From efforts by vintage crooners to those of Californian hardcore bands, there really is no shortage of tracks that use the pursuit of lady luck as a lyrical theme.
Some celebrate the gamble and live their life around risk, others hope serenading lady luck will bring them riches, and some are all about life lessons from the gambler’s own lips. Without further ado, here are our favourite five tracks all about gambling.
From the hit Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, our first legendary gambling track is all about a date with lady luck. The stakes are pretty high for one of the lead characters, Sky Masterson, as he breaks into one of the show’s more memorable numbers. The outcome of what is surely one of Masterson’s more outlandish bets will determine his future with the object of his affections, Miss Sarah.
The original version of the track sees vocalist Robert Alda praying for lady luck to stay on his side long enough to win his wager and get the girl:
“A lady never leaves her escort
It isn't fair, it isn't nice
A lady doesn't wander all over the room
And blow on some other guys dice.”
The tune, composed by Frank Loesser for the musical in 1950, suitably impressed an entertainer synonymous with Sin City – Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes put out a version of “Luck Be a Lady” on a collection of tracks written by Loesser. The physical release was titled Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre, with the track itself elevating to an absolute staple of popular culture.
What list of music’s finest homage’s to gambling would be complete without a bit of Motorhead? Of course, we’re talking about what’s now arguably the London three-piece’s most famous track – “Ace of Spades”.
Legendary frontperson Lemmy Kilmister makes absolutely no bones about his love for all things chance throughout the track. After a massive opening riff, practically every line from the singer’s mouth features some reference to gambling. He makes specific references to the game of craps, poker, and blackjack. His love of the action is explicit in lines like:
“If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man
You win some, lose some, it's - all - the same to me
The pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say.”
Lemmy approaches his gambling as he approaches the rest of his life. He’s a gambler through and through, even hinting that he knows his lifestyle isn’t infinitely sustainable but that’s the way he chooses to live:
“But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live forever.”
Motorhead are so synonymous with gambling today that the band has been further immortalised as an online slot machine. Playtech’s Motorhead features real music from the legends and plenty of iconic imagery. It’s one of several music themed slot games available at online casinos today.
Hop aboard an old freighter for a life lesson from a gambler not too long for this world. On this classic track, Rogers laments an encounter he had on the rails.
Whilst struggling to sleep travelling across the country, Rogers and “the gambler” spark up a conversation over a smoke and a sip of whisky. The singer’s new, unnamed acquaintance delivers his advice in the form of a gambling allegory.
Perhaps the most famous lines are:
"You got to know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run.”
The gambler’s lesson is to hold onto what’s important to life. Unfortunately, he passes away moments after delivering his message, leaving Rogers to dwell on its meaning. Chocked full of powerful imagery, this 1978 classic from the album of the same name, was an obvious inclusion on this list.
Another gambling allegory, however this time it’s a warning! The Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger uses “Tumbling Dice” from the 1972 double album Exile on Main St. to lay it down nice and clearly for his many prospective love interests.
Jagger essentially says to the women following him around town to not get too close to him, since he’s “Playin’ the field ev’ry night”. In the tune, Mick represents the dice and the ladies have to give him a tumble. If they’re lucky, he might stick around. However, his “poor feet a itchin’” might mean that he’s quickly ready for his next conquest!
The track is utterly littered with gambling references. He mentions “wild deuces”, “sixes, sevens, and nines” – both presumably references to poker hands. He also explicitly refers to women as “low down gamblers” and himself as “the lone crap shooter”.
By far the oldest ode to gambling on our list of the ultimate tunes devoted to the pastime is “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues”. Of course, we’d have at least one absolute classic blues number on our list, given the strong appreciation of gambling as a pastime in parts of the US more famous for their love of the genre.
In this obituary of sorts, McTell tells the story of Little Jessie – a wild and crooked craps player who’s down on his luck. In a particularly unfortunate series of events, Jessie loses his girl and gets shot by the police.
As he lies on his deathbed, he details his dream funeral to his crew of nogoodniks and hustlers. After telling his boys, “I got to die today”, he orders his associates to arrange a real gambler’s send off.
“I want a gang of gamblers gathered 'round my coffin-side
Crooked card printed on my hearse”
McTell paints a vivid picture of every vagabond in the city coming out to pay their respects. He says he wants the lawmakers who have thrown the book at him playing dice in his honour, the high sheriff leading the parade with a game of black jack, and a deck of cards on his tombstone.
“Send poker players to the graveyard,
Dig my grave with the ace of spades.”
Are suitably dark, particularly for a tune released before the second world war. The song is a macabre one but McTell manages to keep it from being depressing with a touch of the absurd.
Whilst not as instantly recognisable as “Ace of Spades” or “Luck be a Lady”, the “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” has a real authentic charm and is a must-include on the ultimate gambling song playlist.
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