Poker and gambling have a long and storied history in music, with musicians from all genres incorporating themes of risk, luck, and the human condition into their songs. From classic rock to country and blues, countless tunes celebrate the thrill and excitement of the casino.
In this article, we will explore some of the best songs about poker and gambling, examining what makes them so great and why they continue to inspire musicians today.
“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers
“The Gambler” is a timeless classic by country music legend Kenny Rogers, released in 1978. The song tells the story of a down-on-his-luck gambler who receives sage advice from an old-timer on a train. The lyrics offer a message of hope and encouragement, encouraging listeners to take chances and pursue their dreams, even in the face of adversity.
Interestingly, the song was actually written by Don Schlitz, a Nashville-based songwriter who originally intended it for another artist. However, when Rogers heard the song, he knew it was perfect for him and ended up recording it himself. The song became one of Rogers’ most popular hits and has been covered by many other artists over the years.
“The Gambler” also inspired a series of made-for-TV movies, with Rogers playing the title character. The first movie aired in 1980 and was followed by several sequels in the following years.
Overall, “The Gambler” remains one of the most beloved and iconic songs in country music history, and its timeless message continues to inspire listeners today.
Best Lines from the Song:
- “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”
- “Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep”
- “The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep”
- “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table”
- “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it right”
These lines have become part of the cultural lexicon and are often quoted and referenced in popular media. They have also inspired countless other musicians and songwriters, cementing “The Gambler” as a true classic.
“Poker Face” by Lady Gaga
“Poker Face” is a hit single by pop icon Lady Gaga, released in 2008. The song tells the story of a woman playing poker with her friends and trying to hide her emotions. The lyrics use the game of poker as a metaphor for love and relationships, showing how people often hide their true feelings behind a “poker face.”
Interestingly, “Poker Face” was actually written by Lady Gaga in just ten minutes. The song was originally intended to be a ballad, but Gaga and her producer, RedOne, decided to speed up the tempo and make it a dance-pop track.
The song was a massive hit for Lady Gaga, reaching the top of the charts in several countries and helping to establish her as a major force in the music industry. It has sold over 14 million copies worldwide and remains one of her most popular and beloved songs.
In addition to its commercial success, “Poker Face” has been recognized with several awards and honours. It won the award for Best Dance Recording at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010, and it was also nominated for Song of the Year.
“Poker Face” has also been covered and parodied by many other artists, including Glee, South Park, and Christopher Walken. The song’s iconic opening hook (“Mum mum mum mah”) has become one of the most recognizable and frequently imitated melodies in pop music.
I wanna hold ’em like they do in Texas, pleasegame intuition, play the cards with spades to start And after he’s been hooked, I’ll play the one that’s on his heartFold ’em, let ’em hit me, raise it, baby, stay with me (I love it) Love
“Ace of Spades” by Motörhead
“Ace of Spades” is a classic heavy metal song by the British band Motörhead. It was released in 1980 as the title track of their album of the same name and quickly became one of the band’s most popular and enduring songs.
The song is an anthem to the thrill and danger of living life on the edge, with lyrics that celebrate the “gambling man” who “knows the score” and is willing to take risks in pursuit of excitement and adventure. The “ace of spades” refers to the highest card in the deck, often seen as a symbol of death and the unknown.
The song’s distinctive riff, played on Lemmy Kilmister’s signature Rickenbacker bass guitar, has become one of the most recognizable and influential in heavy metal history, inspiring countless imitators and earning the song a place in the pantheon of classic rock anthems.
Ace of Spades Trivia:
- The song was recorded in just two days at Jackson’s Studios in Rickmansworth, England. According to legend, the band members stayed up for 48 hours straight, fuelled by amphetamines and alcohol, to finish the recording session.
- The song was a surprise hit for Motörhead, reaching number four on the UK Singles Chart and helping to propel the “Ace of Spades” album to gold status in the UK. The song also earned the band a loyal following in the United States, where it became a staple of heavy metal radio and helped to establish Motörhead as one of the genre’s leading lights.
- The song has been covered by numerous other artists, including Metallica, who famously performed a version of the song as a tribute to Lemmy at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Other notable covers include those by Slash, the Melvins, and the Flaming Lips.
- The song has been featured in numerous films, TV shows, and video games, including Iron Man 2, The Wrestler, and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.
- In 2020, a new boxed set was released to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Ace of Spades,” featuring a remastered version of the album, a live concert recording, a book, and other memorabilia. The set was dedicated to Lemmy, who passed away five years earlier.
“Deal” by Grateful Dead
“Deal” is a song by the American rock band The Grateful Dead, written by guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. It first appeared on the band’s 1971 album “Grateful Dead,” and has since become a beloved fan favourite and a staple of the band’s live shows.
Since it cost a lot to win
And even more to lose
You and me bound to spend some time
Wondering what to choose
It goes to show you don’t ever know
Watch each card you play
And play it slow
Wait until your deal come round
Don’t you let that deal go down
I been gambling hereabouts
For ten good solid years
If I told you all that went down
It would burn off both your ears
Musically, “Deal” is a classic example of the Grateful Dead’s unique blend of rock, blues, and country influences, with its catchy melody, tight harmonies, and virtuosic guitar work.
Here are some interesting facts and trivia about “Deal”:
- The song was first performed by the Grateful Dead in 1970, and quickly became a crowd favorite. It was often played as an encore or part of the band’s second set and remained a staple of their live shows until their final concert in 1995.
- “Deal” has been covered by numerous other artists, including the Allman Brothers Band, Phish, and John Mayer. The song’s catchy melody and memorable lyrics have made it a popular choice for jam bands and rock musicians of all stripes.
- In a 1981 interview, Garcia described the song as being about “the people who have an itch to succeed in show business or any other aspect of life,” and the compromises they must make to achieve their goals. He also noted that the song’s protagonist was not necessarily autobiographical but a composite of various people he had met over the years.
- The song has been used in numerous films, TV shows, and commercials, including the movie “Freaky Friday” and the TV show “Fargo.” It has also been featured in video games such as “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.
- In 2015, a video of a 14-year-old girl playing an acoustic version of “Deal” went viral, earning praise from fans and musicians alike. The girl, known as Tina S., has since become a YouTube sensation and a rising star in the world of guitar playing.
“Luck Be a Lady” by Frank Sinatra
“Luck Be a Lady” by Frank Sinatra is one of the most iconic songs about gambling in the Great American Songbook. The song tells the story of a gambler trying to win big in a game of craps with the hope that luck will be on his side. With its swinging melody and smooth vocals, “Luck Be a Lady” has become a classic tune beloved by fans of all ages.
What sets “Luck Be a Lady” apart from other songs about gambling is its connection to the glamorous world of Las Vegas. The song has become synonymous with the city’s casinos and nightlife, and it continues to be a popular tune for performers who are looking to capture the excitement and glamour of Sin City.
Interesting Facts about Luck Be a Lady
- The song was written by Frank Loesser for the musical “Guys and Dolls,” which premiered on Broadway in 1950. The original production starred Robert Alda and Isabel Bigley, and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
- The song has been covered by numerous other artists over the years, including Marlon Brando (who starred in the film adaptation of “Guys and Dolls” in 1955), Barbra Streisand, and Brian Setzer Orchestra. The song has also been used in numerous films, TV shows, and commercials.
- Sinatra’s version of “Luck Be a Lady” was arranged by Nelson Riddle, one of his longtime collaborators and one of the most respected arrangers in the history of popular music. Riddle’s lush, orchestral arrangements helped to define Sinatra’s sound in the 1950s and 1960s, and are still celebrated for their elegance and sophistication.
- The song’s lyrics have been praised for their clever wordplay and catchy phrasing. In particular, the repeated line “Luck be a lady tonight” has become a popular catchphrase and cultural reference, used in everything from advertising slogans to TV show titles.
- In 2017, the song was included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, which honours recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The registry cited the song’s “impeccable musicality” and its status as a “quintessential example of Sinatra’s mastery of the Great American Songbook.
“Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley
Speaking of Las Vegas, “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley is another iconic tune about gambling that is beloved by fans around the world. The song celebrates the excitement and glamour of Sin City, with its catchy melody and upbeat lyrics capturing the thrill of the casino world.
What sets “Viva Las Vegas” apart from other songs about gambling is its connection to Elvis Presley, one of the most iconic performers in music history. The song has become a staple of Presley’s legacy, and it continues to be a favourite of fans looking to relive the excitement of the Las Vegas Strip.
Trivia about Viva Las Vegas
- The song was written specifically for the movie “Viva Las Vegas,” which starred Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret. The film was a hit at the box office and helped to establish Las Vegas as a destination for tourists and gamblers.
- The song was originally intended to be sung by Ann-Margret’s character, but Presley ended up recording it for the movie’s soundtrack. The song’s catchy melody, memorable lyrics, and upbeat tempo helped to make it one of Presley’s most enduring hits.
- “Viva Las Vegas” has been covered by numerous other artists, including ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen, and Dead Kennedys. The song’s rock and roll spirit and celebratory lyrics have made it a popular choice for parties, weddings, and other festive occasions.
- The song’s lyrics describe the excitement and glamour of Las Vegas, with lines like “Bright light city gonna set my soul / Gonna set my soul on fire” and “A thousand pretty women waitin’ out there / And they’re all livin’ devil may care.” The song’s playful, tongue-in-cheek approach to the city’s hedonistic reputation has helped to make it a cultural touchstone and a beloved part of Las Vegas’s mythology.
- In 1995, the city of Las Vegas officially adopted “Viva Las Vegas” as its official song, recognizing its status as a cultural icon and a celebration of the city’s spirit of fun and adventure.
“House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals
“House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional folk song that has been recorded by many artists over the years, but it is perhaps best known for the version recorded by the British rock band The Animals in 1964. The song’s haunting melody and lyrics have made it a beloved classic of both folk and rock music.
The song tells the story of a young man who has been led astray by his life of gambling and vice in the “House of the Rising Sun,” a brothel or gambling house in New Orleans. The protagonist is haunted by his past mistakes and the knowledge that he can never escape his fate, no matter how hard he tries. The song’s melancholy lyrics and mournful melody capture the essence of his tragic story.
House of the Rising Sun Trivia
- The song’s origins are somewhat unclear, but it is believed to have originated in the United States in the early 19th century. The earliest known printed version of the song was collected by musicologist Alan Lomax in 1937, but the song is likely much older than that.
- The song has been recorded by many artists over the years, including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Nina Simone. However, The Animals’ version is perhaps the most famous and hailed as a classic of the British Invasion.
- The Animals’ version of the song features a distinctive arrangement, with a driving rhythm and a powerful organ solo. The arrangement was largely the work of keyboardist Alan Price, who left the band in 1965 and had a successful career as a solo artist and composer.
- The song was a massive hit for The Animals, reaching number one on the charts in the UK and the US. The success of the song helped to establish the band as one of the most important and influential acts of the British Invasion.
- The song’s lyrics have been interpreted in many different ways over the years, with some seeing it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of vice and others as a lament for the inevitable fate of those born into poverty and struggle. Regardless of its interpretation, the song remains a powerful and evocative expression of the human condition.
“Roulette” by Bruce Springsteen
“Roulette” is a song by American rock musician Bruce Springsteen, first released on his album “Tracks” in 1998. The song’s lyrics describe a world of risk, danger, and uncertainty, where the stakes are high, and the consequences are often deadly. The protagonist is a gambler who is addicted to the thrill of the game, even though he knows it can never truly be won. The song’s dark themes and intense energy have made it a classic of Springsteen’s catalog.
Facts and Trivia about Roulette
- The song was originally recorded in 1980 during the sessions for Springsteen’s album “The River,” but was not included in the final release. The song was eventually released on the “Tracks” box set in 1998, along with many other previously unreleased tracks from Springsteen’s archives.
- The song’s lyrics have been interpreted in many different ways over the years, with some seeing it as a commentary on the dangers of addiction and others as a metaphor for the political and social turmoil of the time. Regardless of its interpretation, the song remains a powerful and evocative expression of the human condition.
- The song’s imagery and themes have been compared to the work of other artists, such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, who are known for their dark, poetic lyrics and their willingness to explore the darker side of the human experience.
- Despite never having been released as a single, “Roulette” remains a testament to his skills as a songwriter and performer. The song’s raw energy and powerful lyrics continue to resonate with fans of all ages and backgrounds.
“All I Wanna Do Is Play Cards” by Corb Lund
“All I Wanna Do Is Play Cards” by Corb Lund is a classic tune about poker that tells the story of a gambler looking to escape from the pressures of the world around him. With its catchy melody and relatable lyrics, “All I Wanna Do Is Play Cards” has become a favourite of fans of country and Western music.
What sets “All I Wanna Do Is Play Cards” apart from other songs about gambling is its connection to the simple pleasures of life. The song highlights the joy and escape that can be found in a poker game, and it encourages listeners to take a step back from the stresses of their lives and embrace the moment.
Well, I guess I really oughta’ be makin’Up songs but all I wanna do is play cards I know it’s dumb and sick and wrong but all I wanna do is play cards I got the studio booked in Tennessee And my record producer’s callin’ me The tape will roll in just three weeks, and all I wanna do is play cardsThey wanna book the band for a rodeo dance, and all I wanna do is play cards The contract claims they got five grand, but all I wanna do is play cards My agent says we oughta take the show But to tell you the truth I don’t wanna go There’s a real good game of split high-low, and all I wanna do is play cards
In conclusion, poker and gambling have inspired musicians for decades, producing some of the most iconic songs in music history. From Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” these tunes celebrate the thrill and excitement of the casino world while also exploring deeper themes of risk, luck, and the human condition. As long as there are poker tables and casinos, there will be musicians who are inspired to create new songs about these exciting worlds.