The Deck of Cards

"The Deck of Cards" is a recitative that was popularized in both the country and popular music fields, first during the late 1940s. This religious, touching[citation needed] tale of a young American soldier arrested and charged with playing cards during a church service first became a hit in the U.S. in 1948 by country musician T. Texas Tyler.

Though Tyler wrote the spoken-word piece, the earliest known reference is to be found in an account/common-place book belonging to Mary Bacon, a farmer's wife, dated 20 April 1762. The story of the soldier can be found in full in Mary Bacon's World. A farmer's wife in eighteenth-century Hampshire, published by Threshhold Press (2010). The folk story was later recorded in a piece of 19th century British literature called "The Soldier's Almanack, Bible And Prayer Book"[1]



"Cards" is set during World War II, where a group of US Army soldiers, on a long hike during a campaign in southern Italy, had arrived and camped near a town named Cassino. While Scripture is being read in church, one man who has only a deck of playing cards pulls them out and spreads them in front of him. He is immediately spotted by a sergeant, who orders the soldier to put them away (thinking he's playing cards in church). The soldier is then arrested and taken before the provost marshal to be punished. The provost marshal demands an explanation, to which the soldier explains the significance of each card:

Ace: The one true God

Deuce: The Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible

Trey/Three: The Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit/Ghost

Four: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, evangelists and authors of the four Gospels

Five: The two groups of five virgins who trimmed their lamps for a wedding. Five were wise (by saving enough oil) and were admitted, while the other five were foolish (did not have enough oil) and were shut out.

Six: God created the Earth in six days.

Seven: God rested on the seventh day, now known as the Sabbath.

Eight: The eight righteous people whom God saved during the Great Flood: Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives.

Nine: Of the ten lepers whom Jesus cleansed, nine of them didn't even thank him.

Ten: The Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses.

King: God, the Father.

Queen: Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven.

Jack or Knave: Satan or the Devil

365 Spots: Days in a year

52 Cards: Number of weeks in a year

Thirteen Tricks: Number of weeks in a quarter

Four Suits: Approximate number of weeks in a month (can also mean the four seasons but this is not included in the song)

Twelve Face Cards: Number of months in a year

He then ends his story by saying that "my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, an almanac and a prayer book." The narrator then closes the story by stating that "this story is true," by claiming he is the soldier in question.

Cover versions

The highest-charting version was recorded in 1959 by future game show host Wink Martindale, and was performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Martindale's rendition went to No. 7 on the Billboard charts in 1959, attained multi-platinum recognition, and reached No. 1 on many worldwide music charts.


Red River Dave composed a parody, "The Red Deck of Cards" about a U.S. prisoner of war, who hates cards, because the North Koreans tried to teach him Communism by the using a deck of cards.[2]

The Welsh Comedian and singer Max Boyce recorded a Rugby Union themed version. In a Spitting Image sketch, Leon Brittan performs a satirical version when Margaret Thatcher catches him and the rest of the cabinet playing poker in a cabinet meeting.

Bill Oddie performed a parody version written by Tim Brooke-Taylor and Chris Stuart-Clarke[3] about a cricket bag in I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again. This same version was also performed by David Frost and released as a single by Parlophone records in 1966 with Chris Stuart-Clarke's name being misspelled as Stewart-Clarke. A Parlophone promotional single released April 29, 1966 exists which has a John Cleese sketch titled "Zoo Keeper" as the A side [4] but versions are also found with "Deck of Cards" as the A side.

The Soft Boys with Robyn Hitchcock also recorded a parody version, originally an outtake from "Live At The Portland Arms (Cambridge)". It was released as a bonus flexi-disc with Bucketfull of Brains magazine #23.[5] While the backing is done straight, Hitchcock's recitation veers off from the original as is characteristic of his off kilter and absurd sense of humour. For example, "...when I see the trés, I think of tea time; when I see the four, I think of the Fab Four... John... Paul...George... and Ringo;... ...when I see the six I think of Unit 4 + 2" etc. before concluding with "... I know because I was that bicycle clip."


  1. ^ "The Soldier's Almanack, Bible And Prayer Book", From "The History Of Playing Cards With Anecdotes Of Their Use In Conjuring, Fortune-Telling And Card-Sharping", Edited by Rev. Ed. S. Taylor, B.A., Published in London, 1865
  2. ^ Russell, Tony (2007). Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost. Oxford University Press US. pp. 242–243. ISBN 0195325095, 9780195325096. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^,+The

External links

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