A history of music and gaming in 10 songs

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Music and gaming go hand in hand. Las Vegas dedicates vast amounts of space to concerts every day, and it hosts shows from all kinds of different performers. It doesn’t take too much digging to trace the songs that shaped gaming and music. Lucky Nugget have found our favourites: check out the best of the bunch below, and get them all on your playlist for the next time you try your hand at our fantastic casino games.

Blackjack – Ray Charles (1958)

Ray Charles was an incredibly influential soul musician.

Blackjack by Ray Charles is one of the earliest popular songs written about gaming. It’s a short song off his third album, called Yes Indeed! which was never released as a single. But it’s a classic rhythm and blues song. Blackjack laments the highs and lows of the famous card game, long before it became so popular in the 1970s. The second half even details Charles’ bad luck with the game in excruciating details: “I sat there with two tens / I thought I’d have some fun / The dealer hit sixteen with a five / Just enough to make twenty one.”

Luck Be A Lady – Frank Sinatra (1963)

Frank Sinatra created a lot of associations between music and gaming.

While Frank Sinatra didn’t originate this song, it’s one of his most famous hits. It was first performed on stage by Robert Alda in the musical, Guys and Dolls. Sinatra’s famous rival Marlon Brando sung it in the 1955 film version. But Sinatra recorded it himself in 1963 to huge acclaim. It remains one of his signature songs, even after his death. If you’re ever hoping for a lucky break at a casino, you’re almost guaranteed to hear someone humming this under their breath.

Sinatra himself was heavily involved with the Las Vegas casino scene, and he started performing there in 1951. He encountered problems in those early years, often playing to half-filled halls. He first performed at the Sands Hotel and Casino in 1953 – but ten years later, he was back. It’s where his live album, Sinatra at the Sands, was recorded in 1966. You can’t have a history of music and gaming without talking about Sinatra!

Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones (1972)

The Rolling Stones wrote many hit songs in their long career.

If you want some groovy blues rock, then this is the song for you. Tumbling Dice was written about the interplay of love and gambling, but the narrator comes out of it a bit worse for wear. The protagonist is a gambler – and he can’t remain faithful to any partner for long. The song is a staple of the Stones’ live sets, and it’s one of the first rock songs that touches on the allure of gaming. It’s also been covered by all kinds of diverse artists, from stadium rockers Bon Jovi to the legendary bluegrass band Honeywell.

Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & The Pips (1973)

Gladys Knight had a gambling problem.

Gladys Knight’s signature song is about failing in the big city, and going back home to where you’re from. She sang it in the season two finale of NBC’s Las Vegas series, but that’s not the only reason this song has links to gambling. Knight herself had a gambling addiction through much of the 1970s. She got into it thanks to playing a show at a casino – but her fun habit quickly became a problem. Knight is clean now, but she serves as a reminder not to get too sucked into the dark side of gambling.

The Gambler – Kenny Rogers (1978)

The Gambler was Kenny Rogers’ signature song.

Country singers can enjoy gambling too. This single was the title track of a Grammy-winning album, so there’s a lot of history and prestige wrapped up in the song. It details meeting a gambler on a train late at night. The song contains a lot of sound advice for prospective gamers. Notably, it’s crucial to “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” By this point, the song is part of most people’s consciousness. It shows just how pervasive gambling songs in music are.

Sin City – AC/DC (1978)

Hard rock is at home in casinos.

In the same year as Rogers sang about meeting a gambler on a train, AC/DC sang about wanting to go to Las Vegas. The hard rock band singing about Sin City made sense: it had a reputation as being very glamorous, but still full of vice. It’s the perfect location for a lifestyle full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Sin City is the perfect song to put on full blast while you’re driving to a casino.

These days, many casinos host AC/DC tribute bands as entertainment acts. While they don’t compare to the real thing, it’s a testament to the original band’s wide-ranging and long-lasting appeal.

The Winner Takes It All – Abba (1980)

ABBA wrote one of the saddest songs about gaming ever.

Not all songs about gambling are happy. Just take a look at Abba’s The Winner Takes It All, written about a divorce, and the pain of talking to someone who’s broken your heart. It’s an incredibly poppy ballad that likens a break-up to losing at a game. There’s frequent references to casino games thrown in too. The singer has “no more ace to play,” while heartless gods “throw the dice.” Heartbreak can feel like losing a big game – but a big gambling loss can feel a bit like heartbreak, too.

Ace of Spades – Motorhead (1980)

Ace of Spades might be the ultimate gaming anthem.

Ace of Spades is, arguably, the most important gambling song in the history of music. It’s the tune you’ve always heard during gambling montages. Motorhead wrote it as just another song on their album, and they had no idea how popular and enduring it would become. The lyrics are about risking it all for the thrill of the game, even when you’re sure you’ll lose.

The lead singer, Lemmy, used a mixture of card and dice metaphors in the lyrics. The result doesn’t really reference any one specific game, but instead is a mish-mash of different terms. Apparently, Lemmy wasn’t actually a big fan of table games: he was “more into the one-arm bandits, actually, but you can’t really sing about spinning fruit.”

Love is a Losing Game – Amy Winehouse (2006)

Amy Winehouse felt that being in love was like losing a game.

A quarter of a century after Abba’s heartbreak, Amy Winehouse also sung about love as a game. In her case, she muses on a messy relationship with an unfaithful man. The implication is that falling in love is losing, and once you’re playing there is no way to win. Winehouse was the leading voice in bringing soul music back to the mainstream in the mid-2000s, and was the inspiration for big artists like Adele. It was also the final single released while Winehouse was still alive. It’s the perfect song to put on when the cards aren’t going your way.

Poker Face – Lady Gaga (2008)

Lady Gaga continues to combine music and gaming.

Hot off the back of her Super Bowl performance, Lady Gaga’s Poker Face has suddenly re-entered our minds. This is the perfect song to play when you’re having a tough game of poker. Make sure that your expression remains inscrutable so that nobody knows what you’re thinking. Lady Gaga continues to be a huge figure in pop and dance music, and it’s a welcome surprise that one of her biggest hits is about gaming. Can you read her p-p-p-poker face?

You can trace gambling in popular music all the way back to the 1950s, though it likely stretches back even further than that. Have we forgotten some of your favourite gaming songs? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below.