"Gambler" is a song by American singer-songwriter Madonna. It was the second single released from the soundtrack album of the motion picture Vision Quest, and was released on October 3, 1985, by Geffen Records. Remaining the last entirely self-written single by Madonna, "Gambler" was produced by John "Jellybean" Benitez at Madonna's request. It was later included in the soundtrack of the film. "Gambler" was never released in the United States, at the request of Madonna's own Sire Records. The music video of the song is an excerpt from the film itself.
Musically, "Gambler" is an upbeat synthpop and disco song, featuring instrumentation from drums, electronic handclaps and percussion, which is accompanied by a bass synths and keyboards. The lyrics talk about Madonna asserting her self-independence. Critics gave a mixed review of the song, but it was commercially successful, reaching the top-ten in the charts of Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. Madonna has performed the song only once, on her 1985 The Virgin Tour.
After the recording of "Crazy for You", the soundtrack single for the 1985 coming of agedramaVision Quest, Madonna approached John "Jellybean" Benitez to produce another of her self-written songs called "Gambler". Subsequently, the song was added to the soundtrack of the film, as music producer Phil Ramone felt that it would be appropriate for using in the beginning shots of the film. As the song was recorded on the Geffen label, a commercial issue of the single, in the United States was suppressed, at the request of Madonna's Sire Records management. They feared that commercial availability of another Madonna single would have been detrimental to the other singles from the Like a Virgin album, and the already available, Geffen-distributed, "Crazy for You". Hence "Gambler" was never released, or sent for airplay in the United States. The UK 12" single, contained the Extended Dance Mix, Instrumental Remix, and the song "Nature of the Beach" by Black 'n Blue. The 7" single had the original version, and "Nature of the Beach". The video for "Gambler" is similar to "Crazy for You", with Madonna singing the song along with clips culled from Vision Quest. Madonna filmed her performance on November 22, 1983, at the Big Foot Tavern in Spokane, Washington.
According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Alfred Publishing, the song is set in the time signature of common time, with a tempo of 100 beats per minute. Madonna's vocal range spans from Bb3 to E5. "Gambler" is composed in the key of D minor and has a basic sequence of Dm–G–Dm–G–Dm–G–Am as its chord progression. The lyrics have Madonna asserting her independence and daredevil attitude towards life, to a lover who, according to her, would not be able to understand or put up with her speed.
Rikky Rooksby, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, compared the song to the music of the band Blondie, and said: "The rapid movement through the various sections, can't save the song from being fairly ordinary, but it passes quick enough. Bit like 24-hour flu, really." Alex Henderson from Allmusic called the song "an ultra-infectious gem that, unfortunately, isn't on any of the Material Girl's [Madonna's] CDs" and felt that "'Gambler' is one of those songs that should have been a major hit but wasn't, whereas 'Crazy for You' soared to the top of the pop charts." Alfred Soto of Stylus Magazine, described "Gambler" as a "disco-punk, Flashdance edition" and called it "the most aggressive track of Madonna's career." Soto added, "'Gambler' is the only possible response to a slow dance in which you were left as unfulfilled as you were five minutes earlier. It deserves immortality beside 'Into the Groove' [...] The music is keyed to her vocals—insistent, strident, hip-thrusting; she slurs the line "You're just jealous 'cuz you can't be me" like it's a shot of Rumplemints; meanwhile Animotion synths blow up her skirt.Robert Christgau gave a mixed review of the song. R. Serge Denisoff and William D. Romanowski, authors of Risky business: rock in film, felt that the song seemed "jammed into the movie with a plunger and little thought to appropriateness."The Motion Picture Guide of 1986 included the song as one of the soundtrack's standouts.
"Gambler" was released in October 1985 in the United Kingdom, and debuted at position 20 on the UK Singles Chart. After two weeks it peaked at number four, and was present for a total of 14 weeks. By the end of 1985, Madonna achieved up another record with the song, becoming the first female artist to have eight UK top-ten singles in one calendar year. The song was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipment of 200,000 copies of the single. According to the Official Charts Company, the song has sold 295,000 copies there. In Australia, "Gambler" debuted on the Kent Music Report chart at number 14, and reached a peak of number ten. In Germany, the song debuted at number 39 on the Media Control Charts, and reached a peak of number 25 after five weeks, being present on the chart for a total of 12 weeks. Across Europe, the song reached the top-ten of the charts in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands and Norway. It also reached peaks of number 23 in Switzerland and number 45 in New Zealand.
Madonna has only performed this song live once, on The Virgin Tour in 1985. It was the first song, of the second act of the show. Madonna wore a black, fringed micro-top and similar skirt, with her belly-button exposed, and a number of crucifixes in different sizes, hanging from different parts of her body. As the guitar intro of the song started, Madonna appeared on the side-stage and started dancing energetically, while flashlights fell on her. While singing the song, she sometimes opened her jacket and sometimes straddled the steel structure present on the stage. The performance ended with Madonna jumping off the side stage, onto the main stage. It was included on the video release, titled Madonna Live: The Virgin Tour, which was shot in Detroit.