Click to listen

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Oct. 6: On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler. We were both too tired to sleep.

Thus begins the Don Schlitz song that Kenny Rogers interpreted into a classic. It was the title track of the quintuple-platinum album that hit the stores 31 years ago today this week.

“The Gambler,” whose story is a metaphor for how to handle life’s little ups and downs, was the second of five straight No. 1 singles for Rogers in 1978-79. (Every 45 he released in those years topped the Billboard country chart.) It also went Top 20 pop and Top 5 adult contemporary. (Rogers’ discography is here, his biography here.)

Music journalist and author Dan Daley has a wonderfully enlightening essay on the song and the process of recording it on Mix Magazine‘s Web site. Read it here to find out who laid down the acoustic guitars that kick off the song, how The Jordanaires were used on the record and what uncredited country star contributed background vocals.

A diverse group of artists outside the country field has recorded “The Gambler.” See for yourself.

— Kevin Paulk, 3 Chords a Day