When you consider how popular betting is, it shouldn't be surprising that casino games have spawned their share of hit television shows, movies, and especially songs. From folk and rock to country and hip hop, plenty of great gambling themed songs have topped the charts. Let's take a look and listen to some of the standout tracks that have made their mark over the years. Just don't blame us when they get stuck in your head.
While you might have difficulty making out more than the chorus in this heavy metal tour de force, this track is more than just a tribute to the coveted ace of spades. The song is loaded with great gambling verses like "pushing up the ante, I know you want to see me, read 'em and weep, the dead man's hand again." Lyrics like "you win some, lose some, it's all the same to me" might be a little too nonchalant for the skilled gambler in all of us, yet we can't resist playing this three-minute gem on repeat.
Label: Stony Plain Recording Co.
If you're the kind of guy or gal who always keeps a deck handy, you'll have no trouble relating to this Canadian country classic. In this catchy four-minute number, Lund runs down all the work and life commitments he wants to ditch simply so he can give in to his card obsession. At the end of the day, Lund would rather play blackjack, Omaha, Chinese rummy, draw poker, split hi-lo, Texas hold'em, let it ride and dozens of other games than write songs, book a show, play hockey, or spend time with his hot groupies.
Buried at the end of the third side of the Clash's critically acclaimed London Calling double LP, listeners will find this surprisingly buoyant piano number. While The Card Cheat's melody practically begs you to sing along, the words are rather dark. There's a great line early on that asks "with a card up his sleeve, what would he achieve?" Yet we later learn "as he lays down the king of spades, but the dealer just stares, there's something wrong here, he thinks." Of course, his fate is much worse as "the gambler is seized and forced to his knees and shot dead." Although cheaters almost always get caught in the end, chances are you'll get caught grooving to the horns section on this song.
Label: Warner Brothers
This Grateful Dead classic, which has been performed live more than 700 times, originally appeared on Jerry Garcia's 1972 solo release. The track is a tribute to gambling but it's also loaded with nuggets of wisdom. The song begins with the catchy lines "since it costs a lot to win and even more to lose, you and me bound to spend some time wondering what to choose." Yet it all comes down to pacing yourself with lines like "watch each card you play and play it slow." Although, perhaps the best advice Garcia gives is not to play at all, as the track ends with the verse "don't you let that deal go down." There's also a reference to his opponent "composing the lonesome blue," which symbolizes the inevitable defeat.
Label: Warner Brothers
Despite appearing on the recent Stevie Nicks solo album 24 Karat Gold - Songs From The Vault, The Dealer wouldn't feel out of place on a vintage Fleetwood Mac record. That's because the track was written back in 1979, but didn't see the light of day for another three and a half decades. The song which tackles the familiar topics of love and regret is filled with card references. Nicks casts herself as the dealer who "held the cards" but also refers to herself as a card shark. Lines like "I'll just almost hold you, you just almost stay here" might make you reconsider the way you play.
Label: Capital Records
Tex Ritter's spoken word version of Deck of Cards hit the top ten in 1948. Although the recording is a cover of the T. Texas Tyler song that also charted the same year, the lyrics come from a folk story that's been around for a couple centuries. The song recounts the tale of a soldier who is caught by his sergeant playing cards in church. The solider explains that the cards act as his bible. For example, the ace represents the one true god, three acts as the holy trinity, jack stands in for the devil, ten represents the number of commandments, and the queen is the Virgin Mary. The list goes on and on just like the deck itself.
Co-written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, this Eagles ballad is brimming with poker references. This particular desperado isn't a usual bandit who finds himself running from the law. Instead, his prison is solitude and the possibility of dying alone. In the eyes of the Eagles, it all comes down to the luck of the draw. Listen for lyrics like "don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boy, she'll beat you if she's able" and "the queen of hearts is always your best bet." While Linda Ronstadt's cover version help popularize the original, the song gained further prominence when the band reunited in the 90s.
If you've ever played deuces wild poker, you know that landing a two is your main fantasy at least while the game is in session. That's because deuces are whatever you need or want them to be. That line of thinking is at the core of this Aerosmith track. The woman who is the object of Steven Tyler's affection is up for anything. He repeatedly sings "I love you 'cause your deuces are wild, girl, like a double shot of lovin' so fine." There's actually another poker reference when he sings "cause you and me is two of a kind." They're the perfect pair as far as he is concerned, grammar aside.
Diamond Jack isn't widely known outside the United Kingdom, but the song will surely delight the ears of any gambler. The track is about a poker game with high stakes and is fully loaded with gambling lingo. You barely have to pay attention to hear the mention of the ace of hearts, which is "the dream of every man." The diamond jack in this track is the "black magical lady luck," which will show you the way. There are also references to odds with the final verse of "you have cast you dice, take your chances at they come, one by one."
Label: United Artist Records
You don't have to be a country music fan to appreciate The Gambler. This Kenny Rogers classic, which was written by Don Schlitz, recounts an encounter between the singer and a gambler aboard a train to nowhere. The star of the song has plenty of wisdom to offer card players. The catchy chorus that proclaims "you've got to know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run" is true whether you are playing cards or just living your life at large. Either way adding this hit to your playlist is no gamble at all.
This top country hit speaks of the hazards of following your heart using all sorts of gambling lingo. It's not hard to spot poker and betting references like high rollers, chips, betting on a loser, lady luck, and seven come eleven, which will be familiar to craps players. There's also a twist on the old adage the third time is a charm. Aside from appearing on Black's No Time To Kill, the song also makes its mark in the film Maverick. It's a particularly fitting selection, since the Western comedy features both a poker tournament and a love story. Naturally, the official video, which you can view above, features footage from movie.
Label: Sony/ BMG Music
Written especially for the hit film Lucky You starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, Huck's Tune is proof that the Nobel Prize winner's craft is still strong in the twenty-first century. Dylan sings about the perils of poker, money, and relationships, which are precisely what the film is about. We can all relate to lines like "the game's gotten old, the deck's gone cold, and I'm gonna have to put you down for a while" and "you push it all in, and you've no chance to win, you play'em on down to the end." All in all this is four minutes of classic Dylan.
Label: Albert Productions
Even casual card players will appreciate the poker analogies that lie at the heart of this
High Voltage album track. The song tells the story of a promiscuous woman who pretends to be innocent with great lines like "her deuce was wild, but my ace was high" and "said she'd never had a full house, but I should have known." Although the song is overshadowed by bigger hits like TNT, this blues rock classic is always worth a listen. Interestingly enough, AC/DC has altered this track over the years. If you catch a live clip, you'll notice that many of the poker references are gone as the track is now more sexually explicit.
Clocking in at close to nine minutes, this Bob Dylan classic features a complicated storyline that focuses more on planning a bank robbery, murder, and jealous lovers rather than the action upon the felt. The jack of hearts in this story is the leader of a gang of robbers while Rosemary is "a queen without a crown" and Lily is a princess at least metaphorically speaking. The song does mention Lily playing poker in the cabaret plus there are other loose references to suits and playing cards like the jack of hearts, kings, and a diamond mine.
Originally Released: 1938
Original Label: Vocalion
Although this Robert Johnson classic more than holds its own, all but the most ardent blues fanatics are more familiar with Eric Clapton's faithful cover version. The song is filled with gambling references, including mentions of the little queen of spades who men just won't leave alone. Throughout the song, Johnson cries that he's "gonna get a gamblin' woman" and by the end of the track, the singer proposes that the queen join him in a union so that they can "make our money green." Whether the lyricist is talking about a poker hand or a romantic pursuit, the message hits home.
Ray Charles isn't singing about a luckless night at the tables in this R&B standard written by Charles E. Calhoun. Like many songs about gambling, Losing Hand deals with betting on love and losing badly. The song begins and ends with the line "I gambled on your love baby and a got a losing hand," but what happens in the middle is even more interesting. We learn that the object of his affection was cheating yet he somehow continues to love you. Of course, you can't forget the other card analogies like "I thought I'd be your king baby, yes and you could be my queen."
Label: Asylum Records
When Tom Waits sings about "a place where a royal flush can never beat a pair" he isn't paying tribute to some bizarre poker variation. The Nickel actually refers to 5th street in Los Angeles. While card players might know 5th street as the river in several poker variations, in LA it's home to the downtrodden, or at least it was 37 years ago. Whether or not you are familiar with skid row, Waits reminds us that most games have winners and losers, especially the game known as life.
Close to a decade ago, Lady Gaga capitalized on the global poker boom and kick started her career with this smash hit that draws parallels between love and everybody's favorite card game. Beneath the infectious beat and sexual innuendo, you'll find plenty of poker-fueled lines like "luck and intuition play the cards with spades to start" and "I wanna hold em' like they do in Texas." If you're familiar with the song and Lady Gaga's career, you know that she ends up holding all the cards in this global chart topper.
Label: Def Jam
With samples of WSOP TV coverage, poker chips clanking, and witty lines from the hit movie Rounders, Pokerface might just be the ultimate tribute to the game. The hip-hop track doesn't waste its time using cards as a stand in for love. Instead, listeners are taken on a rhythmic journey that any poker player can relate to. You'll hear references to paying to see the river, 100/200 cash games, and landing a $400K pot. There are plenty of clichés for good measure like reminders that you should trust your gut and "you can't lose what you don't push into the pot."
Label: Capitol Records
Despite stalling at number two on the American pop and country charts, this card-themed classic dominated international airwaves in the early 1980s. Originally recorded by Dave Edmunds two years earlier, the Juice Newton version of this Hank DeVito hit is better known outside of the UK. Lyrically, the song finds the singer wearing her heart on her sleeve, "playing with the queen of hearts, knowing it ain't really smart." She goes on to say "the joker ain't the only fool who'll do anything for you." Clearly, she can't help herself even though she's going to get hurt repeatedly. As you might expect, the video features its share of shuffling decks.
With a chorus that finds the singer proclaiming his love for the queen of hearts, this track from Gregg Allman's debut album had little trouble earning a spot on our list. Although the song mentions "gambling with your own happiness," there's no denying this is a love song at its core. The track was written for Gregg's second wife Janice. Of course, history tells us that love can be quite a cruel game as the singer has been married and divorced six times. With refrains like "I love you queen of hearts, don't tell me when to stop, tell me when to start," we shouldn't be shocked at the way history played out.
Based on Peter Kavanagh's 1946 poem On Ragland Road, the song has become an Irish standard over the past few decades. While the Van Morrison version continues to be the most popular, the tune has been covered by the likes of Sinead O'Connor, Mark Knopfler, Ed Sheeran, and Billy Bragg. The song deals with throwing caution to the wind, falling in love, and playing the price with your heart. The card reference here is "the queen of heart still baking tarts." Sadly, the singer is "not making hay." At least when you're playing cards, there's always another hand around the corner.
Whether or not you care for Sting or The Police, it's hard to dismiss the brilliant concept behind Shape of My Heart. The song is about a poker player who doesn't care about winning or losing. Rather than playing for monetary gain, he plays for knowledge and to crack the code of the game. As Sting puts it, "he deals the cards to find the answer, the sacred geometry of chance, the hidden law of a probable outcome." As the song goes on, the player begins to make sense of the game, learning that "spades are the swords of a solider," "clubs are weapons of war," and "diamonds mean money for this art." Don't be surprised if you find yourself reaching for your deck before the tune is over.
Solitaire is a top 40 song about a man "who lost his love through his indifference." The world's loneliest card game doesn't just serve as the perfect analogy for dealing with failed romance, but it's mentioned repeatedly in this 1970s-folk staple. You don't have to listen diligently to be moved by lines like "keeping to himself he plays the game, without her love it always ends the same" and "while life goes on around him everywhere, he's playing solitaire." Although the Carpenters version of this song is the most popular, you can also find an Andy Williams rendition of this hit, which was co-written by Phil Cody and Neil Sedaka.
The late poet turned folk singer Leonard Cohen had plenty to say about gambling in this brilliant track from his debut album. While scholars might debate whether Cohen is singing about poker, drug dealing, love, or some carefully crafted combination of the three, there are lots of great lyrics that will appeal to any poker fan. Card players should have no trouble relating to the verse "then sweeping up the joker that he left behind, you find he did not leave you very much, not even laughter." Although we have to admit that lines such as "like any dealer he was watching for the card that is so high and wild, he'll never need to deal another" are a bit more confounding.
Label: Capitol Records
In Still the Same, Detroit singer-songwriter Bob Seger sings about a successful gambler who places all the right bets and knows that you should "never play the game too long." Yet despite the player's proven track record, Seger isn't particularly impressed when he encounters the character years later. Surprisingly, the song wasn't inspired by Las Vegas. According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, the song's subject is a combination of all the overachievers that he encountered during his first trip to Hollywood. Even in those days, it was a far cry from the State of Michigan.
Label: Black Rock Recorded Music
If you've ever wondered how a few rounds of poker with the devil might play out, you'll want to spin this O.A.R. classic. The song recounts the story of a luckless man who keeps losing it all at the tables. While that might seem within the realm of normal, things get out of hand when you add a little whisky, bourbon, and 45-caliber revolver into the mix. Naturally you'll find plenty of poker references like landing a full house but losing to a royal flush. Musically speaking, That Was a Crazy Game of Poker feels like two songs in one as the tempo slows down halfway through, which might make you feel like you hit the jackpot.
Label: Capitol Records
If you've ever seen Garth Brooks perform live, you'll know that this gem is always a crowd pleaser. The song compares domestic bliss to a winning poker hand. As a self-described perfect match, the singer and the object of his affection are two of a kind but they are "workin' on a full house," meaning there are some kids in the cards. You don't have to listen too carefully to spot other poker references like a "wild-card man" and "little queen of the south." This popular ditty, which Garth Brooks took to the top of the American and Canadian country charts was originally written and recorded by Dennis Robbins in 1987.
Label: RCA Records
Elvis Presley's Viva Las Vegas isn't just a great gambling song, it's the unofficial anthem of Sin City. The King covers all the bases with mentions of poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, and one armed bandits, which is an old-school name for slot machines. Elvis also pays tribute to the nightlife with references to a thousand pretty women, having a swinging time, and night becoming day. The track, which first appeared in the film of the same name, wasn't a huge hit at the time of its release. Yet the song has gained popularity and spawned countless covers in the decades since.
If you've ever been to Las Vegas, you know that the nights can get out of hand. That's precisely the topic Katy Perry tackles in this top 40 smash, which finds an underage couple trying to piece together what happened the night before. Although gambling takes a back seat to the fear of accidentally getting married, partying, and blackouts, it's hard to deny the truth behind the catch phrase what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. We all know that the mayhem matters as much as what unfolds at the tables.
Label: Capitol Nashville
Former Hootie and the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker topped the American country charts in 2013 with his version of the popular Old Crow Medicine Show song. The track, which was co-written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor, recounts the story of a man who is heading home to his southern roots after some gambling mishaps in New England. Listen for key lines like "lost my money playing poker so I had to leave town" and "I ain't turning back to living that old life no more." Wagon Wheel definitely deserves repeat listens even if you aren't partial to the genre.