Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” Lyrics Meaning
“The Gambler” features an easy-to-follow storyline, as good country songs tend to do. It starts off with the singer being on a train along with the titular gambler. They do not actually know each other initially. But amidst their boredom, the gambler sparks a conversation with him.
Now “the gambler” himself is clearly older and wiser than the narrator. And accordingly, just by ‘reading his face’, he can tell that the latter is ‘out of aces’. This is a poker-related metaphor pointing to the idea that he’s down on his luck. So he offers to give him “some advice” on how to overcome this disposition in exchange for some of the whiskey the singer has in his possession.
So upon handing the bottle to the gambler, he drinks all of the booze contained therein. Then he solicits the narrator for a cigarette also. And upon sparking it he gets quiet, with a blank expression covering his face. That’s when he goes off to give him the advice he promised, which once again is based on allusions to the game of poker.
Then what follows is the famous chorus of “The Gambler”, which you have likely heard before. And whereas the wording is indeed applicable to poker, ultimately the wisdom relayed is not intended to be restricted to a card game at all. In fact whereas these lyrics can be interpreted in a number of different ways, what they boil down to is the gambler telling the narrator to be crafty as he goes about making decisions and deals in all aspects of life.
The story then climaxes with the gambler falling asleep and seemingly dying shortly thereafter, as amongst other clues the chorus is classified as being “his final words”. But the aforementioned advice he has given to the singer is now ingrained in the latter’s head. Indeed the counsel “the gambler” gave him is a lesson he plans to actually implement in his life from henceforth.
It should also be noted that it appears “the gambler” never tells the narrator forthrightly that such is his profession or occupation. So that conclusion is something which the singer seems to have picked up on himself from his interactions with this individual.
Facts about “The Gambler”
This is the signature song of Kenny Rogers’ career and arguably the most-famous country song in American music history.
A few other artists – including the writer of the tune himself, Don Schlitz (who was 23 years old when he penned “The Gambler”) – actually recorded this song before Mr. Rogers. However, none of their versions managed to blow up like Kenny’s, which was produced by his regular collaborator Larry Butler.
In fact in addition to topping Billboard’s Hot Country Songs list, Kenny Rogers’ rendition of “The Gambler” also peaked at number 16 on the Hot 100 and number 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. That is to say the song was generally popular, which was rare for a country-music tune back in those days.
“The Gambler” also made an appearance on the UK Singles Chart and charted in four other countries, including New Zealand.
“The Gambler” didn’t chart in the UK until 2007, almost 30 years after its initial release. That’s when the song was used by the country’s rugby team as their unofficial anthem.
Moreover “The Gambler” earned both Don Schiltz (Best Country Song) and Kenny Rogers (Record of the Year) Grammy Awards respectively, in 1978 and 1979.
“The Gambler” also resulted in Kenny Rogers starring in a TV film entitled “Kenny Rogers as The Gambler” which was actually a top-rated television movie of 1980. In fact it went on spawn four sequels which ran until 1994.
And in 2018, the US government considered the song to be significant enough to preserve in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
This is the title track from Kenny Rogers’ 1978 album, which he also opted to call “The Gambler”. And the song was originally released by the United Artists Group on 1 November 1978.
Thank you for your effort to write this article! I loved it!
I thought the “gambler” committed suicide as he was playing in his last hand of poker and lost. I guess I was wrong.
My take is probably wrong but the gambler is a failure. He can’t afford a smoke or whiskey and dies swindling one last person.
I took it as don’t gamble.
To me this song is about how life is a gamble. Its encouraging the listener to keep gambling and keepnplaying. You may be down on your luck in your life right now but that’s because until now you haven’t been playing the game right. Life is about taking risks but not recklessly. Calculate your next steps wisely. You need to learn what things matter and what things dont, when to hold on to things and when to let them go. Never count your $ while your sitting at the table meaning dont make assumptions too early on , it’s too soon to assume how the game will end while your still playing it . Its when life, like the game , is over that you count your wins and losses. Every hands a winner and a loser because theres good and bad in everything. Sometimes you have to take a loss to make a gain and other times you might just get lucky but in the end all anybody can really ever hope for is to break even…
This was really cool. Also, there are two clues I could find in the second verse that alluded to “the gambler” dying in that verse, which are as follows (I put both here because they come one after the other):
‘And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even, but in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.’