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Saturday, June 25, 2022

June 25-26, 2022: Las Vegas Studying: Vegas in Song

[On June 20th, 1947, mobster Bugsy Siegel was killed in Beverly Hills. So for the 75th anniversary of that murder, I’ve AmericanStudied Siegel’s role in the development of Las Vegas and a handful of other contexts for that tellingly American city. Leading up to this weekend post on Vegas in song!]

On five great tunes to win (or, yeah, lose) it all to.

1)      Elvis Presley, “Viva Las Vegas” (1964): I wrote about the illustrative film on Thursday, but the lyrics to Presley’s song capture the city’s allure and realities alike quite vividly as well. Perhaps never more so than in this couplet from the final verse: “If it costs me my very last dime/If I wind up broke, oh well I’ll always remember that I had a swingin’ time.”

2)      Gram Parsons, “Ooh Las Vegas” (1973): Released posthumously after Parsons’ tragic death at the age of 26 from drug and alcohol abuse at the age, “Ooh” would thus always have been tinged by the sadder side of its titular city. But in case that weren’t enough, the first verse goes: “Ooh Las Vegas, ain’t no place for a poor boy like me/ Ooh Las Vegas, ain’t no place for a poor boy like me/Every time I hit your crystal city/You know you’re gonna make a wreck out of me.”

3)      Sheryl Crow, “Leaving Las Vegas” (1993): Both Presley and Parsons’ songs are from the perspective of a visitor to Vegas; but as I wrote on Friday, the city is truly defined by those who work there (both in and out of the tourist trade). Crow’s anthem, one of many stellar tracks on her debut album, captures that working world perfectly in lines like “I quit my job as a dancer at the Lido des Girls/Dealing blackjack until one or two/Such a muddy line between the things you want/And the things you have to do.”

4)      Sara Bareilles, “Vegas” (2007): A track from her own, equally stellar debut album, Bareilles’ “Vegas” isn’t just a return to the visitor pursuing dreams theme—it’s one where “Vegas” is used even more overtly as a symbolic stand-in for anywhere “where dreams would be” (the song also namechecks New York/Broadway, Mexico, and “sail[ing] the ocean” as other such dream-destinations). But it’s even more interesting as a reflection that nobody can get there alone, with the chorus’ oft-repeated question, “Can you get me to Vegas?”

5)      Brandon Flowers, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” (2010): The Killers’ lead singer is (like Friday’s subject Andre Agassi) a famous native son of Vegas, and as a result a number of the band’s songs have at least implicitly referenced the city. But it was with the opening track of his solo debut record that Flowers really turned his attention fully to his hometown (attention that most of the album would continue), quoting the famous sign in the process. The song is an interesting mixture of the ideals and the realities, the glitzy dreams and the painful truths, a defining duality never more clearly captured than in Flowers’ chorus: “Las Vegas/Give us your dreamers, your harlots, and your sins/Las Vegas/Didn’t nobody tell you the house will always win?”

Next series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think? Las Vegas songs, contexts, histories, or stories you’d highlight?

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