Classic Album No. 9 – Dire Straits – (Dire Straits, 1978)

In 1978 when punk was in its heyday, disco fever was in full flight, and new wave synthesiser-based bands were gearing up, Dire Straits released their debut album. On it was the song Sultans of Swing, which became a top 10 hit, and has since become a classic. Mark Knopfler and his band (John Illsley on bass, David Knopfler on  rhythm guitar, and Pick Withers on drums) came out with gritty, bluesy, rock sound that reflected the darker mood of the country at the time.

While the shows Mark Knopfler’s ability on the guitar, I can’t help but think that some of what is on here is improvised during the recording. It’s probably not, but having that feel to it adds an extra dimension to the sound, with all of those ‘spare’ notes tacked on to the songs. Illsley and Withers provide a tight, fantastic rhythm section, and rhythm is what this album is about. This might not be their best-selling album, but it sure is, in my view, the best.

The album is a collection of well-written songs that begins with Down to the Waterline a song about teenage liaisons in Newcastle, followed by the laid back Water of Love.  The third song on the album is Setting Me Up which is one of the best. It is three minutes of upbeat, foot-tapping rhythm and show cases both guitar players. David Knopfler really shows how good a rhythm guitarist he is on this album. Six-Blade Knife is a dark song that slows the pace down with folky/bluesy feel, before Southbound Again (another of my favourites) raises the pace with all the intensity of a clackety-clack train ride.

Sultans of Swing starts side two (at least it did in the days of LP records!) and I don’t think that there is much I can say about this song that hasn’t already been said. It’s a classic song in anybody’s language. Then comes In the Gallery, a story about a sculpture overlooked in life and feted after death. Knopfler chews out the words with a sort of suppressed rage at the injustice of it all.

The final two songs, Wild West End and Lions take me back to the London that I used to visit in the 80s. It was probably not that much different to the 70s (all those who disagree, feel free to – I don’t mind). There is a texture to these songs that reflects a young man in a big city, watching the world, watching the girls, living a frugal life with time to watch and see the world as it is, pick up the little details. These two songs take me down memory lane.

And that’s it. A great debut album from a band with a lasting sound. Enjoy it at the link below.

About George Fripley
I am a writer who enjoys writing humour, satire, poetry and sometimes a bit of philosophy. I live in Perth, Western Australia and occasionally get a poem or article published. It's all good fun! I have two books available for unwary readers, Grudges, Rumours and Drama Queens- The Civil Servant's Manual (This contains all that anybody could ever want to know about why government runs so slowly) and More Gravy Please! - the Politician's Handbook. (available through Amazon). Real name Peter Tapsell...just started off writing under a pseudonym and kept going.

3 Responses to Classic Album No. 9 – Dire Straits – (Dire Straits, 1978)

  1. Dire Straits were very important to me which I was a kid. Where I disagree is when you said that this album marked the darker mood of the time. I would have said that it was punk and post-punk that was reflecting the angst of the time, whereas Dire Straits were a band out of time. Their music was could have been from the early 70’s, and their lyrics hardly addressed any pressing social concerns. Even now Knopfler’s lyricism on the guitar astonishes me. You mention “In the Gallery” – that is one of my favourite guitar solos ever, it’s so emotional. Even though he’s a virtuoso, you hardly ever get the feeling that he plays fast for the sake of it – apart from the end of Sultans of Swing of course! That song is actually one that I can’t listen to any more, it’s hard-wired into my memory too much now. Like you, I love Knopfler’s vocals at this stage of his career. He has such an easy, relaxed, sometimes grunting style! Such a cool cat. I agree the last two tracks are lovely. You can really imagine him hanging out in London, having just moved down from Newcastle, before the band made it, exploring the city. Thanks for this post.

    • No worries, thanks for the comment. I still think the music has a dark brooding quality to many of the tracks – although I agree that punk was more social commentary (hence my post on Never Mind the Bollocks). Mark Knopfler’s guitar is so individual and still to this day, some 35+ years later, I find it vaguely magical, with the innate sense of rhythm and effortless melodies.

  2. Pingback: Do You Listen to Song Lyrics? | TOM GEORGE ARTS

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