FACT-CHECKING “THE ACE OF SPADES”

 

Ah, Lemmy, we miss you already.  Many a night of mine was spent in The Salisbury, or Jilly’s, listening to your back catalogue.  Just like Kenny Rogers, you also get the sceptical treatment from me.  Thing is, I was turning over the words in my head, and something just didn’t add up…

(lyrics courtesy of Google Play)

If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man,
You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me,
The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say,
I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is
The Ace Of Spades
This song is quite obviously about life being a gamble, and the desire to take risks, and have a reckless and fun time.  But dig beneath the surface, and we can turn it into a mathematical problem (“Hurrah!” I hear you cry).  There are a few specific instances in which the Ace Of Spades would be the only card you need, but I’m not sure that those instances are the ones given below.
Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil,
Going with the flow, it’s all a game to me,
Seven or Eleven, snake eyes watching you,
Double up or quit, double stake or split,
The Ace Of Spades
It sounds like we’re talking about Blackjack / Pontoon here, but it doesn’t entirely make sense. I’m unsure of the meaning of “seven or eleven” here, as in Blackjack you might talk about an Ace (of any suit!) being worth 1 or 11.  “Snake eyes” is a roll of two dice, getting a 1 on each die. So now we’re talking about the use of dice, too… I don’t know what this has to do with Blackjack, or the Ace of Spades, but I did find out about a dice-rolling drinking game called 7s, 11s & doubles, that Lemmy could be talking about.
You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live forever,
And don’t forget the joker!
The joker doesn’t play a role in most casino games, although it can be a Wild Card.  Maybe that’s the point – that it’s wild and dangerous, and represents taking whatever chances you can.  We only get one go at life, and would we want more than that?
Pushing up the ante, I know you got to see me,
Read ’em and weep, the dead man’s hand again,
I see it in your eyes, take one look and die,
The only thing you see, you know it’s gonna be,
The Ace Of Spades
The Dead Man’s Hand refers to a two pair hand in poker, made up of the black eights and the black aces.  According to legend, this is the hand Wild Bill Hickok had when he was shot dead during a poker game.  “Seven or Eleven” also has a meaning related to the Dead Man’s Hand, according to an early 20th-Century superstition.

Songwriters: Clarke, Edward Alan / Kilmister, Ian / Taylor, Philip John
Ace Of Spades lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

So it actually seems that the song has nothing to do with Blackjack at all.  My interpretation is that it’s about living a dangerous and exciting life, much like that of Wild Bill Hickok.  Knowing that death could be around any corner, and laughing in its face anyway – sounds a bit like Lemmy: “I will be killed by death. I might be killed by too much booze, women or music, but it’s not a bad way to die.”.  Well, I’ve learnt a lot.  Mainly that there is no hidden mathematical message in the song (sorry, numerologists!).

I’m glad I put the time into figuring this out.  A song that I’ve heard thousands of times, yet never knew the tale behind it, or fully understood the metaphors.  But the reason it’s such a successful rock song is that its catchiness and appeal rely on its brevity.  Maybe some people don’t even listen to the lyrics, but the song is recognisable & powerful, and unmistakably Motorhead.  And just as per my last foray into literary analysis, here’s the track on YouTube:

 

 

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