Four-of-a-Kind Poker Rock Songs

 Four-of-a-Kind Poker Rock Songs


Cards and chords have gone together since long before the modern game of poker developed. Some historians say the game’s roots come from the Arabic and Persian game of As-Nas which would be played in coffee houses, often with musicians on site. Poker, as we know it now, was invented in New Orleans in the 1820s by French settlers. Yet, rather than songs about poker being the preserve of Delta Blues, in America it's been somewhat commandeered by country. Artists from Kenny Rogers through to Garth Brooks have played on the cowboys and cards imagery popularized by innumerable 1950s Westerns.

Perhaps because rock owes more to British influence - first from the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and then to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that Lars never stops waxing lyrical about - it's less of a theme in rock and metal. Poker is popular over the pond. Indeed, Late Night Poker on Channel 4 was showcasing players like Dave Ulliott and Victoria Coren Mitchell long before ESPN got the idea to televise tournaments. It doesn't quite share the same cultural caché as it does in America though. There have, however, been some rockers who've raised the stakes and made the call to go all in on poker. Here's four of the best.

AC/DC - The Jack

Fusing both British rock and the Delta Blues - via Australia - the track appeared on AC/DC's second LP, the Aussie-only T.N.T in 1975. That album remains their only one that didn't see international distribution, although seven of the nine songs appear on 1976's High Voltage, released worldwide. The album marked a change from the glammy posturings of their initial High Voltage LP into the harder rock and roll sound they became known for - marked notably by a cover of Chuck Berry's School Days. The Jack deals straight from the swamp. Malcolm chugs away on a 12-bar riff while Angus' solos suggest he might have been the ultimate inheritor of Robert Johnson's soul. There are some scurrilous rumors that the 'jack' may be an Australian slang term for a specific ailment, but Bon was keen to maintain plausible deniability, throwing in poker terms like 'She was holdin' a pair / Her deuce was wild / My ace was high'.

Frijid Pink - House Of The Rising Sun

There's been a million and one versions of the old blues standard about the mystical New Orleans gambling den. It was first committed to vinyl in 1933 as 'Rising Sun Blues' and historians have asserted that Appalachian miners knew of the tune 30 years prior. The most successful (commercially, anyway) interpretation was doubtless The Animals' in 1964. Coming a mere five years later, with Eric Burdon and company likely still in heavy radio rotation, this version by Detroit rockers Frijid Pink still managed to sell a million copies. It's easy to see why, as it's almost an entirely different song. This one is fuzzy, it's psychy: it's not a million miles off what fellow Motor City bands like MC5 and The Stooges were doing at the time. Drummer Richard Stevers' frantic fills are worth the admission price alone.

Dead Kennedys - Viva Las Vegas

A straight cover rather than an interpretation, and with the Kennedys political leanings, one might expect a more scathing take on the city devoted to excess. However, only a couple of lines are changed - notably 'A fortune won and lost on every deal / All you need's a strong heart and a nerve of steel' becomes 'All you need's sonar....'. It's a surprisingly faithful cover - the Kennedys version even clocks in 4 seconds longer than Elvis' original. Director Terry Gilliam did find it subversive enough to soundtrack it on Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

Saxon - Queen Of Hearts

When we think of Saxon, we may drift toward the previously mentioned NWOBHM - which seems unfair, as Biff Byford and the boys are still going strong. Their 23rd studio LP, 'Inspirations', was released March last year, and we rather enjoyed it. Queen Of Hearts is taken from their 2015 album Battering Ram and mixes up poker imagery with nods to Alice In Wonderland (it wouldn't be traditional British metal without a fantasy element). Power chords set the tone and it's very much a classic UK headbanger. Maybe not for the poker table as we don't want to upend our cards when we're standing up to air guitar!

Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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