Green Onions was a very influential instrumental record that was released in 1962. The band was waiting for rockabilly Sun Recording artist Billy Lee Riley at a session. They used the time for good use. Booker T. Jones said: “That happened as something of an accident. We used the time to record a blues which we called ‘Behave Yourself,’ and I played it on a Hammond M3 organ. Jim Stewart, the owner, was the engineer and he really liked it and wanted to put it out as a record. We all agreed on that and Jim told us that we needed something to record as a B-side since we couldn’t have a one-sided record. One of the tunes I had been playing on piano we tried on the Hammond organ so that the record would have organ on both sides and that turned out to be ‘Green Onions.’
Jim Stewart who was the president of Stax records liked the song but the band was not impressed with it at first. He asked Booker T what did he want to call the song. Booker T replied “Green Onions”… when Jim asked why Green Onions? Booker T said, “Because that is the nastiest thing I can think of and it’s something you throw away.”
The song peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100 and #7 in the UK in 1962. The song was the B side to “Behave Yourself.”
The group’s guitarist Steve Cropper brought a copy of this song to the Memphis radio station WLOK the day after they recorded it. The morning DJ, Rueben Washington, was a friend of Cropper’s, and put the song on his turntable to hear off-air. After listening to just part of the song, he cut off the record that was on air and started playing “Green Onions” for his listeners. Says Cropper: “He played it four or five times in a row. We were dancing around the control room and believe it or not, the phone lines lit up. I guess we had the whole town dancing that morning.”
The response to the song proved Cropper’s point that it should be the A-side of the single instead of “Behave Yourself,” and the singles were pressed with the sides flipped.