The Kingston Trio–Greenback Dollar

By the time The Kingston Trio had released Greenback Dollar, they’d already had five number one albums and three more in the top ten (even more if you count live albums).  They were, and still are, one of the most successful groups in the history of the Billboard charts.  You wouldn’t expect most groups to release one of their biggest hits, best songs and angriest pieces more than ten albums in.  It’s clear, though, that The Kingston Trio aren’t most groups.  By today’s standards they may seem positively tame, but at the time they were doing something positively revolutionary.  They hit number one with an album largely of folk traditionals a full four years before Bob Dylan would even release his debut, essentially creating the popular folk music movement in America.  They could be lighthearted or serious, somber or downright angry.  Greenback Dollar is the latter, an indictment of the value society places on having and earning money.  It’s a spare, anti-capitalist, outsider work consisting of nothing more than three voices and an anxious, often metronomic, guitar.  Alternating between a hushed whisper of one man and the near shout of three, the wild swings in tone create a surprising danger to the song.  It’s hard to remember how rebellious loudly declaring “I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar” sounded in 1962, but the sound of the song remains wonderfully defiant to this day.

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