A good few weeks ago, I was listening to an album and my thoughts came to the idea of songs about winning. But, then, I thought, what about losing? And after I asked for more suggestions from my ever-helpful friends on Facebook, it transpired that I had enough songs for winning, losing and gambling, too.
So, I’ll look at all three in the coming weeks, but first off, I’m rolling the dice.
Aside from the odd couple of quid on the lottery here and there, I’ve never gambled to any notable degree. I watch a lot of sport, but don’t place bets, I eschew wagers in the office as a general rule, too (there might be a quid on a sweepstake for a football tournament, but I sure as hell won’t put in money for a horse race).
Even when we spent a night in the famed gambling city of Las Vegas in December, we chose not to play the tables or the slot machines. It was kinda overwhelming, we weren’t keen on playing games we weren’t especially au fait with (the number of variants of poker, for example, were crazy), and we were instead happy to watch – and go and see an astonishing magic show (Penn & Teller, of course).
Anyway, let’s spin the wheel and see what comes up.
It Could Be You
The Great Escape
The first National Lottery draw in the UK was on 19 Nov 1994 – other lotteries had existed in the UK for some decades, but none on this scale – and it quickly gripped the nation as large amounts of money spent on tickets in the early months meant some enormous jackpots being won. Nothing on the level of Powerball in the US, or El Gordo in Spain, but big by our standards. So it was perhaps no surprise to see a few songs about it appearing in short order, and Blur did so within about a year with this song, which, to be honest, sounded anything but a winner.
Ace of Spades
Ace of Spades
Back in 2007, when this Tuesday Ten lark was still new, I featured this in 007: Songs To Annoy Your Neighbours. Nowadays, I try my best not to repeat myself, and use different songs if they’ve already appeared before. But, this is Motörhead we’re talking about here, and how could I possibly not include this immortal track, which not for the first time in this list, uses all kinds of card metaphors (although as at least one friend told a story after Lemmy’s death, he was more of a “one-armed bandit” kinda man), but the lyrics aren’t especially important for one of the most important rock/metal tracks ever recorded.
Well, it’s not exactly about gambling…but AC/DC, particularly in their prime, were adept at using every single possible way of talking about sex without directly doing so. So here, Bon Scott (or later on, Brian Johnson), deals his way through an entire deck of cards as he tries to understand exactly what his new paramour has done before, and it sounds like the answer to this dirty, dirty blues groove of a song is “a lot more than he expected”.
Luck Be A Lady Tonight
Sinatra ’65: The Singer Today
Released, covered, and re-released endless times, this song was written and originally released in the early fifties in the musical Guys and Dolls, but the Sinatra version became the standard, really – and one of his signature songs.
To a point about wooing a lady, of course – and the male protagonist hoping that his, er, luck is in that night – it can also be seen as the Lady in question being a lucky charm for a gambler, as is the cliché whenever you see films featuring Vegas. As, of course, this is a Vegas song. Sinatra and the Rat Pack were almost indelibly associated with Vegas, as I’m sure they will be forever more.
Heading from the west, to the east coast, to the New Jersey city that is perhaps as associated with gambling and entertainment as much as Vegas, but has a rather more downbeat, “shoulda been” air to it, by all accounts. So perhaps it is appropriate that the city features on Springsteen’s bleakest, darkest album, and here it is depicted as a place where hope goes to die. Where there are “winners and losers, but don’t get caught on the wrong side of the line”. Where there are fights, money and hope lost. A reminder that for every winner, there is a loser, and in this case, it appears to be a whole city.
Tour de Force
United States of Mind
Something a bit more upbeat now. One of Swedish futurepop titans Covenant’s greatest songs, here they weave in the spins of the roulette wheel as a metaphor for the sparring of courtship. Will taking a chance on one move mean that you lose your chance, or will you hit the jackpot of love? This phenomenal track is paced perfectly, with that rush of success shown by the charging chorus.
Like Luck Be A Lady, Kenny Rogers’ hit is one of those songs that a few people chanced their hand with first, only to fold and fail, while somehow Rogers made it stick. That said, this is one of those songs that is so catchy – particularly that chorus – that it’s perhaps no surprise that, at last, it was a hit for someone.
Anyway, the gambler is an anonymous traveller who offers sage life advice, using his card skills to “read” the narrator and provide that broadly boils down to “pick your battles carefully” and “know when to walk away”. Nothing complicated, for sure.
Turn The Cards Slowly
A second appearance for Patsy Cline in the past year (see also 265: You Could Have Both), and this time, it’s a rather more downbeat song, with the protagonists very much not in control.
Gambling has downsides, particularly the addiction, as Patsy Cline details in this song, about the partner of a gambler, watching helplessly as he all-but lose the shirt off his back, with the song entwining the game of chance that love becomes with the man losing time and again, and the lady in question desperately hoping that this time might be the time that he stops and gives in. Judging by the desperation in the lyrics and the delivery, it seems a rather forlorn hope.
The riches potentially provided by winning big, of course, lead to dreams of what you might do with that money. Anyone who has bought a lottery ticket, or gambled on something, will have at some point considered what you might do with any winnings (big or small) – and it could be realistic or entirely outlandish. Here, Patti Smith dreams of winning big on the lottery, and fantasises about how it would change her and her lover’s life for the better, and “buy things you never had” – and as the song gallops to the climax, all rational thought goes out of the window and Smith just repeats the titular refrain over and over, as if it might magically make the winning event occur.
Remarkably the only song about Fruit Machines that I’ve come across, this old, relatively obscure Elastica B-side is much like the rest of the band’s output of the time – short, snappy and doesn’t say too much. But in among the few lyrics, is an exhortation to do your own thing, if you want to gamble some money on the fruit machines, do so, sod what everyone says. Such machines have rather evolved in recent years, of course, with Fruit Machines being less of a thing, and Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals now becoming the betting industry’s holy grail – with a lot of criticism thereof.