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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV_WE6RPR9M

Twenty 80’s Songs that Don’t Get Played Enough Anymore

I’m re-posting this now that I have got around to putting the links in – enjoy if you have not already.

Okay, this is not a definitive list and is in no particular order, but honestly, some of these should be played more – a lot more.

1. Understanding Jane – The Icicle Works: What can I say about the Icicle Works – good melodies, good lyrics, never played on radio, at least not here. This is even a tiny bit grungy before grunge existed…excellent in all respects. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXm12KFuEZM

2. Pink Sunshine – We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It: Fuzzbox, as they were known, were an indie band that went mainstream pop in the late 80s with singles like International Rescue, Self, and this one. Of course the sexy Victoria Perks’ perkiness helped too! This is pure unadulterated pop and it’s great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_72Y9L7DAk

3. Badges, Posters, Stickers, & T-Shirts – Dire Straits: Something different for MK and his band. This is jazzy. It was the b-side of Private Investigations and is sadly little known and played even less, if at all. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28-nADaCGqs

4. Everything Good Is Bad – Westworld: This band had a hit with Sonic Boom Boy, but their cover of this song was their best in my opinion. They ramped up the guitars and let rip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujsh1nmQGuo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QOnP7Ui2Io this is the video but it cuts out – still, I like it

5. Mad World – Tears for Fears: Okay, so this may get played a little, but it was TFFs first single and their best, although Shout came close. It is dark and brilliant and I love it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFsHSHE-iJQ

6. Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade: Lovely song from this Scottish duo. One hit wonders to the best of my knowledge with a distinctly 80’s electronic drum feel and plenty of synthesiser. What ever happened to them? Could easily be included in my Guilty Pleasures top 20 which is still under construction. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YI3u1lOoH8o

7. Lebanon – Human League: Easily their best song for me. A bit of political commentary and an anti-war message mixed in with a kick-ass bass intro, some great guitar work and the line – ‘and who will have won once the soldiers have gone.’ Who indeed? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEsRYkRpySY

8. Major Tom (Coming Home) – Peter Schilling: A bit of Europop and what a bit it is. This is Peter Schilling’s homage to David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes singles. The soaring chorus really makes the song. Apparently the man is still performing around Europe – so good for him! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt-R5hj_lWM

9. Oblivious – Aztec Camera: This band had a couple of hits, notably Somewhere in my Heart, but this one didn’t make it far in the charts. In my opinion, though, it is their best song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B2Sc2G_5ZA

10. Blind Vision – Blancmange: Blancmange had three hits with Living on the Ceiling and Don’t Tell Me being the best known, but my favourite is this one. They also did a great version of The Day Before You Came originally a song by ABBA fame (they even got Agnetha to appear in their video). Blind Vision is synth pop at its very best. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YAvhMTgE8o

11. Can I Play With Madness – Iron Maiden: The 80s are not complete without Iron Maiden. They hit the big time with Run to the Hills, but this was their first No.1. It is a masterpiece of heavy metal and not a bad video either – if just a little bit corny. But hey – this was the 80s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9TZlh_ucZk

12. Imagination – Belouis Some: Another short-lived pop success who I believe may still be going. He had a hit with Some People (at least in the UK) but Imagination was far superior and has a great bass part in it. One of my favourite 80s songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyamU4m-WxU

13. Today – Talk Talk: Dark and fantastic from the Hollis brothers. They flirted with success and gained a good following, but first burst onto the scene with Talk Talk, Such a Shame, and Today. Their biggest hit was It’s My Life, more recently covered by Gwen Stefani. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge-IFWGq-6o

14. Animal – Def Leppard: Hair rock. Yeah, there were others, but the boys from Sheffield took over the world with the album Hysteria, which spawned this single. I loved it when I first heard it, and then went off it – but it’s back and should be played more. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecFPU–vvf0

15. Mama – Genesis: A very dark song about a prostitute – the first single off Genesis IV and Phil Collins at his vocal best. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ccs2rt0oSzQ

16. Ship Building – Robert Wyatt: This haunting song by Elvis Costello during the Falklands War about the shipyards, building ships, and not coming back from war. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjUkjpJa6bY

17. Here Comes the Summer – The Undertones: Pure joy from these Belfast lads. Only 1:57 in length but full of energy and girls with long legs. One of my favourite – I even prefer it to Teenage Kicks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xw_5xS8Uj8A

18. Ace of Spades – Motorhead: Yes – Lemmy’s biggest hit. The man as fired from Hawkwind and can’t sing but who gives a shit? This rocks! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iwC2QljLn4

19. A New England – Kirsty MacColl: A Billy Bragg song covered (with an added extra verse) to perfection by Kirsty MacColl. This was her biggest hit and never fails to energise me. Great voice too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4c2kO5ZE38

20. I Can Hear Your Heartbeat – Chris Rea: Chris Rea has a good following and is now very bluesy, but in 1983 he released this pop classic. Do yourself a favour and have a listen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhCUCxet2a4

Classic Singers 8 – Mark Knopfler

So, people of my vintage will know Mark Knopfler, he is best known as lead singer of Dire Straits, for a time the biggest band in the world. In 1978 Sultans of Swing sent them into the Top 10 in the UK charts and the album Dire Straits followed suit. The next album Communique didn’t produce any hit singles but made No 5 in the charts. I think this is a great album. What followed after this were more hit albums Making Movies, Love Over Gold (reached No. 1), the live album Alchemy, and then the monster, Brothers in Arms. These albums brought in more sophisticated production and contained some of the more well-known tracks like Romeo and Juliet, Tunnel of Love, Private Investigations, Brothers in Arms and Walk of Life. A little known EP was also released in 1983 called ExtendedancEPlay which contained Twisting by the Pool. This contains one of my favourite tracks, more of that later.

Mark Knopfler then went on to the Notting Hillbillies, a country/folk band and released an album Missing, Presumed Having a Good Time. I like this album, it’s gentle on the ears and very laid back. I even did a rendition of the track Working on the Railroad when called upon to sing by the locals on a trip through Mongolia. It was easy to remember! He also composed soundtracks for the films Local Hero and Cal. He also wrote Private Dancer¸ a hit for Tina Turner.

After a brief resurrection of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler went solo with his first album Golden Heart  in 1996, and has been going ever since, working with numerous artists including EmmyLou Harris, with whom he collaborated on the album All the Roadrunning. I am a real fan of some of his solo work, as he tell stories in the songs – and Mark Knopfler’s song writing has always been thoughtful and of good quality. Sometimes I don’t think he gets enough recognition for that.

Anyhow, onto the songs. I struggled to choose only five, as usual, and they’r probably not the ones you’d expect, but here goes:

1.  Follow Me Home, from Communique is one of my favourites. It has a lovely beach feel to it. It ebbs and flows like waves washing along the shore. The sultry feel of a Caribbean island infuses the sound. I can feel the humidity, the sensuality. And why wouldn’t it, it was recorded in the Caribbean at Nassau in the Bahamas which probably influenced the ‘vibe’. It’s a little bit dark too and strangely hypnotic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhOPK3KVP0g

2. Badges, Posters, Stickers & T-shirts. What? I hear you ask. Well this was off the ExtendedanceEPlay EP. I love it. It’s a jazzy song and was the b-side of Private Investigations in the UK. I don’t think Mark Knopfler has done anything else like this, and that is a shame. The foot-tapping insistence of this track just takes you along with some great piano and drums to complete the jazz feel.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SwfTlQAVhs

3.  Private Investigations – If you ever want a soundtrack for reading Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane novels, this is it. It was a big hit in the UK (No. 2) in 1982; the downtrodden, underpaid, private eye comes through in spades. The guitar work is sublime. It’s dark, brooding, and there’s a feeling of futility in the lyrics heading towards a lose-lose result for the investigator and all involved, but that doesn’t matter; there are always expenses to claim and some whisky to drink. It makes me think of Phillip Marlowe. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxS-ICzjO6I

4. 5:15am  – this is from 2004 off Shangri-la, one of Mark Knopfler’s solo albums. It’s a great story, set in the 1960s about a chancer who is found dead in his car one morning. It is not, perhaps, as complex  musically as some of MKs work, but I love the story-telling, something that he has done more of in his solo career. I also think that this song brings out his voice better than voice than many other songs. For me, this is a song that flows along smoothly and is a pleasure to listen to.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnrPq6ejZmg

5. Monteleone –  This is a gentle song off the album Get Lucky (2009) that had me with the use of strings in the intro. It’s all about making a mandolin, a story of woodworking that brings out the love the instrument-maker has for his craft. Not a lot more to say, but it’s a smooth, and soothing ride; the sort of song that makes you stop what you are doing to listen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFKGtCfc6cQ

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