The Greatest Poker Song of All Time

Or at least, the greatest “accidental” song about poker, but I personally can contend that in this case, the song in question is the same.

After years of thinking critically about everything from religion and politics to bookmarks and cheesy video games (seriously, I’m the guy that requested reviews for both Dragonball Evolution and Lollipop Chainsaw), I’d say not only does everything have a deeper meaning and possible purpose, but that sometimes that purpose is something you’d likely never see coming. Take, for example, what people might listen to while they play poker, a serious and strategic game of odds and psychology between players. “It’s not luck, it’s poker.”

I listen to music while playing sometimes, and while sometimes my picks can get me clear-headed and ready for the game, there’s one song on my regular playlist that probably would make people scratch their heads. But in the context of the lyrics, it’s easily the best song I’ve ever heard about the greatest game of wits and gamble I know. So let’s break that down today.

And the song is…

”Call Me Maybe” by Carly Ray Jepson.

Image via
Image via

Yes, that “Call Me Maybe”.

“How might a song about a not-reciprocated crush be also a song about hard-nosed gambling?” you may ask. Well, thanks to the ebb-and-flow of the song, nothing is quite what it seems in a card-playing context.

The bubblegum pop nature of the guitar and drums masks the depth of not only the experience of sitting at the table across from a prospective gambling whale (a “whale” being someone of substantial financial means and limited playing ability), but actually making the bets to take their money and leave ahead. Not every lyric works perfectly, though an abnormally large number of them can seem to imply Carly Ray is, indeed, looking forward to taking your money.

First, we start away from the table itself. The first stanza is as follows:

“I threw a wish in the well
Don’t ask me, I’ll never tell
I looked at you as it fell
And now you’re in my way”

We can easily take this to mean that the singer (a.k.a. the poker player) has spotted the rich person they can take stacks of chips from. Poker players have earned the reputation of being hard to read – it’s what makes them their money, after all – and of being able to spot a sucker, which is this case was the subject of the singer’s unspoken wish. Having found their “mark”, then followed them to a table, they’ve become an “obstacle” to overcome through the game, as the player is now “in (their) way”. Still with me so far?

“I trade my soul for a wish
Pennies and dimes for a kiss
I wasn’t looking for this
But now you’re in my way”

This is a continuation of the first lines, so with the exception of the word “kiss” (which you could substitute “chips” for, if you’re like that) it’s further implication of the desire to take this person’s money one bet at a time.

“Your stare was holding
Ripped jeans
Skin was showing
Hot night
Wind was blowing
Where you think you’re going baby?”

This helps us see the setting for our poker game. Where is the legendary home of poker players and other gamblers? Why, that would be Las Vegas, of course! In the center of the desert, known for hot nights, skin showing is usually the method of helping stave off the worst of the heat (which ripped jeans could also indicate). And that final line, “Where you think you’re going baby?” leads us straight to the tables. After all, we’re in Las Vegas as a setting, so outside of parties and hookers, what else is there to do?

…Actually, don’t answer that. Not relevant to the story Mrs. Jepson is taking us through. What is relevant though is what she shares next:

“Hey I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me maybe
It’s hard to look right at you baby
But here’s my number
So call me maybe”

It’s not often difficult to spot a whale in a casino or cardroom – they like throwing some money around, or dress well to try to indicate to everyone in attendance who the “big shot” is in the place. So it’s not hard to imagine our poker player protagonist has never actually met this whale previously, and so getting into the game where they interact for the first time would be done via a bet. “(H)ere’s my number” is the best in question.

There are two options as to how to proceed in most variations of poker when the betting is brought to you: if no bet in live, you can either check (i.e. not bet) or you can bet. If there IS a bet, you can either raise the bet, or you can “call” the bet. So “call me maybe” is an enticement to actually put more money into the pot. And this enticement can work both ways – either they call and put more money in, or it could scare a player off and let the bettor take the pot outright right there. Victory!

“You took your time with the call
I took no time with the fall
You gave me nothing at all
But still you’re in my way”

A continuation after the last stanza, possibly implying that our player can’t win every hand, but that that even with the occasional fall (either of a bad hand or our whale not putting anything else into the pot) the whale is “still… in (their) way”.

The next section of the song is a repeat of the refrain and chorus, the “Hey I just met you” bits. Here’s what comes next, the last original bit of the song before it fades away into repetition:

“Before you came into my life
I missed you so bad
I missed you so bad
I missed you so so bad
Before you came into my life
I missed you so bad
And you should know that
I missed you so so bad, bad, bad, bad…”

And this, of course, is how the player is feeling inside when they’re taking the money from the whale. Since it’s their method of making money, the “I missed you so bad” moments are reflecting back on earlier days of playing other whales and repeating the process. Gamblers remember two things very well: their biggest wins and their biggest losses (though I can attest that losses are more memorable; I can’t tell you the hand that won me my biggest pot, but I can recall the entire account of bluffing at a WSOP satellite event with 5-3 of clubs and missing both my straight and flush, but bluffing anyway and losing). And winning or losing against a whale player, depending on the amount of money and whether or not mortgages or rest were paid the following day because of it, stick in the head.

If the player actually knew this player and had played against them before – and taken enough scratch to pay off the house, even – they would definitely miss their mark once they left. “I missed you so, so bad” is a lamentation of the time they spent apart, and now that they’re back together, the gambler can work to part the whale from part of their fortune once again.

And that, dear friends, is how a Carly Ray Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” is, in my estimation, the greatest song accidentally about poker and professional gambling I’ve ever known.

Did I interpret something wrong, or make too many jumps in logic? Do you have another interpretation? Or, even better, can you think of another, maybe better song? I’m not talking “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers which is, in actuality, an awful poker song. (Of COURSE you can count your money at the table, it’s how you know how much you can bet! What an amateur!)

Stand tall my friends, and I’ll see you at the tables!