The Gambler (song)

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"The Gambler"
Single by Kenny Rogers
from the album The Gambler
B-side "Momma's Waiting"
Released November 15, 1978
Format Vinyl
Genre Country
Length 3:34
Label United Artists
Writer(s) Don Schlitz
Producer(s) Larry Butler
Kenny Rogers singles chronology
"Anyone Who Isn't Me Tonight"
(1978)
"The Gambler"
(1978)
"All I Ever Need Is You"
(1979)

"The Gambler" is a song written by Don Schlitz, recorded by several artists, most famously by American country music singer Kenny Rogers.

Don Schlitz wrote this song in August, 1976 when he was 23 years old. It took two years of shopping the song around Nashville before Bobby Bare recorded it on his album "Bare" at the urging of Shel Silverstein. Bare's version didn't catch on and was never released as a single, so Schlitz recorded it himself, but this version failed to chart higher than #65. However, other musicians took notice and recorded the song in 1978, including Johnny Cash, who put it on his album Gone Girl. However, it was Kenny Rogers who finally broke the song loose, in a version produced by Larry Butler. His version was a #1 Country hit and even made its way to the Pop charts at a time when Country songs rarely crossed over. It was released in November 1978 as the title track from his album The Gambler which won him the Grammy award for best male country vocal performance in 1980.[1] In 2006 Don Schlitz appeared in the Kenny Rogers career retrospective documentary "The Journey", where he praised both Rogers' and Butler's contributions to the song stating "they added several ideas that were not mine, including the new guitar intro".

It was one of five consecutive songs by Rogers to hit #1 on the Billboard country music charts.[2] On the pop chart, the song made it #16 and #3 on the Easy Listening chart.[3] It's become one of Rogers's most enduring hits and a signature song. As of November 13, 2013, the digital sales of the single stood at 798,000 copies.[4]

Content[edit]

The song itself tells the story of a late-night meeting on a train "bound for nowhere" between the narrator and a man known only as the gambler. The gambler tells the narrator that he can tell he is down on his luck ("out of aces") by the look in his eyes and offers him advice in exchange for his last swallow of whisky. After the gambler takes the drink (and a cigarette), he gives the following advice:

The gambler then mentions that the "secret to survivin' is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep" and that "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep". At this point, the gambler puts out the cigarette and goes to sleep.

At the end of the song we are told that "somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even", and that the narrator finds "an ace that I could keep", in his final words. Rogers' rendition in an appearance on The Muppet Show indicates the gambler actually dies in his sleep when he "broke even".

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1978-1979) Peak
position
Canada Adult Contemporary Tracks (RPM) 6
Canada Country Tracks (RPM) 2
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 8
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[5] 29
Spain (AFYVE)[6] 12
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[7] 22
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[8] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[9] 16
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[10] 3

Cover versions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In 1979, when Rogers guest-starred in a season 4 episode of The Muppet Show, he performed this song with a Muppet character. Rogers is shown seated on a train with three muppets, one of them The Gambler (portrayed by Jerry Nelson). Rogers sings the opening verse, while Nelson sings most of "The Gambler's" dialog, then falls asleep just as Rogers concludes the song's story. After he dies, The Gambler's spirit rises from his Muppet body, singing backup and dances to the song's last two choruses, and lets a deck of cards fly from his hand before fading away.
  • It is the theme song used for Rogers' long running (1980-1994) TV movie serial of the same name, in which he stars as a fictional professional poker player called Brady Hawkes.
  • A caricature parody of Kenny Rogers singing the song appeared in the 1993 Pinky and the Brain short "Bubba Bo Bob Brain" (season 1, episode 34). The lyrics to this version were changed to refer to Go Fish: "You gotta know how to cut 'em, know how to shuffle, know how to deal the cards before you play fish with me."
  • Episode 2 of the 2004 BBC miniseries Blackpool featured the recording, accompanied on screen by the singing and dancing of the characters, as part of the story.
  • The song became a dressing room anthem for the England players in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, which led to it becoming a pop UK top 40 hit.
  • The song was featured in 2007 in the "Beach Games" episode of the third season of The Office.
  • On July 21, 2009, the song was released for the music game Rock Band as a playable track as part of the "Rock Band Country Track Pack" compilation disc. It was then made available via digital download on Dec 29, 2009.
  • Former Major League Baseball pitcher Kenny Rogers is nicknamed "The Gambler" after the song.
  • A 2014 Geico television commercial features Rogers singing part of the song a cappella during a card game, to the displeasure of the other players.
  • The song was ranked number 18 out of the top 76 songs of the 1970s by internet radio station WDDF Radio in their 2016 countdown.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Reader's digest almanac and yearbook, 1981, p. 274 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 298. 
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 207. 
  4. ^ Matt Bjorke (November 13, 2013). "Country Chart News - The Top 30 Digital Singles - November 13, 2013: CMA Awards Drive Sales; Eric Church "The Outsiders" #1; Taylor Swift "Red" #3". Roughstock. 
  5. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Kenny Rogers – The Gambler". Top 40 Singles.
  6. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  7. ^ Kenny Rogers UK Charts history, The Official Charts. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  8. ^ "Kenny Rogers – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Kenny Rogers.
  9. ^ "Kenny Rogers – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Kenny Rogers.
  10. ^ "Kenny Rogers – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for Kenny Rogers.
  11. ^ "WDDF Radio". 
Preceded by
"On My Knees"
by Charlie Rich and Janie Fricke
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

December 16-December 30, 1978
Succeeded by
"Tulsa Time"
by Don Williams