song of the day – “Legal Tender” | THE B-52’s | 1983.

One of the first things I learned about WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine when I started my little 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s, there in 1996 was the Begathon.  WMPG gets approximately 1/3 of its funding from the University of Southern Maine, approximately 1/3 from underwriting, and approximately 1/3 from listener donations.  A large chunk of the latter comes from the Begathon.  What started out as a 2-week pledge drive in which volunteer radio hosts would “beg” to raise money for the station is now split up into two 1-week pledge drives, one in the Spring and one in the Fall.  It’s come a long way since my first Begathon in the Fall of 1996.  My very last Begathon for WMPG will be on Sunday, 9.25.2016.


“Legal Tender” by The B-52’s is another of my favorite “money” songs, and I like to play it especially around Begathon time.  For their third studio album, 1983’s WHAMMY!, the Athens, GA music legends took a more New Wave / Synthpop direction, and though the love for the album was mixed, WHAMMY! was still popular enough to be certified Gold here in the U.S., selling over 500,000 copies.


The leadoff track (and single) from WHAMMY!, the fun “Legal Tender” (with Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson sharing vocals) was a big club and radio hit in Brazil, and in the U.S., it became their third single to chart on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 chart, debuting in mid-July 1983 at No. 88.  The song’s time on the chart was short-lived, however, peaking at No. 81 two weeks later, and cashing out after four weeks.  The B-52’s wouldn’t reach the Hot 100 again until “Love Shack” debuted in early September 1989.  It was the comeback of the year.


The Japanese single for “Legal Tender.”

It did, however, have more success on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, reaching No. 9 with two more tracks from WHAMMY!: “Whammy Kiss” and “Song For A Future Generation” (“Hi, my name is Ron, and I’m an Aquarius!”).

In a 1983 ROLLING STONE review of WHAMMY! by Chris Connelly, he said, “On ‘Legal Tender,’ the band’s ode to counterfeiting, they holler, ‘Ten!  Twenty!  Thirty million dollars / Ready to be spent,’ in what must be the most exuberant tribute to wealth–ill-gotten or otherwise–in rock annals.  So appealing are their performances that by the time they introduce themselves in the gut-busting ‘Song For A Future Generation’ (‘Hello, I’m Cindy.  I’m a Pisces, and I like Chihuahuas and Chinese noodles!’), you’re almost hoping they’ll tell you their phone numbers.”

Folks kinda tend to forget about WHAMMY!, but I suggest you revisit it sometime, as there were so many great songs on the album, including the kick-ass instrumental, “Work That Skirt,” and the aforementioned “Whammy Kiss,” “Song For A Future Generation” and of course, “Legal Tender” – three minutes and forty seconds of pure, fun Synthpop perfection.



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