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Songwriters draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, constantly looking for situations which they can interpret, develop and turn into a hit.
Often they are looking for a simile or metaphor that will help them use life situations to make a bigger statement. It might be political, it might be affairs of the heart or it might just be a statement of personal preference, but drawing inspiration from life is a skill that the absolute best can turn to their advantage.
Poker is one such influence, used to reflect not only a game of cards but sometimes the game of life too. We have picked five tunes that are heavily poker influenced, delivering both strong stories and important messages from across a range of genres.
Huck’s Tune – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan, one of the greatest singer-songwriters of a generation, wrote this tune especially for the film Lucky You, starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore. He uses imagery from a poker game as a simile, which seems quite common in many poker-themed songs. One line, ‘the game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold, and I’m gonna have to put you down for a while’ acts as a warning for both players around the felt, and in a wider context of love and life.
Sadly, the tune might be a classic, but the film was not. Released in 1997 in preceded the poker boom, but was not the catalyst which sparked the world’s renewed interest in the game; that came a year later with Rounders.
Pokerface – Ghostface Killah (ft. Shawn Wigs)
Any song that opens with commentary from the World Series of Poker is sure to make a list of the top influential poker songs. The whole track is focused on a poker game, in which Ghostface Killah is eventually beaten by Shaun Wigs.
Ghostface Killah, real name Dennis Coles, rose to fame as part of the Wu-Tang Clan and has been described as one of rap’s finest storytellers, which is evident throughout this dark and brooding track.
That Was A Crazy Game of Poker – O.A.R.
This jaunty indie-rock tune comes from O.A.R’s early album The Wanderer’, released before they achieved mainstream success. Song Facts reveals that the influence for the album came from Stephen King’s book The Stand, using the themes of walking around and meeting people as its central presence. This track recounts a ‘crazy game of poker’ the protagonist played in, in which he ‘lost it all’. It seems losing at poker makes for a far more interesting song than raking in the winnings!
The Gambler – Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers, who died early in 2020, is perhaps best known for his country song ‘The Gambler’. Whilst it does not specifically mention poker, the implication is a young Rogers meets a chancer on a train who gives him advice on life which mirrors those of poker tactics.
One line that is particularly interesting is the line ‘every hand’s a winner’, which suggests poker. Any hand can win a round of poker with a bit of bluffing, something that is key to the game but difficult to learn as shown by the many online guides and articles on the subject. The bluffing guide on The bluffing guide on partypoker includes advice on not giving away the hand you have, a clear indication of why ‘every hand’s a winner’ in the game. Learning those skills is particularly important in poker and newcomers to the game no longer have to rely on strangers on a train!
At the end of the Rogers song, the man ‘breaks even’, which suggests he dies on the train, leaving his young protégé to take his poker advice forward.
The Card Cheat – The Clash
The Clash are well known for being one of the original punk bands coming out of the United Kingdom, but unlike their peers the Sex Pistols they also released ska-influenced albums such as ‘London Calling, which boasted the track ‘The Card Cheat’.
The Irish Times explains how they returned from an American tour full of blues and ska influences, which led to their third, and arguably finest, album. The Card Cheat warns of the dangers of trying to get an unfair advantage playing poker; the cheat is shot dead in the end.
Of course poker is not just sung about, it is also widely played by musicians. To find out how Stephen EvEns has been using online poker recently, be sure to have a read of our interview with him.