"Legal Tender" is the first single released by The B-52's from their 1983 album Whammy!. The single was their third Billboard Hot 100 chart entry, at #81. The song also peaked at #9 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart, along with album tracks "Whammy Kiss" and "Song for a Future Generation". The song was also an air-play and club hit in Brazil in 1984, and was performed during the band's set at the 1985 Rock in Rio music festival. When the band toured Brazil in 2009, they didn't include the song in their set, causing fans to chant for the band to play it. Because of the popularity of this song in Brazil, it appeared on the Brazilian version of Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation, where it replaced 52 Girls. This was the only version of this compilation it appeared on, although it was soon included on the Nude On The Moon compilation some years later.
Musically, "Legal Tender" is an upbeat synthesizer-fuelled track with a drum machine and hand-clap rhythm. The lead vocals are shared by Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. The opening track on the band's third record, Whammy!, it was a sign that the band had altered their sound quite significantly for this album. The band's heavy use of synthesizers on these tracks was indicative of a new wave trend at that time with The Human League, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and many others also making use of modern synthesizer machines. "Legal Tender" was performed live in the set of the Whammy! tour, with Keith Strickland on synthesizer and with horn parts added.
Lyrically, "Legal Tender" is an adventure in the counterfeiting of American dollars. The lyrics describe outfitting a basement with "heavy equipment", and learning to print bills because of rising prices. A music video was made to accompany "Legal Tender" for promotion on television, featuring many different coloured and shaped wigs (which were habitually worn by Wilson and Pierson in the band's early years).