Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing & Brothers in Arms

Dire Straits
Dire Straits
Origin: Deptford, London, England
Genres: Roots rock, blues rock, pub rock
Years active: 1977–1988; 1991–1995
Founding members:
Mark Knopfler: lead vocals and lead guitar
David Knopfler: rhythm guitar and backing vocals
John Illsley: bass guitar and backing vocals
Pick Withers: drums and percussion

Dire Straits formed in London by brothers Mark and David Knopfler along with John Illsley and Pick Withers in 1977. The name represented their financial condition in the early days. The band's demo only cost them $175 to make. Their record company was so impressed they got Spencer Davis Group bassist Muff Winwood - the brother of Steve - to produce their debut album.

Dire Straits Studio album: Dire Straits
Dire Straits
Studio album: Dire Straits
Released: October 7, 1978
Recorded: February 13 – March 5, 1978
Genre: Blues rock, pub rock

Dire Straits' debut studio album produced the hit single "Sultans of Swing," which reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 8 on the UK Singles Chart. It's counted among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll. The album reached number 2 in the United States and number 5 in the United Kingdom. 

Sultans of Swing

"Sultans of Swing" was on the first a five-song demo tape they recorded at Pathway Studios. Composed by Mark Knopfler, the song was inspired by a jazz band playing in the corner of an almost empty pub in South London. At the end of the performance, the lead singer announced their name: The Sultans of Swing. Knopfler found the contrast between the group's dowdy appearance and surroundings, coupled with their grandiose name, amusing.


Brothers in Arms Studio album: Dire Straits
Brothers in Arms
Studio album: Dire Straits
Released: May 13, 1985
Recorded: October 1984 – February 1985
Genre: Pop rock

Brothers in Arms is Dire Straits' fifth studio album. It became the first album certified ten-times platinum in the UK and is the eighth-best-selling album in UK chart history. The LP won a Grammy Award in 1986 for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. The 20th Anniversary Edition won another Grammy in 2006 for Best Surround Sound Album. Q magazine placed the album at number 51 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.

So Far Away
It's about conducting a relationship over a telephone. 
It can't really be done over a long period of time. 
BBC interview with Mark Knopfler
Dire Straits
Dire Straits
 
"So Far Away" was the first single released from Brothers in Arms in the UK and in Europe. It climbed to number 29 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1985 and was released as the album's third single in North America, It peaked at number 3 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart and number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Although Dire Straits front-man Mark Knopfler was on the road a lot, this song isn't autobiographical. "'So Far Away" is something I would want to apply to anybody," he told the BBC. "Quite apart from anything else, we are now a world of travelers and air travelers. Families are split up in different parts, all over the place, and it has relevance."



Walk of Life
There's too many 'woos' at the beginning of 'Walk of Life.'
I heard it on the radio the other day and thought, 
Oh my God! What was I doing that for?
Mark Knopfler BBC interview in 1989
"Walk of Life" was the B-side of the European "So Far Away" single. It's an ode to the street buskers of London. "Be-Bop-a-Lula" and "What'd I Say" are two standard songs that might be part of a singer's repertoire in the mid-'80s. Before the lyrics kick in, Mark Knopfler does a few "who-hoo"s to create a whimsical vibe. 

Dire Straits
Dire Straits

The singer mentioned in the lyrics, "Johnny," is said to perform "down in the tunnels, trying to make it pay," a reference to busking in the subway. The songs he plays are oldies, including "I Got a Woman," "Be-Bop-A-Lula," "What'd I Say," "My Sweet Lovin' Woman," and "Mack the Knife."

The original UK music video features a busker or street musician wearing the same shirt as Mark Knopfler, intercut with the band performing on a stage. Near the end of the video, the busker gets taken away by two policemen. The American version of the video was comical sports' highlight footage in place of the busker scenes.



Money for Nothing
MTV went nuts for it. 
It was like a big advertisement for them.
"Money for Nothing" was released as the album's second single. The song features Sting singing "I want my MTV" at the beginning. The lyrics are written from the point of view of two working-class men watching music videos and commenting on what they see. Mark Knopfler wrote it after overhearing delivery men in a New York department store complain about their jobs while watching MTV. Many of the lyrics were things they said. 

The song hit number 1 for three weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 1 for three weeks on the US Top Rock Tracks chart, and number 4 in the UK.  At the 28th Annual Grammy Awards in 1986, "Money for Nothing" won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year as well.  Rolling Stone listed the song as the 94th greatest guitar song of all time.

Dire Straits' manager asked MTV what they could do to get on the network and break through in America. The answer? Write a hit song and let one of the top directors make a video. Mark Knopfler took the directive to write an "MTVable song" literally and used the network's tagline in the lyrics. The song was an indictment of the station, but the network loved it. Hearing "I Want My MTV" on the radio was fantastic publicity.

Dire Straits "I Want My MTV"

Steve Barron, who also directed the famous a-ha video for "Take On Me" and Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science," was dispatched to do the video. Knopfler didn't like the idea, but his American girlfriend loved it so Knopfler agreed. Barron said, 

"The song is damning to MTV in a way. That was an ironic video. The characters we created were made of televisions, and they were slagging off television. Videos were getting a bit boring, they needed some waking up. And MTV went nuts for it. It was like a big advertisement for them."

The video was one of the first to feature computer generated animation. The characters were supposed to have more detail, like buttons on their shirts, but they used up their budget and had to leave it as is. It won Best Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. It was the first video played on MTV Europe - August 1, 1987 - six years after MTV in the US.

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