Yes! It’s about time we revisited our favourite gambling tunes to get us into the gambling vibes and put those singalong lyrics into our brains. Obviously, we’re all hitting The Gambler by Kenny Rogers on repeat. I mean … duh … ”You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”? Classic! A gambler song for gamblers about gamblers. And Viva Las Vegas by The King (Elvis Presley for those newcomers to the world of rhinestone jumpsuits and Sin City), an anthem for any self-respecting fan of games of chance.
And, of course, “Lily took her dress off and buried it away”, another … wait, what?
Sorry, let’s rather go with “I won’t tell you that I love you, kiss or hug you, ‘cause I’m bluffin’ with my muffin…” and there we go, down the rabbit hole of what exactly makes a gambling song.
Because yes, there are tons of songs that are really all about gambling, but there are also a few that you may not realise are not actually about games of chance – unless you think love is a game of chance?
Gambling and gambling terms have had a huge impact on the world and on our sayings and idioms, our everyday language, and on our arts and culture.
And sometimes it comes out in unexpected ways, as the CasinoPlay discovered much to our delight.
Let’s just get this one out of the right now: does anyone actually believe this mega-hit is actually about poker in any way, shape or form?
When Lady Gaga released this hit song in 2008 it shot her up the charts and became a worldwide anthem. Her millions of fans were belting out the refrain, the song was played over radio stations and mall speakers. It was a true smash hit.
And gamblers everywhere stuck it onto their gambling playlists.
With lyrics that referenced Texas hold ’em, folding, raising, spades, and more, Poker face seemed like a straight up song about playing poker. But then people started to really think about the lyrics. And a lot of rumours started spreading that the song was more about sex than about poker. There are even examples of Lady Gaga using some very interesting alternative lyrics to the refrain of “P-p-p-poker face” (hint: rhymes with duck).
The rumours were finally put to rest when Lady Gaga came out and stated that yes, Poker face was about sex (and cards – but more about sex) and the song was written about bisexuality.
Twelve years before ‘Poker face’, back in the old days of 1996, Suzanne Vega released this beautiful track that sounds as if it’s just a game of poker between different players (Deadpan Face the ‘poker-faced’ player, Lamebrain Pete the idiot, Butcher Boy the rough guy, the dealer, and the player who is singing the song).
Dig a little deeper though and we can see that ‘No cheap thrills’ is a very clever way of using poker to describe a woman sizing up her potential romantic partners and warning the eventual winner of her affections that “it will cost you everything you have to pay”.
What makes this song so great is the way Suzanne Vega loads the scene with well-known and obscure poker references, all designed to add depth to the players/suitors and to the glee with which she is outplaying her paramours. “Ante up” meaning they’ll have to pay to play, and her affections are not something to be taken lightly. “Lamebrain Pete wants to spit in the sea” refers to a poker variant as well as a hopeless situation (similar to a drop in a bucket). Butcher Boy thinks “he’ll be splitting the pot, but I’ve seen what he’s got, and it isn’t a lot” – WOW! Talk about emasculating! Not only is his hand worthless but he’s also apparently packing a disappointing …
A great song from an insanely talented musician that perfectly illustrates how gambling – and poker especially – can be used as a metaphor for relationships.
Chris de Burgh is one of the best at turning a story into a song, and Spanish Train is possibly one of the most haunting and beautiful examples of how a talented musician can create a hit tune with meaningful lyrics rather than a repetitive beat, inane words and a few scantily dressed dancers for the music video.
While Spanish Train definitely features gambling, it’s more about the fight between good and evil than about the card games (or other games that take place). The Lord and the Devil start out by playing cards (“Joker is the name, poker is the game”) for the highest stakes possible (And then we’ll bet for the highest stakes yet, the souls of the dead”). The Devil cheats and wins more souls but the Lord never gives up, a situation that the unnamed singer/witness to the betting dreads as his own soul is on the line.
By the end of the song the two gamblers have moved from cards to chess, the Devil still cheats, the Lord still tries his best, and the narrator is in fear for his own future.
An absolutely incredible feat of song writing!
Sting has become well known for his esoteric leanings and this song is a perfect example of how he is using the symbolism in a deck of cards to view the world around him and his place in it.
Knowing that our modern decks have a strong relationship to the Tarot deck – the Deck of Fates used in fortune telling – gives us an insight into why Sting is using the cards to illustrate his search for meaning in life, because that’s what the song is all about: the search for meaning in life, love, and success.
In Sting’s own words: “I wanted to write a song about a card player – someone who wasn’t necessarily interested in winning but was looking for some kind of mystical logic behind the laws of chance.”
The ‘dealer’ has often been likened to a God-like figure, one who deals the cards for our lives with no investment in the outcome, “He deals the cards as a meditation, and those he plays never suspect. He doesn’t play for the money he wins, he doesn’t play for respect.” He’s just like a casino dealer who’s only purpose is to provide the means but not the method for a successful wager.
“He deals the cards to find the answer, the sacred geometry of chance, the hidden law of a probable outcome, the numbers lead a dance”. It’s an analogy of how life cannot be predicted, of how a single card can change fate.
Esoteric and symbolic and a bit weird when you delve into the underlying meanings in the song but a great song nevertheless.
Everybody’s secret guilty pleasure – the absolute rulers of the pop world – and if you deny you have a sneaky little booty shake when ABBA comes on the radio, we call you a liar!
The Swedish quartet released this chart busting #1 hit in 1980 and, at a surface listen, might seem to be about winning at gambling. There are numerous gambling-related words and phrases throughout the song, “I’ve played all my cards”, “No more ace to play”, “The gods may throw a dice”, etc., but there is also the relationship aspect to the whole thing.
ABBA use the gambling metaphors to reveal the singer’s heartbreak and loss at the ending of a relationship. It’s a powerful song of love and loss and was released while two of the ban members, Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, were in the middle of going through a divorce. While the band doesn’t implicitly state that this influenced the song, they do admit that it inspired.
Once again, love and relationships as laid bare by that most fickle of the gambler’s companions – chance.
Our last entry and the song that inspired our search for gambling-related songs that aren’t about gambling – The Jack by Aussie legends AC/DC! Released in 1975 on the T.N.T. album and featuring the original AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott, The Jack fast became one of the band’s most played and popular songs.
Now this song is a weird and wonderful journey of knowing not only cards but also local slang. On the surface, and knowing the types of songs that AC/DC are known for, we already get the feeling that we’re not dealing with a straight deck here:
She gave me the queen
She gave me the king
She was wheelin’ and dealin’
Just doin’ her thing
She was holdin’ a pair
But I had to try
Her deuce was wild
But my ace was high
But how was I to know
That she’d been dealt with before
Said she’d never had a full house
But I should have known
From the tattoo on her left leg
And the garter on her right
She’d have the card to bring me down
If she played it right
It’s super obvious that this is a smutty, dirty, rock n’ roll song rather than an actual card game, isn’t it?
But it gets even smuttier!
“She’s got the jack”, the words of the chorus, have a very specific meaning in Australia: the jack is slang for gonorrhea. With that little bit of knowledge in mind, have a new look at those lyrics. Pretty wild!
Whatever your game, whatever your stake, having the perfect playlist to get you rocking and rolling (whether in your head at a land-based casino or blasting out of your speakers at home while you hit the online gambling venues) is just one way of adding to the thrill of dancing with Lady Luck.
There are songs that are dedicated to the love of the games. There are songs dedicated to the dangers of the games. There are songs that are odes to the lifestyles, the cities, the people.
And there are songs that show that our relationships, our past, present and future, our lives, are all just as fickle and prone to fate as any game of cards or spin of the roulette wheel.
What are your go-to gambling songs? Tell us in the comments.