Wicked Game

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"Wicked Game"
Wicked Games by Chris Isaak US commercial cassette.jpg
US commercial cassette single
Single by Chris Isaak
from the album Heart Shaped World
B-side"Wicked Game" (instrumental)
ReleasedJune 1989
Songwriter(s)Chris Isaak
Producer(s)Erik Jacobsen
Chris Isaak singles chronology
"Don't Make Me Dream About You"
"Wicked Game"
"Blue Spanish Sky"
Music video
"Wicked Game" on YouTube

"Wicked Game" is a song by American rock musician Chris Isaak, released from his third studio album Heart Shaped World (1989). Despite being released as a single in 1989, it did not become a hit until it was featured in the 1990 David Lynch film Wild at Heart. Lee Chesnut, an Atlanta radio station music director who loved David Lynch films, began playing the song, and it quickly became an American top-ten hit in January 1991, reaching number six on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the first hit song of Isaak's career. Additionally, the single became a number-one hit in Belgium and reached the top 10 in several other nations.

"Wicked Game" has been covered by many other artists and been featured in numerous movies and television series and advertisements, so much so that Dazed magazine questioned whether it might be the most influential love song in modern music.[1] It has subsequently received retrospective critical acclaim, being listed in the 2010 book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and noted by Dave Marsh in an updated edition of his 1989 book The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.


The song is in the key of B Dorian mode[2] performed in what AllMusic describes as a "brooding, sorrowfully conflicted" tone.[3]

Although it is often interpreted as a ballad about unrequited love,[4][5] Isaak has said that the song was inspired by a telephone call from a woman seeking to arrange a casual sexual liaison and is about "what happens when you have a strong attraction to people that aren't necessarily good for you".[6] It was written in short order following the call.[7]

During the sessions for Isaak's third album, many different versions and arrangements of the song were made before the final version was completed. James Calvin Wilsey came up with the distinctive guitar lead;[8] both the bassline and drums (except the cymbals) were sampled from previous recordings of the song and then looped.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Aberdeen Evening Express noted the "haunting strains" of "Wicked Game".[10] Grant Walters from Albumism wrote that the song is a "pristine union of Isaak's aching vocal and the desolate wail of James Calvin Wilsey's '65 Stratocaster." He added, "Underneath, the brushed drum loop, simple bass line, and muted background vocals create a simmering atmospheric buzz."[11] Steve Huey from AllMusic described it as a "shimmering", "spare" and "moody masterpiece".[12] Larry Flick from Billboard called it a "delicious treat".[13] Alaister Moughan from Dazed wrote, "Some songs are masterpieces, some represent moments in time, and others are simply good jams. Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" is all three."[14] Joe Rhodes from Entertainment Weekly stated that it is "perhaps the album's darkest mood piece", noting its "otherworldly" opening guitar line.[15] Duncan Holland from Music Week said that the song's "dexterity and panache is something rarely heard. The touches of Roy Orbison only make it stronger and given the right airplay, Isaak should score a significant, if unpredictable hit."[16] Music & Media described it as a "laid-back C&W tinged song featuring Isaak's Orbison-esque vocals."[17] Sunday Life called it a "brooding ballad, image-laden, and worthy of Roy Orbison in his heyday."[18]

Music videos[edit]

There are two different music videos for this song. The most well-known music video of the song was directed by Herb Ritts, shot in Hawaii at what was formerly known as Kamoamoa beach in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. The newly formed black-sand beach was created from lava from Kilauea volcano flowing into the ocean about a mile away. The beach was covered by lava not long after the video was shot. The video featured supermodel Helena Christensen rolling and frolicking on the beach with Isaak. It was mostly filmed in black and white. Christensen was shirtless through most of the video, although her nudity was concealed by camera angles. In the middle of the video, Christensen was seen only in her black lace bra and panty; other times, she wore only a men's white brief. The video won the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Male Video, Best Cinematography and Best Video from a Film. It was ranked number 13 on VH1's 100 Greatest Videos, number 4 on VH1's 50 Sexiest Video Moments, number 73 on Rolling Stone magazine's The 100 Top Music Videos, and number 1 on Fuse's 40 Sexiest Videos in 2010.

Another video was commissioned for the Wild at Heart VHS release and was directed by David Lynch.[19][20] It features scenes of Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) from the film, interspersed with black-and-white footage of Isaak performing the song.

Track listings[edit]


Charts and certifications[edit]

Other versions[edit]



"Wicked Game"
Wicked Game.jpeg
Single by HIM
from the album Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666
ReleasedSeptember 28, 1998
Songwriter(s)Chris Isaak
HIM singles chronology
"Your Sweet Six Six Six"
"Wicked Game"
"Join Me in Death"

The Finnish band HIM remade this song, first using it in their demo This Is Only the Beginning, then on their EP 666 Ways To Love: Prologue, followed by another recording of it on their first album Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666, and lastly on the British and American versions of their second album Razorblade Romance. The last recording they made of it then reappeared on their compilation album And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits 1997–2004. "Wicked Game" became the band's breakthrough song in their native Finland.[53] HIM frontman Ville Valo had this to say about "Wicked Game": "I went to Pasila's library and borrowed the soundtrack-vinyl of Wild At Heart and recorded it on tape. So with Linde we tried to 'learn' the song from the tape. It was kind of funny, that we learnt the song a bit wrong. We did not hear the guitar parts well enough from that 'bad quality' tape. We also heard the lyrics wrong, and when the song was later recorded to our first EP, there were a few funny mistakes in the lyrics."[citation needed] Their version appeared on an episode of Smallville.

Track listings[edit]
German release
  1. "Wicked Game" – 3:54
  2. "For You" – 4:00
  3. "Our Diabolical Rapture" – 5:20
  4. "Wicked Game" (666 Remix) – 3:58
Finnish release
  1. "Wicked Game"
  2. "For You"
2000 UK release
  1. "Wicked Game" – 3:36
  2. "When Love and Death Embrace" (Amnt Mix) – 3:34
  3. "The Heartless" (Serdlidlim Mix) – 3:11
2000 Swedish release
  1. "Wicked Game" 2000
  2. "When Love and Death Embrace" (Amnt Mix) – 3:34

Giant Drag[edit]

During performances in 2006, Giant Drag covered the song. Giant Drag songwriter Annie Hardy jokingly introduced the song by telling a variation on the basic story that she wrote the song for Chris Isaak when she was 8, and that he stole it from her after a love affair, and that she saw him years later on MTV singing "her" song "rolling around in the sand with some hooker."[54][55] In the summer of 2007, this cover was used in the promos for Season 5 of the FX Networks TV show Nip/Tuck.

Peter Jöback and Sia[edit]

Swedish singer Peter Jöback covered the song on his 2009 album East Side Stories; it features guest vocals from Australian singer-songwriter Sia.[56][57]


In 2013, English electronic musician Emika covered the song for her album Dva.

Il Divo[edit]

"Wicked Game (Melanconia)"
Il divo --- wicked game.jpg
Single by Il Divo
Released4 November 2011
Songwriter(s)Chris Isaak
Il Divo singles chronology
"The Time of Our Lives"
"Wicked Game (Melanconia)"
"Por una Cabeza"

Il Divo bought the copyright and covered the song in the classical crossover genre, performing the song in Italian. It was included on their 2011 album of the same name.[58]

Gemma Hayes[edit]

"Wicked Game"
Single by Gemma Hayes
  • March 10, 2012 Ireland
  • March 12, 2012 International
RecordedJanuary 2012
Songwriter(s)Chris Isaak
Producer(s)Gemma Hayes

Singer and songwriter Gemma Hayes recorded a version of the song.

On February 16, 2012 Hayes revealed in an interview with Evening Echo's 'Downtown', she recorded a cover version of Wicked Game" for US Teen drama Pretty Little Liars, the song featured throughout her 2012 tour playlist.[59]

On 1 March 2012, gemmahayes.com confirmed her cover of "Wicked Game" would appear on Pretty Little Liars on 12 March and will be available to download as a single.

The track was released after her fourth studio album Let It Break and before her fifth studio album release Bones+Longing.

In 2014, a vocal house remix of this, alongside Betoko, appeared on Above & Beyond's album Anjunabeats Volume 11.

In March 2015, a video musical session was recorded playing this song at St. Patrick's Chapel – Irish Cultural Center, Paris.[60]

Chart positions

Hayes' cover was released on iTunes on 12 March 2012.[61] The song performed well in the charts peaking at number 5 in Canada, number 4 in Ireland, number 3 in France and number 1 in Sweden.[62]

DJ XENO[edit]

Singer, songwriter and guitar player DJ Xeno recorded a version of the song in 2012.

Parra for Cuva[edit]

"Wicked Games"
Single by Parra for Cuva featuring Anna Naklab
Released14 October 2013
LabelSpinnin' Deep
Songwriter(s)Chris Isaak
Parra for Cuva singles chronology
"Wicked Games"
"Sacred Feathers"
Anna Naklab singles chronology
"Something Near"
"Wicked Games"
"Fading Nights"

In 2013, German house producer Parra for Cuva released a cover version that featured Anna Naklab. The single was re-titled as "Wicked Games" in plural. It was first released on Beatport worldwide as a digital download in August 2013, then a mainstream release as a digital download in France in October 2013 and in Germany on 14 February 2014. The song has charted in Australia, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Track listing[edit]
  1. "Wicked Games" (radio edit) – 3:15
  2. "Wicked Games" (original mix) – 5:58
Chart (2013–2014) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[63] 14
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[64] 15
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[65] 21
France (SNEP)[66] 72
Germany (Official German Charts)[67] 89
Hungary (Rádiós Top 40)[68] 30
Ireland (IRMA)[69] 54
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[70] 5
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[71] 6
Scotland (OCC)[72] 4
UK Dance (OCC)[73] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[74] 6
Year-end charts[edit]
Chart (2013) Position
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[75] 50
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[76] 45
Chart (2014) Position
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[77] 82
Sales certifications for Wicked Games
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[78] Platinum 70,000double-dagger
France 3,500[79]
Netherlands (NVPI)[78] Platinum 20,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[80] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]
Region Date Label Format
France 14 October 2013 Spinnin' Records Digital download
Germany 14 February 2014
Ireland 24 October 2014
United Kingdom 26 October 2014

October Noir[edit]

In January 2020 gothic metal band October Noir released their own version of "Wicked Game" as a non-album single.[81]


  • A live acoustic cover of Wicked Game from Corey Taylor was released as part of the special and ten-year anniversary editions of the Stone Sour album Come What(ever) May.
  • Canadian rock band Three Days Grace released their cover of Wicked Game on the iTunes Deluxe Edition of their 2006 album One-X.
  • Theory of a Deadman covered this song as part of their album Wake Up Call.
  • Chilean band La Ley released a cover (in Spanish) of this song as a single in 2014, with the title "Sin tí".
  • Season 7 American Idol winner David Cook released a cover of this song on his fourth studio album Digital Vein on September 18, 2015.
  • Johnnyswim recorded a version of this song for their album “Georgica Pond” released in 2016.
  • The debut trailer for open world racing video game Forza Horizon 3 shown at E3 2016[82] featured a cover of the song performed by Ursine Vulpine featuring Annaca.[83] The same version of the song also featured in a TV commercial for the car manufacturer Alfa Romeo.[84]
  • Céline Dion recorded a version of this song in 2020 at Electric Lady Studios, New York, which was released as a Spotify Singles exclusive track.
  • American metal performer and composer Kristin Hayter, aka Lingua Ignota, recorded a cover of the song in 2020. Featuring back-up vocals by Daughters lead vocalist Alexis S.F. Marshall, the song was first released on music distribution site Bandcamp on August 7 and then placed into streaming as a single on September 11.
  • Russian teenage singer Diana Ankudinova recorded a version in 2019.


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External links[edit]