‘Ace of Spades’ is often the first name on people’s lips when they’re asked to think of the best gambling songs. And with good reason. It’s simple, anthemic, and is named after the most famous card in the deck.
But Motörhead is far from the only band to record a great track to reference gambling.
According to OnlineCasinos.co.uk, Elvis Pressly, Elliott Smith, Abba are just three of the other excellent artists who have been inspired by casino games. We highlight those songs, add a couple of our own recommendations and explain why they’re absolutely ace tracks.
‘The Winner Takes It All’: ABBA
Scandinavia’s greatest contribution to humanity was on the road to disbandment when they released their finest single. It’s a love song, about how much of a gamble it is to give yourself to another person, emphasized by lines like:
“I’ve played all my cards
“And that’s what you’ve done too
“Nothing more to say
“No more ace to play”
ABBA songwriter’s co-songwriter, Björn Ulvaeus, and co-vocalist, Agnetha Fältskog, had once played their cards, with the pair marrying in July 1971. Their aces were gone by the time ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was released, with their divorce confirmed in the same month the single hit the shelves.
‘Kentucky Gambler’: Dolly Parton
If Elvis is The King then Dolly is certainly The Queen of Tennessee. As stated by NashvilleGab.com, the Volunteer State’s finest daughter has raised millions for Tennessee families. She’s also sold over 100 million records worldwide and scored 25 no. 1 tracks on the Billboard country music charts. One of those chart-topping songs is ‘Kentucky Gambler’, a cautionary tale about the seductive power of casino games.
‘Kentucky Gambler’ is the story of a miner who leaves his wife and children behind as he heads for the bright lights of Reno betting halls. Despite scoring initial success, he loses everything and is left with the realization that a “gambler loses much more than he wins.”
‘The Card Cheat’: The Clash
There’s something very workmanlike about The Clash. Despite being educated in a boarding school, Joe Strummer always extolled the virtue of earning your victories. ‘The Card Cheat’ sees Strummer use the story of a deceitful gambler to make the case for his philosophy, as these lyrics demonstrate:
“If he only had time to tell of all of the things he planned
“With a card up his sleeve, what would he achieve?
“It means nothing”
The message is clear: cheating is meaningless. While Strummer gambled frequently in his music (shifting between genres at will) his plays were underscored by hard work, never by disrespecting his talent by using a cheat code or taking the easy way out.
‘Angeles’: Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith may have been born in Omaha and spent much of his childhood in Duncanville but he’s the musical embodiment of Portland — articulate, creative, liberal, and tortured by chilly climes. ‘Angeles’ is taken from Smith’s finest record, ‘Either/Or,’ and it’s his take on the gamble of being a musician.
‘Angeles’ takes its protagonist into the wasp nest of one the music industry’s principal cities, home to some of the most noted labels and recording studios. Dreams can be made in the music industry and luck plays its part. However, Smith’s point is it’s not a gamble but a losing bet, with the “history of the trade” being that the cards in play add up to “zero” for musicians.
‘Viva Las Vegas’: Elvis Presley
It may come as a surprise to casual listeners that one of Elvis Presley’s most recognizable songs made it to number one in precisely zero countries when it was released. But ‘Viva Las Vegas’ became such an enduring song because it represents the heady, seedy and free-living nature of the globe’s gambling capital, as lines such as these show:
“How I wish that there were more
“Than the twenty-four hours in the day
“But even if there were forty more
“I wouldn’t sleep a minute away
“Oh, the blackjack and poker and the roulette wheel
“A fortune won and lost on ev’ry deal
“All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel
“Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas
As The King says, gambling comes with its risks and it could leave you broke. But if you marry responsible betting with mental fortitude then it can also be tremendous fun — it’s not by accident that millions of people flock to Vegas every year.
‘Ace of Spades’ may be the most famous gambling song. But it’s far from being the only great one and might not even be the best one, with ABBA, Dolly Parton, The Clash, Elliott Smith, and Elvis Presley all having strong claims.
Listen to the five songs we’ve highlighted, then stick on ‘Ace of Spades’ and make up your own mind about which one is the finest gambling track out of all of them.