My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘The Gambler’

The Gambler was Kenny Rogers’ third album of 1978, after Love or Something Like It and Every Time Two Fools Collide, a duet album with Dottie West. Thanks to its career-defining title track, The Gambler was also Kenny’s best-selling studio album, with more than five million copies sold in the US.

Written by Don Schlitz, “The Gambler” was a story song, the type at which Rogers excelled. It tells the tale the down-on-his-luck narrator who receives some unsolicited advice from a professional gambler during a late-night chance meeting on a “train bound for nowhere”. It was a monster hit, reaching #1 on the country chart, #3 on the adult contemporary chart and #16 on the Hot 100, and is Rogers’ best-remembered song today. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the first to record it. Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash had both released it as an album cut and Schlitz recorded his own version, which maxed out at #65. The album’s other hit single was the ballad “She Believes in Me”, a lush ballad about a struggling musician and the supportive wife he repeatedly takes for granted. It’s a bit too AC-leaning for a lot of people, but it’s a song I’ve always liked a lot. It reached #1 on the country and AC charts, and reached #5 on the Hot 100.

“I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again” is another nice ballad, written by Rafe Van Hoy, Don Cook and Curly Putman, that would go on to be a big hit for T. Graham Brown in 1986. I think Kenny’s version could have been a big hit, but perhaps United Artists didn’t want to release another ballad on the heels of “She Believes In Me”. Sonny Throckmorton’s “A Little More Like Me (The Crucifixion)”, about a charismatic celebrity — a thinly veiled metaphor for Christ — is another track I really enjoyed.

In the 1970s, country artists with crossover potential rarely released albums that were country through and through, preferring instead to include a variety of styles in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (although more often than not they managed to please no one). Kenny Rogers was no exception. I expected The Gambler to be a more country-leaning album, but a number of tracks: “Makin’ Music for Money”, “The Hoodooin’ of Miss Fannie DeBerry” (both written by Alex Harvey) and “Tennessee Bottle” incorporate a bluesy, funky vibe that might have been considered cutting edge in the late 70s, but it hasn’t aged at all well. I didn’t like any of these songs. Add to that list Rogers’ original composition “Morgana Jones”, a hot mess of a song that features some jazz scatting along with the R&B and funk.

Overall, The Gambler is a mixed bag. Only the two hit singles are essential listening. The album can be streamed, and it may be worth picking up a cheap copy if you can find it, but I recommend cherry-picking the handful of decent songs and forgetting about the rest.

Grade: B-

2 responses to “Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘The Gambler’

  1. Tyler Pappas October 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Kenny seems like he is a singles artist, however I love this album. I wouldn’t call it a classic album but I will say it’s one of his best. Even though I consider it a pop album I always thought that “Eyes that see in the Dark” was his best album. Also maybe it’s just me but “ I Wish that I Could Hurt That Way Again” screams to be loaded with steel guitar but never got that treatment.

  2. Ken October 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Due to his desire to incorporate wide musical diversity into his albums I cannot recall a Kenny Rogers LP that I enjoyed every track. Of course today it’s easy to select individual tracks to fine-tune an album to your personal preference but back in the day unless you moved the tonearm or hit the fast forward button you had to endure those left field tracks. But no question that his core fans – primarily women – seemed to respond to that formula as Kenny sold a ton of albums during his heyday. At that time Kenny’s sales were the primary source of profit for his record label.

    “The Gambler” was released as a single by three other artists by the time Kenny’s version was issued. Conway Twitty’s son Michael using the name Charlie Tango released a version for Gusto in March 1978 but his single did not chart. Writer Don Schlitz’s publishing demo first issued for the Crazy Mamas label was picked up by Capitol and entered Billboard the first week of May 1978 along with Hugh Moffatt’s version for Mercury. The Schlitz single peaked at #65 and Moffatt’s topped out at #95. Bobby Bare’s album track pre-dated Kenny’s recording by several months and Cash’s LP version was released after Kenny’s single was already climbing the charts.

    Here’s how Don Schlitz interpreted his own song:

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