Songs about poker make for a surprisingly common topic of conversation on music blogs around the web. The truth is, a lot of different artists in a lot of different genres have touched on poker and casino culture over the years. And as a result, it can certainly seem like there are a lot of great songs about poker — from the crooning of Frank Sinatra to the pop rhythms of Lady Gaga. But once you really dig into the cream of the crop, something becomes clear: Most of these songs are either barely about poker or address the subject only at the surface level.
So what’s actually the best one? Well, to get to that answer we have to disqualify most of the songs people would think of first….
Lady Gaga – “Poker Face”
A lot of people would think of “Poker Face” first when considering the best songs about poker. Obviously the game is in the title, and even beyond that, Gaga is intimately linked with the city of Las Vegas. We mentioned the pop star performing residency shows in Vegas in our piece on celebrating 311 Day last year, which more or less makes it her home turf. That, plus an intentionally over-the-top visual style, pretty much makes her a modern pop queen of Vegas. That’s all well and good, but the bottom line is that “Poker Face” has nothing to do with poker. Is it a catchy song with some real meaning behind it? Absolutely! But it uses its titular phrase in a purely symbolic manner.
Frank Sinatra – “Luck Be A Lady”
“Luck Be A Lady” is a song most people can readily hum along with even if they’ve never sought out a Frank Sinatra song before. It’s one of those tunes that’s simply woven its way into cultural fabric in a lasting manner. Its meaning, though, is at least somewhat open to interpretation. Sinatra is basically singing to luck itself, and hoping for it to “stick with him.” The clearest literal interpretation is that this is about a night of gambling in Las Vegas, though one could assume it’s partially about remaining lucky with women as well. Either way though, it’s another song that isn’t explicitly about poker. Vegas, sure — but that’s a much bigger topic than one game.
AC/DC – “The Jack”
Many would hear the lyrics to AC/DC’s “The Jack” and conclude that it is more directly about poker than any other popular song. But there are two problems with this. One is that the primary lyrics dealing with an actual card game make no sense. “She was holdin’ a pair, but I had to try” implies that a pair is somehow formidable, whereas actual poker hand odds suggest someone lands a pair almost 50% of the time. This doesn’t exactly suggest deep knowledge of the game from AC/DC. The other problem, meanwhile, is a bit more straightforward: Many think the song is actually about a venereal disease.
Kenny Rogers – “The Gambler”
Maybe more than any other song, “The Gambler” is known as a poker tune. As with so many other songs in this odd category though, its lyrics are less literal than they may at first appear. The song meaning behind “The Gambler” relates to everything from the original writer (Don Schlitz) and a conversation with his father, to the vision Kenny Rogers had of the Old West in America. It certainly touches on poker and gambling — more so than “Poker Face” or even “Luck Be A Lady” — but it’s not about poker.
This disqualifies what we suspect are four of the most commonly thought of songs regarding the subject of music about poker. So which one is actually best?
Well, a few more come to mind, though they’re generally not as well known. “Huck’s Tune” by Bob Dylan was written for the less-than-stellar poker film Lucky You, but isn’t particularly noteworthy among the artist’s best work. “The Card Cheat” by The Clash deals pretty directly with describing a game. And “Two Of A Kind, Wokin’ On A Full House” by Garth Brooks at least conveys some poker knowledge, albeit in the form of a clunky and over-extended metaphor.
The best though by our estimation is “That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker” by O.A.R. It’s a fun song to listen to for one thing, and somehow sounds typical of O.A.R. and wholly unique at the same time. But it’s the content of the song that really earns the top spot. There’s still some metaphor involved (about “losing it all” and whatnot), but this game flat-out narrates a game of poker. That’s a lot further than a lot of songs ostensibly about gambling go. And it makes this unexpected track our pick for the best ever song about the game.