clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:


We continue our musical theme this week in Solon's latest installment of his picks column, this time turning to the top ten best songs about gambling. He makes only one bad pick in our book, and it's one of omission: how could you forget Motorhead's tribute to the dark god of fate, "Ace of Spades. A sample of the genius of Lemmy Kilmeister:

I know I'm gonna lose,
And gambling's for fools
But that's the way I like it, baby
I don't wanna live forever!!!


Like Solon, the only god Lemmy needs is the ace of spades.

Although I relish my role as the resident degenerate punter, the truth is that gambling has a rich history in the fabric of American culture. As a result, several musical artists have created songs pertaining, in some form or fashion, to gambling. After careful consideration, I've compiled a list of ten songs that I believe rank among the best. Feel free to put your favorites in the comments.

(Please note: the 'heyday' of the gambling song, insofar as one exists, is in the first half of the 20th century. Specifically, there are several blues songs about gambling from the 1920's and 1930's, and country songs from the 1940's and 1950's, very few of which I am familiar. My apologies to fans of these genres for their non-inclusion on this list.)

Despite living in the Bay Area, I am not a fan of the Grateful Dead. That said, when it comes to gambling songs, they have just about the most of any established band. So, full credit to them, even though they are not represented here.

USE ME--Bill Withers
Most would contend that this song refers to a woman. I would argue that it could just as easily refer to Las Vegas, a town that will chew you up and spit you out. I once had a compulsive gambler as one of my best mates, and, believe me, I sat him down and told him that the town was no good for him. But he just kept wanting to get used up by her; she obliged, and eventually he ended up broke, and just a flat-out damn broke-down drunk. If he had listened to legitimate music he would have appreciated this song.

10) VIVA LAS VEGAS--Elvis Presley
This should be the song everyone listens to when they go to Vegas for the first time.

Sure, it's a piece of shit now compared to what it used to be, but it's still pretty much the only place you can go for a weekend and have the chance, however small, of coming home set for life. Either way, the lyrics still ring true--Vegas sets your soul alight, you never want to sleep when you're there, and you always want to stay longer. And the women? Lord have mercy...let me just say that single men need to go there alone.

9) MR. SIEGAL--Tom Waits
Best thing about this song is the proper credit it gives to downtown Vegas, which used to be the one legitimate place you could go to gamble in that town (now it's all corporate, even downtown, and in my opinion there's no point doing any gambling there unless you're betting on race or sports). Losing 30K on slots at the Nugget? Shit, man, you didn't need to be downtown for that. Lower on the list because the thought of Tom Waits selling his ass on Fremont Street is about as disgusting an image as one can imagine.

Tom Waits ass: market price, $0.75.

8) OOH LAS VEGAS--Gram Parsons
What sort of town is Las Vegas? This about covers it:

Well, the first time I lose I drink whiskey
Second time I lose I drink gin
Third time I lose I drink anything
'cause I think I'm gonna win

Ooh, Las Vegas, ain't no place for a poor boy like me.

Top marks to this song for its full use of gambling-as-life metaphor. Life is all about checking the odds and placing your bets, after all. And how bad does it have to be if a joker, jack or king won't win the hand for you? Full credit to Sheryl Crow for getting the hell out of there...for good.

6) THE GAMBLER--Kenny Rogers
If not for the humiliating display at Neyland earlier this season, this song would be much higher on this list. Still unexplored is the connection of the claim that the singer is happy with a single ace in his hand and the conservative nature of SEC football. Also, full credit; speaking from experience--never count your money at the table--because if you do, you will lose it immediately after.

5) TUMBLING DICE--The Rolling Stones
Yes, this was made after the Stones had peaked, and it's more about women than it is about gambling, but it still kicks ass. Extra credit given for the line, "all you women is low down gamblers, Cheatin' like I don't know how"--because it seems to me like all the women in my life are playing with marked cards or loaded dice.

4) BOTTLE OF SMOKE--The Pogues
This has to be the funniest song ever made about gambling. Essentially, a guy goes to the track, and has a 25-1 winner. His bet survives a steward's inquiry, and the rest of the song is about the party that ensues, where he gives his wife a 50-pound note, his kids 5-pound notes, and then goes out and sees "Priests and maidens/Drunk like pagans." And surely any song that includes the line "I'm happy as the horse's shite" has to make any list of gambling songs. Fuck'n Brits.

3) TOWNES' BLUES--Cowboy Junkies
I needed something on this list to pay homage to the all-time most-prolific gambling-related singer--Townes Van Zandt--and this song fits the bill. Apparently based on a true story, it details a cross-country craps game on a bus, during which TVZ kicks some ass--at least at the start. And, it contains one of the most instructive stanzas ever regarding gambling--

Be careful with the dice when you're surrounded by others with boxcars in their eyes
Never count your winnings at hour 23 of a 24-hour drive
Remember that you're not the one calling the tune that's making those diamonds dance
or you'll be clean as a widow woman's washboard, son, and those are the facts

Extra points for cleverness, because the last line of the song, spoken by TVZ, is "Ain't this fool ever heard of Raton"--a reference to Raton Pass in New Mexico--that the driver apparently didn't take--which would have made the trip shorter, thus ending the game at hour 23--and leaving TVZ with plenty of money.

2) BLACKJACK--Ray Charles
The late, great, Brother Ray wrote many songs about gambling, and this is the best. Blackjack is a game that will kick you in the ass and take every last quarter you have. And who hasn't had felt good about holding twenty when the dealer had a six showing, only to get kicked in the balls when the cards got turned?

1) ATLANTIC CITY--Bruce Springsteen
As a West Coast native, it saddens me that the best song about gambling concerns the pathetic, East Coast, Johnny-come-lately to the gambling scene, but facts are facts. It's less about gambling than it is about life, of course, and you could argue it's not really about gambling at all, and just uses the town as a metaphor for desperation. Without question, though, this song conveys the duality (win it all/lose it all) that the gambling town offers better than any song ever made, and without the lure of gambling in the backdrop of the setting of the song, it wouldn't be anywhere near as powerful as it is. Bonus points for being acoustic and heavy on the harmonica, which gives it an older, western-type feel.

Feel free to add your favorites in the comments.

Now, then, back to the present. All right, after a good week last week, and West Virginia's weekly cover, I sit at 57-48-1 for the season, hitting 54% of my picks for the season. Here are this week's selections:

South Florida (-8) v. SYRACUSE
Syracuse's football team is just a horrible debacle this season. Their D, on balance, is fair, but their offense is just plain bad. Going up against a strong South Florida D will result in short fields and help a limited South Florida O. Also helping the South Florida O will be Syracuse's poor run D, which has given up 186 ypg rushing in Big East play. South Florida has a good run O, and they should be able to get the cover here on the strength of that and their D.

Georgia Tech (+5) v. VIRGINIA
I am surprised by this line. Georgia Tech has one of the best defenses in the nation, giving up an average of 296 ypg against a good slate of offenses. Virginia does not have the offensive firepower to challenge them, as they are only averaging 324 ypg in ACC play. Virginia's pass D is pretty strong, but their run D is fairly weak; in ACC play they are giving up 4.64 ypc. GT has a strong running game, and although they were stuffed by VT they have run fairly well against their other opponents, including against the strong run Ds of Auburn, Clemson, and NC State. The only concern in this game is an implosion by GT QB Ball, but the chances are he will not throw much and they should get the outright win on the road.

Al Groh: making Chan Gailey look electric!

MINNESOTA (-5.5) v. Michigan State
Despite beating what the media alleges is the 7th best team in the nation on the road, Michigan State must win one of their last two games or they will not make it to a bowl; such is the strength of the Big 10 this season. I do not think MSU will get the job done, this week or next. These teams are rough equivalents but their mental states are not. MSU, despite the win over Indiana, seems to have had their season done in by their implosion at Ohio State. Minnesota, on the other hand, responded to their crushing defeat against Wisconsin with a solid performance in their loss against Ohio State, and stepped it up after bottling it in the first half against Indiana with a dominating 3rd quarter that left no doubt regarding the game's outcome. Michigan State has given up 5.21 ypc in their last five games and this is by far the best run O in that stretch. Minnesota does not have the greatest D but they will not get steamrolled the way the Michigan State D will against the Minnesota running game.

TULSA (-10) v. East Carolina
Tulsa's pass D was exposed a little last week, but it should be back to business this week. ECU passes more than they run, and while Tulsa is exploitable on the ground it is unlikely that ECU will be able to take advantage. ECU does not have the quality in the passing game that UTEP does and it is unlikely that Tulsa will be lit up two weeks in a row. Even with their poor performance against the pass last week, Tulsa picked off two passes (giving them 15 on the season) and they should get a few more here, as much as ECU throws the ball. On the other side of the ball, the Tulsa O has been underperforming but they should be able to run on an ECU D that is giving up 219 ypg and 4.61 ypc, and that should make the difference.

Nevada (-10) v. NEW MEXICO STATE
The new additions to the WAC have not fared well this season; none of them have beaten any of the existing members of the conference, save for a win by Utah State over conference bottom-feeder San Jose State. HC Mumme's system has not taken hold this season, and N Mex St has yet to win a game. Their only game that has been closer than 17 points was an OT loss at home to Idaho, a team that Nevada beat 62-14. New Mexico State is an oddity, a passing team that cannot throw the ball; they are averaging 5.56 ypp with an 11-18 ratio, and they have done most of their 'damage' late in games. Nevada only has a slightly below average O and a slightly below average D, but they look as though they will finish 3rd in the WAC and are a cut above this New Mexico State team. Nevada is banged up, particularly at center where they have lost one a month, and are now are down to their 4th string, but it should not matter here. They are one win away from being bowl-eligible and that should keep them focused for this game.

Louisiana Tech (-10.5) v. IDAHO
Many of the class issues discussed above also apply to this game. Idaho has the worst running game in the nation, bar none--they have only managed to rush for 100 yards in one game this season (where they got 101 yards against UNLV), and they are averaging 62 ypg and 2.20 ypc. Idaho can throw a little bit, but they only score 18 ppg and even when their passing game gets going they do not light it up. Idaho's run D is not too much better than their run O, as they have given up 168 ypg and 4.88 ypc against a relatively weak slate of run offenses. When they are able, La Tech runs the ball well and they should do so here. Additionally, Louisiana Tech is one win away from bowl eligibility, and with Boise State and Fresno State on deck they need to get the job done here and that should be enough.

ARIZONA (-12.5) v. Washington
'Zona is sure to have a letdown after their big win last week, but after watching this shitty-ass Washington team last week (when most people were watching Miami-VT) I have to say it won't matter. Arizona probably has the second best D in the Pac 10--say what you want about UCLA, they've got a powerful offense--and other than the games against USC and Oregon State (where they had 6 interceptions), they have handled every offense on their schedule. The Washington O is just ill-equipped to handle a halfway-decent D, as they showed last week. Arizona did not have much O in the early part of the season but QB Tuitama has done the job and they have scored 34 ppg since he has entered the lineup. He will do the job against a Washington pass D that is giving up 8.23 ypp and a 19-5 ratio, and 'Zona should keep it going.

In the business of molding men...and molding up formerly decent offenses.

Arizona State (+4) v. UCLA
UCLA should consider themselves lucky to have accomplished what they have this season. Their Pac 10 schedule consists of relatively fortunate home wins against UW and Cal, and OT road wins against Stanford and WSU, neither of which are world-beaters. Other than those four games, all of which could have gone either way, and all of which happened to break in the Bruin's favor, they have a blowout win over Oregon State and a blowout loss to Arizona. Cal does not appear to be as good as advertised and as a result this will be the best team UCLA has played thus far this season (Oregon is not on the schedule). I do expect UCLA's O to get back on track but the 'Zona St D is far more capable than their opposite number, and UCLA's O will not be able to keep up with a nearly-as-potent Zona St O.

Texas Tech (-23) v. OKLAHOMA STATE
There is little accounting for Oklahoma St's poor form this season. In any event, they are a bad team and have been overmatched in Big 12 play. Texas Tech is not a great team, even though they might finish 10-1; still, they are more than capable of covering this number, as long as they are focused on this and not the Oklahoma game next week. It is tough to assess how good the Oklahoma St pass D is, since teams will usually just run them over, because their run D is so bad. That said, in Big 12 play opponents are averaging 8.25 ypp and have a 9-2 ratio against them. Their run D is considerably worse (286 ypg, 6.16 ypc), and, in reality, this is bad news because the nature of the Texas Tech passing game is such that a strong run D will tend to do better against it than a strong pass D. On the other side of the ball, the Texas Tech D is much improved this season, and the one-dimensional Oklahoma St O (can not pass) should not provide much of a challenge.

Arkansas (+1) v. MISSISSIPPI
Arkansas had their troubles early in the season but their freshmen RB have come around a little bit. RB McFadden is a total stud, averaging an insane 7.36 ypc. When he comes out, RB Jones averages 6.94 ypc. With numbers like those, it is amazing they have not been able to win a game against a legitimate opponent. Ole Miss has a solid run D, but this 1-2 punch will be too much to overcome and Arkansas will score some points. The Arkansas D should be able to shut down a poor Ole Miss O; they are averaging 12 ppg and 286 ypg against 1-A competition. The Arkansas D has improved considerably since their early troubles against Vandy and USC; in their last two games, they did well against Georgia (they were considerably better against the Dawgs without Shockley than Florida was), and also shut down a good South Carolina passing attack last week. I think their D will help out their O and QB Dick should be much improved in his second start.

Nutt loses Johnson, goes desperate and reaches for Dick in moment of need.

Other games of note:
GEORGIA (-3) v. Auburn
I stated earlier this season that I rarely play Georgia. The tragedy for me is that I generally call their games correctly (5-2-1 this season), but I do not want the added stress of having to worry about the pointspread. Fortunately, the spread here is small enough that it should not matter. I think Auburn is a quality squad, and RB Irons (who had one carry in the loss to GT, it should be noted) should run well against a Georgia D that is decidedly average against the run. QB Cox has done well, but against the quality defenses he has played (LSU, GT) he is averaging 6.70 ypp, with a 3-4 ratio (8.56 ypp, 13-2 ratio against other opponents), and the Georgia pass D is the equivalent of those. As a result, I think the Dawg D will be able to hold their production down. For its part, the Auburn D is also solid but has yet to face an offense with the quality of Georgia's and with QB Shockley back they should be ready to roll. Teams with quality backs (GT, Ark, LSU) have been able to get yards on the Auburn D; also, Shockley will be by far the best QB they have faced (note that SC QB Mitchell did not play against Auburn), and he should do well also. Add to this that the game is in Athens at night, the Dawgs should be able to get the job done.

Louisiana State (-3) v. ALABAMA
A lot of people have contended that this Alabama team is much like the 1992 team, which won several close games and ended up winning the Sugar Bowl and national title. I think a more accurate comparison might be the 1989 team, which won its first 10 games of the season before losing to Auburn and Miami in the bowl game (this year's team has a much better D than the 1989 team; the point of comparison is that no one really believed the 1989 team was good, even though they ended up getting to #2 in the polls). The ineptitude of the Alabama offense since Prothro's injury is just too great to ignore. Even with him, their only truly impressive performances this season were against South Carolina, and in the first half against Florida. Lately, they managed 6 points against a UT D that LSU is every bit as good as, and 13 points and 3 points against Ole Miss and Miss St Ds that are inferior. Additionally, LSU brings considerably more offensive firepower to the contest than anyone they have played this season. The only potential stumbling block for LSU is turnovers; if they avoid making them, they'll win.