The B-52’s released “Legal Tender,” a tribute to counterfeiting money in one’s basement, in 1983. I’m not sure of the actual release date for the single, but the Whammy! album was released on May 21, 1983 and “Legal Tender” was the first single. “Legal Tender” peaked at #81 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance CLub Play Chart. (It was also big in Brazil!) The song was written with their friend Robert Waldrop, who also contributed lyrics to “Roam,” “Dirty Back Road,” and “Revolution Earth.”
The picture used on the “Legal Tender” and Whammy! record sleeves was taken by photographer William Wegman, famous for taking pictures of his Weimaraners May Ray and Fay Ray. According to The B-52’s Universe by Mats Sexton, this was his first commercial assignment and he took a whole role before he realized he didn’t have film in the camera. He and the band decided to experiment with his big Polaroid cameras. The B-52’s like the picture of flour coming down onto them and his friend’s dog, Charley.
Legal Tender 3’40
The music video for “Legal Tender” was filmed when The B-52’s were on their 1983 Whammy! Tour in June 1983. (They also filmed a music video for “Song for a Future Generation” at Charlie Chaplin’s former studio set in Hollywood, which included columns, candelabras, and chandeliers from a recent Liberace show.) Both were actually their first music videos. Unfortunately, the music videos didn’t receive much airplay on MTV.
The “Legal Tender” music video is a homage to their trademark big wigs, with the band members wearing colorful outfits and playing walkie talkies. It’s a fun video that really captures the simplicity of the time and is one of my favorites.
I first heard “Legal Tender” when my friend and neighbor, Cherry Duke, played her Whammy! cassette for me. It didn’t grow on me immediately, yet over time, it’s become one of my favorite B-52’s albums. I like the contrast of the drum machines and synthesizers, along with the shout-out-loud lyrics and hand-claps. Furthermore, wasn’t it about time someone wrote a pop song about counterfeiting money in one’s basement? “Legal Tender” and “Summer of Love” remain my two favorite B-52’s songs.
What are your memories of “Legal Tender” by The B-52’s?