-K 8182 [Mono]. 

13. Green Onions (Live)
14. Can't Sit Down (Live)
Tracks 13 and 14 first appeared on the 1992 American CD "Funky Broadway: Stax Review Live At The 5/4 Ballroom" on Stax SCD-8567 (previously unreleased at that time). They were recorded in August 1965. 

LEWIS STEINBERG - Bass (Tracks 1 to 12)
DONALD "Duck" DUNN - Bass (Tracks 13 and 14)
AL JACKSON, Jr - Drums 
Packy Axton - Saxophone on Track 14

The new 12-page booklet has very knowledgeable and affectionate liner notes by ROB BOWMAN - the LP's artwork on the front and rear of the booklet (including Bob Altshuler's original 1962 LP liner notes) - session details, Stax Records release info and reissue credits. But once again the big news is the NEWLY REMASTERED SOUND...

I've reviewed all the other titles in the "Stax Remasters" series (see list below) and duly raved about the fabulous sound quality on them - especially after years of lacklustre reissues in jewel cases and repro digipaks. Well this is the same. 24-bit remastered from the first generation tapes at JOE TARANTINO Mastering in Berkeley, California - the audio quality is meaty - especially of course on the slinky organ of Booker T Jones and the guitar-chopping of Steve Cropper.

Named after a vegetable that plagued American gardens in the summertime and played by a group named after a British Sports car - the 7" single "Green Onions" was a bona-fide monster. Originally issued in the USA on Volt 101 - it was quickly withdrawn and reissued on Stax 127 with the languid "Behave Yourself" as its classy B-side. It hit the US charts in August 1962 and made Number 1 R&B and Number 3 Pop. But not only is "Green Onions" absolute classic 60t's Soul - it has to rank as one the greatest instrumentals ever issued - its cool still intact a full 60 years after it blew everyone away and brought dance-floors to life all over the world.
I wish I could say the rest of the album lives up to that high - it doesn't. 

The covers of "Twist And Shout" (made famous by The Beatles), Acker Bilk's "Stranger On A Shore" and Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue" are not great - but things pick up considerably with their plucky version of Phil Upchurch's "Can't Sit Down" with fantastic sound quality on Cropper's guitar and Al Jackson's drums. The same applies to their cover of Jackie Wilson's "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend" - with Lewis Steinberg's bass having a warm sound. The identikit "Mo' Onions" was issued as a 45 in 1963 on Stax 142 and has been a fan favourite ever since (and a big moment in their live shows). It sounds fantastic here. The only real plonkers for me are the two 1965-recorded live versions first issued on a now forgotten American Stax CD - neither warranting the word 'bonus' in my book.

To sum up - despite those naff live additions, you do get better sound than that Rhino reissue over 25 years ago, improved packaging and a value-for-money price-tag. Heed your mama's good advice and eat your greens. Recommended...

CD Titles in the "STAX REMASTERS" series are (all reviewed):

1. Green Onions - BOOKER T. & THE M.G.s (1962) 
3 September 2012 UK CD on Barcode 888072339606

2. McLemore Avenue - BOOKER T. & THE M.G.s (1970)
10 May 2011 UK CD on Barcode 888072328747

3. Woman To Woman - SHIRLEY BROWN (1975)
13 September 2011 UK CD on Barcode 888072331778 

4. Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get - THE DRAMATICS (1972)
13 September 2011 UK CD on Barcode 888072331761

5. Born Under A Bad Sign – ALBERT KING (1967)
June 2013 UK CD on Barcode 888072343344

6. I'll Play The Blues For You - ALBERT KING (1972)
22 May 2012 UK CD on Barcode 888072337169 

7. Be Altitude: Respect Yourself - THE STAPLE SINGERS (1972)
10 May 2011 UK CD on Barcode 888072328761

8. Taylored In Silk - JOHNNIE TAYLOR (1973)
10 May 2011 UK CD on Barcode 888072328754

9. Do The Funky Chicken - RUFUS THOMAS (1970)
13 September 2011 UK CD on Barcode 888072331785

PPS: For those who want to delve deeper into 60ts and 70ts Soul on both Stax and Atlantic Records and are perhaps willing to flash the cash - check out my in-depth review for the October 2012 "Atlantic Soul Legends" set. It's a European made Mini Box Set on WEA Music/Warner Music France/Rhino 8122797264 (Barcode 0081227972646) that contains '20 Original Albums' in Mini LP Card Sleeves and Remasters. "Green Onions" is entry number two amongst them (after Ray Charles and before Solomon Burke). Also including cool types like Donny Hathaway, Sam Dees and Howard Tate - "Atlantic Soul Legends" sells for under £35 and is a stunning little beast most haven't noticed...

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