There are all sorts of inspirational starting points for the writers and performers of country music hits, with heartbreak, love, hard times, and trucks all being popular ones for artists to draw from.
However, there are other smaller sub-genres of country music songs that are sometimes so well known that they fly beneath the listener’s radar, their message occasionally lost due to how catchy their rhythms are.
Here we take a look at some such songs, all of which put classic card, board, and table games at the heart of their lyrics, with many of them being staples of iconic venues like the Grand Ole Opry.
Many country music classics have borrowed terminology from games such as chess, poker, and backgammon
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts – Bob Dylan
This song first appeared on Dylan’s 1975 album entitled Blood on the Tracks and its lyrics depict a wild west style outpost, where cowboys run free and there is a blend of fun and mischief being had.
While any number of games can be imagined going on in the background of the scenes depicted in Dylan’s lyrics, one that clearly pops up is a game of 5-Card Stud, which is being played by a group of women, under the watchful eye of the song’s protagonist, the Jack of Hearts. Dylan is among a number of countless musicians and lyricists to have drawn inspiration from the multiple variants of poker that exist today, but few have managed to recreate the excitement of the game quite as Dylan did, with his song set in the midst of a wacky saloon in the back of beyond.
Poker was also not the only classic game that this virtuoso singer-songwriter used to enjoy strumming his guitar over, as Dylan put chess front and center of his hit, Only a Pawn in Their Game. At the end of the day, though, it was the listeners who were ultimately the willing pawns in Dylan’s endlessly masterful discography.
With such a strong connection to the cowboy lifestyle, it is perhaps no surprise that country music has drawn inspiration from some of the games that always appeared in saloons
Dear John – Taylor Swift
Of course, the rules or specific moves involved in classic games are not always showcased in the lyrics of country songs, with artists sometimes preferring to use them as analogies to describe painful, difficult, or exciting things that have happened in their lives.
Such was the case with Taylor Swift’s 2010 hit called Dear John, which many of her fans believe to be a stinging rebuke of the way fellow country artist John Mayer treated her.
In order to describe the damaging dynamic their relationship formed, Swift penned the lyrics “I lived in your chess game (…) you changed the rules every day” which certainly does not sound fair to us.
Perhaps it is no surprise that their particular game of chess happened to resemble more of a game of Blitz Chess; taking no time at all to come to an end.
Melisa – Ray Stevens
While it’s no problem trying to track down songs inspired by poker or chess, it is a little trickier trying to find those that include backgammon in their lyrics or titles.
Luckily, Ray Stevens can always be counted to come through for any country fan, and his 1981 hit called Melisa made mention of the classic board game.
The song was mainly about Stevens wishing he could attract the attention of well-to-do women, with one of their chosen pursuits – according to Stevens – being the game of backgammon.
The song’s namesake, Melisa, is one such lady, who Stevens falls in love with in Boston, only for her to disappear soon thereafter. Such is the life of a touring country music star.
Viva Las Vegas – Elvis Prestley
Music fans can debate all day long about whether Elvis was a country star or a rock and roll artist, but one thing that is for sure is that his 1964 hit Viva Las Vegas captured exactly how and why classic games had Sin City under their spell during the 60s, and indeed have done ever since