Rock music is defined by risk-takers. The irreverent strut of Angus Young; the faint-inducing hip thrusts of The King himself; the flamboyant antics of Jimmy Hendrix – known for setting fire to his guitar live on stage. Characters like these are integral to rock because they personify the spirit of the genre, which itself boldly broke with the big band and swing traditions of the late 50s.
This spirit expresses itself in the lyrical themes of many rock songs: from the Kinks thumbing their noses at traditional British values in The Village Green, to The Who’s Talking ‘bout My Generation – a celebration of all that is teenage and fun-loving. That said, it is hardly surprising that gambling is a favourite theme – and often pastime – for many of the most beloved rockers. The idea of risking it all for the thrill, winning against the odds, and coming out on top of the house is quintessentially rebellious. Throughout rock history, gambling songs have been at the pinnacle of this genre, but the three we’re presenting below are our very favourites.
The Ace of Spades
Motorhead’s Ace of Spades is about as explicit as a gambling song can be. Featuring lyrics that describe a cock-sure gambler betting it all, this classic rock song creates a high-stakes soundscape with gritty riffs, punchy baselines, and a drum beat that just won’t quit. The song possibly draws its inspiration from late frontman Lemmy’s own love affair with lady luck – particularly the game One-Armed Bandits.
Today, the links between gambling and rock seem less clear, with online casinos offering players the chance to play from the comfort of their own homes. However, sites like BitsCasino – and a select few forward-facing companies – are keeping the tradition alive by daringly accepting the bitcoin, a new form of digital currency which allows you to play without many of the rules and restrictions of regular currency. In fact, the aforementioned casino website provides its games exclusively in the revolutionary platform, which is admittedly the most rock and roll version of money there is.
This track is iconic of one of rock’s most weird and wonderful traditions: the concept album. The titular pinball wizard is a deaf-mute boy by the name of Tommy. Throughout the album, Tommy’s story is told: he’s neglected by his parents and bullied by the kids at school, Tommy is only able to channel his frustration into pinball.
By the end of the tale, Tommy has a dedicated following, and people come from far and wide to witness his wizardly pinball prowess. Though this is not strictly a gambling song, many of the themes do cross over. Like all rockers, Timmy rolls the dice in shunning traditional ways of living and opts instead to follow his dreams. Tommy is an album totally of its time and certainly has no modern equivalent.
Viva Las Vegas
If Pinball Wizard is somewhat out of left field, Elvis’s Viva Las Vegas is the archetypal gambling rock song. Although he went down badly at his first gig at the world’s gambling capital, Presley later began a love affair with Vegas which would last a lifetime. The song itself reads like an ode to the sheer thrill of high-rolling among glitz and glamour, and captures all that is joyful, rude, and beautiful about rock ’n’ roll.
Again, the music coming out of Vegas today does not seem to live up to the antics of an era past. However, it only takes one person prepared to rock the boat, spin the wheel, and bring back rock ‘n’ roll. And we can’t wait.