From ‘Luck Be a Lady’ from Guys and Dolls to ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers, we love music about gambling, casinos and generally playing our cards right. But why are we so interested in this seemingly ordinary pastime, and why does it seem to inspire musicians and lyricists of every genre?
One reason is how glamorous the world of odds seems to us; it conjures images of a tuxedoed James Bond in a glittering casino, holding a martini (shaken, not stirred) in one hand, and putting his money down on the table. It is almost mysterious to us, a world that only some of us enter. This stereotype is only perpetuated by the existence of Las Vegas, a city dedicated to luck, but also to showmanship; at almost every hotel there is a casino, where clients can put a card behind the bar to pay for their cocktails as they take their chances against the house.
It also seems to fit perfectly into any music genre. It is food for rappers, who characteristically like to write and sing about their wealth, and how they spend it. It works as heavy rock, think about Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, or ‘The Jack’ by AC/DC. This is probably because we can tell a story with it, it can take us on a journey, following a character, just like the gambler in ‘The Gambler’ – and with that story comes an emotional connection (which increases the popularity of a song). It can also teach us a lesson; Ray Charles’ ‘Losing Hand’ talks about bouncing back after a run of bad luck, which inspires us to persevere through it all.
These tales bring another level of romance and subtlety to the world of gambling. There is just something so charming about old-style table games like blackjack and roulette that keep us wanting to be immersed, which makes it unsurprising that online casinos such as Duelz.com keep these kinds of games, even on a virtual platform, because they entice the player, just as they do musicians. Playing traditional casino games makes us want to sit in a smoking jacket, listening to someone like Elvis Presley, singing ‘Viva Las Vegas’ on a bedazzled stage, with flapper dances behind him – it is relentlessly entertaining, and singers tap into this inspiration.
Furthermore, the meaning of ‘to gamble’ is to take a risk, play a game of chance. This makes for excellent material as it doesn’t have to be straightforward, and it can be applied to all areas of life. Taking a chance on a new career, a new lover, or friendship, is always scary but is relevant to everyone and therefore makes artists more relatable, and in turn, makes their songs more popular. For example, ‘Poker Face’ by Lady Gaga literally talks about how no one can read her ‘poker face’, just like you would do during a card game, but she is actually talking about how her partner can’t read her and her sexuality.
For whatever reason, we love these songs, and no doubt there will be more to come.