NOT PANTS

Here is the groove test. Spin “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The M.G’s and if your booty doesn’t shake, your hips don’t swivel, your head doesn’t nod or your fingers snap, man, you dead to the rhythm.

“Green Onions” was the lead track and hit single from the 1962 album of the same name, possibly the greatest ever LP with vegetables on the cover. Leader of the band, Booker T Jones, played a sweet and soulful Hammond organ, fusing R&B licks into his soul-jazz lines so smoothly there were no visible joins. That smooth, funky lyricism was the defining feature of the whole band, who locked in behind Booker T like a tail behind a comet; you cannot tell where the lead rock stops and the spectacular rhythm section tail begins. In fact one of the key features of the Booker T & the MGs (we’ll discard the dodgy punctuation right here), is not that the whole rhythm section was a purple gang, but that the whole gang was a right royal purple rhythm section. Booker’s organ either pumping in the foreground or pulsing in the mix; Steve Cropper’s sharp, penetrating guitar leads alternate with rhythm scaffolding you could build a pyramid on. And under this pair of modest virtuosos, a foundation both limber and unshakeable laid down by Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums.

They were a jazz-soul R&B backing group made—not in heaven—but in the deep south. As the house band for Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, Booker T Jones and the boys made essential contributions to hits by Sam & Dave, Wilson Picket, and perhaps most famously, Otis Redding. But after this, their debut record, proved so popular (Billboard #1 R&B, #3 Top 100), Booker T and the MGs continued with a string of popular albums.

The one I want to tell you about today is their fifth LP, from the year 1967*.

Hip Hug-Her Booker T MGs

The cover of ‘Hip Hug-Her’ has always fascinated me. There is something so quintessentially Carnaby Street about the photograph, something so emphatically not deep-South USA. The Twiggy-slim lass with long Barbie-blonde hair sits in a fashion-model pose before a trio of willowy models wearing the eponymous pants. It is exactly the kind of photo you imagine David Hemmings’ character in Blowup ripping off in a late morning studio session before going for a romp in the loft with one (or all) of the delectable young ladies. In other words, about as far from humid R&B motherlode as you can imagine. One suspects this was a blatant attempt at courting a mod young urban audience, the swinging kids and groovy chicks who were less acquainted with seedy Memphis bars than happening city clubs.

And the music? Eleven tracks clocking in at a smidge over 30 minutes is scarcely over-doing things, even by the standards of the day, yet within this half-hour we have a colourful and varied plate of the band’s tasty morsels.

The title track lays out the bill of fare in the opening moments. A descending double-tracked guitar figure is followed by a drum-crack announcement that a vamping organ, jumping bass and rolling hit-on-the-third percussion are inviting you to the table. The leader picks out the melody before another chorus, then Cropper drops in one of his economic cool-as-fuck solos and the band reconvene to vamp us out with some by-play between Jones and Cropper. It’s all over in 2’25” and is the basic recipe for most of this upbeat, good time jiving. Second piece “Soul sanction” is possibly even better.

Hip Hug-Her CD back

Not that it’s all mid-paced groove. The band throw in some covers, including The Young Rascals “Groovin’” and two popular ballads, in addition to six band originals. Not having the benefit of a vocalist to reach out and grab listeners, Booker T & the MGs include these to provide recognition and perhaps an entry point for those less familiar with R&B instrumentals.

The ropey ballad “More”, for example, begins like something Andre Kostelanetz would arrange for mums and dads, yet builds nicely to a chugging chorus quietly stripping back the schmaltz so that by the conclusion you’ve forgotten how you rolled your eyes at the cheesy opening. The pulsing “Double or nothing” continues with an almost rocking boogie groove and a fine little Cropper solo. “Pygmy” is a soul-fossa groove enlivened by Jackson’s brilliant off-the-beat drumming and a neat Cropper solo. A personal fave is the piano-lead organ blues (true!) of “Slim Jenkins’ place” (no relation).

The title of “Carnaby Street” certainly seems to support the hypothesis that Booker and the band were keen to extend their audience. It’s melodic and quite romantic; the sort of tune you can imagine humming as you sit on a sunny door-step watching lissom London chicks sashay down the famous fashion street on a summer’s day in ’67. Or even ’17. Sigh.

*

As a post-script, you can get Green Onions, Hip Hug-Her and three other Booker T & The MGs discs from the mid-60s in one of those no-frills Original Album Series 5-CD sets for much much less than you’d pay for an original of any one LP. Soul food for thought.

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Booker T. & The MGs - Hip Hug-Her

Label: Stax

Released: June 1967

Duration: 30:26

*

* Over the next twelve months I hope to periodically focus on a release from 1967. With so many interesting albums that are not Sgt Pepper, I reckon it is worth picking a few to see what we hear half a century later. I might also get on the old soap-box and rant about music and context, trying to convince anyone interested (or not) that without some 60s ground work you can never really figure out pop/rock at all. You have been warned.

*

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30 comments

  1. Looking forward to this, Bruce. Was in the midst of my first year of 7th grade in ’67 (what was then called Junior High School for us in the States), so music helped keep me together. This should be fun. 🙂

    p.s., Sgt. Pepper more than helped, too. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Michael. Look, I did briefly consider doing a whole year exclusively on ’67, but thought that might be a bit over the top, even for me, and definitely too much for most readers. So we’ll go for a sprinkling of sixties-dust!

      In a graceless spoiler alert, at this stage I have no plans to do Sgt P. Like Revolver, I don’t really have anything to add. Having said that, suggestions are more than welcome!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Go with your original plan, Bruce! I’d love to see something on 1967. Fascinating! – Marty

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Marty, I’m thinking maybe one post a month on ’67. How does that sound?

          Liked by 2 people

        2. lol. Laughing on this end, Bruce. My official response: “Oh, okay, fine. We’ll suffer through the wait for each post.”

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Well, consider me encouraged. Thanks Marty.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I went and pulled them up on Apple Music and I didn’t realize how many songs I recognized. They are now in my music library and I am streaming Green Onions now. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Groovy! Hope you continue to enjoy the endless rolling ‘up’ of BT & the MGs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. And then, the Blues Brothers!!

    Booty shake, finger snap and head nod, check! Still working on hip swivel… may I still play?

    1967 was a big year for me too. I learned to ride a trike by myself and mommy had to take me to the emergency room after I pulled the little steel ball out of a whistle and stored it in my ear. Bring it on, Doctor VC!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🙂

      Hey, anyone that manages more than one bodily response to the groove is a senior member of the cool club. Seniors are happy with a finger snap.

      The offending shrapnel was successfully removed, then? Pity. I’m rather taken with the image of someone blowing in your right ear and a piercing train whistle emanating from the left.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Had a groove listening to Booker T …
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a masterpiece that “Green Onions” is. My kind of energy produce. I’m curious about their fifth album statement. My folks graduated High School in 67. One at least. I’m gonna ask them what else happened that year. If I remember correctly, their peppery albums the were by The Association and Beach Boys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Got the Beach Boys pair covered, but don’t have The Association’s ’67 effort unfortunately. Interesting band though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Green Onions is on the list (as is the Young Rascals groovin’) – and I’m excited to be warned about many more ’67 posts to come, looking forward to it Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh. Nice. I’ve only ever heard Green Onions and That’s the Way It (that was the new album at the time I got into Green Onions). Always wanted to hear more, especially the older stuff, but other albums just got in the way. Especially at the time. But anyhoo, this one sounds good and I should probably look for that original albums set.

    Also, I’m looking forward to seeing which 1967 albums you’ll be shining a light on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That set is fabulous value, James. Highly recommended. Was thinking of tackling the Bee Gees 1st early on, though I don’t know how I’ll improve on your excellent piece.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Bruce – too kind. I’d like to read your take on that one. A truly great album and one of my favourites.

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  8. Ah, the late sixties … Mini-skirts and vintage pop music. There’s never been a better time. Ever.

    Eagerly looking forward to your 1967 posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers. There seems to be a bit of interest in this half-century glance. Not that I’m feeling the pressure of course… (slight grimace).

      Like

  9. I pass the groove test, easily. Our local nite club (that’s how they spelled it) DJ used to play it every time – it took me years to find out what it was I’d been dancing to all that time.

    I’ve never heard any LPs of theirs at all. But I may well investigate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do, Booty-shaking man.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I never really looked into Booker T much after Green Onions but some of the tunes on this album are fantastic. I’ll be downloading a few of them tonight. Have you ever heard Roy Buchanan’s version oh “Green Onions”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I didn’t know Roy had tackled ‘Green Onions’. Should be worth a listen!
      If you’re downloading a few Booker T pieces, may I make one additional recommendation? Their version of ‘One Mint Julep’ is just wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be checking out “One Mint Julep” today. Roy did “Onions” on his album “Loading Zone” back in 77. Here is a link for you https://youtu.be/kyQqUDcwPlE

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes.

    I want that set. I’m on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great value, for sure.
      We were staying in a holiday house and amongst all the crap CDs was this superb set. Needless to say, it was a Booker T & The MGs kind of summer break!

      Like

  12. ‘Green Onions’ was the first take in CB’s coming out party. It’s amazing where these guys pop up. Together or separately. Cropper’s all over the place. I’ll be tuning in for more, you know that. ‘Sgt P’ wasn’t the only album is 67?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently not. A truly amazing year for music.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. […] Booker T & The MGs—Hip Hug-Her […]

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