Playing to Win was an album of beginnings and endings for Rick Nelson. It was his first LP in more than three years, marking the start of his fifth label affiliation, this one with Capitol, and, though it was released just short of five years before his death, it was his last album of new, original material to be released during his lifetime, followed only by 1985's All My Best, a collection of re-recordings of his hits marketed on television. In his bid for yet another commercial comeback, Nelson updated his rock & roll sound to take into consideration the heartland rock of artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty, as well as punk/new wave. As always, he had great taste, which allowed him to pick great material: John Fogerty's forgotten 1975 song "Almost Saturday Night"; "Back to Schooldays" from Graham Parker's 1976 debut album Howlin' Wind; John Hiatt's "It Hasn't Happened Yet," which would become a country hit for Rosanne Cash in 1983, and Ry Cooder's lilting "Do the Best You Can." He also contributed two of his own compositions, both of which seemed to have bitter personal meanings: "The Loser Babe Is You," a romantic kiss-off perhaps directed at his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and "Call It What You Want," likely addressed to his last label, Epic. He never intended the result to be his final statement, but it will serve.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann