September 16, 2011

Concertiny: Dire Straits "They don't give a damn about any trumpet playing band. It ain't what they call rock and roll" [UPDATED]

"He do the song about the sweet lovin' woman;
He do the song about the knife.
He do the walk, he do the walk of life, yeah he do the walk of life."

This is Dire Straits' breakthrough 1978-79 breakout single, Sultans of Swing -- got live if you want it... for 11 minutes of strong string synchronicity, swank drumming, some softly pedaled keyboarding, extended thoughts on guitar and then up, up and away to a get out on the floor and shake your ass finish.

2011 VMA - Music - Dire Straits

"This ain't workin'. That's the way you do it." The band broke out again in a whole new medium, music video, with the release of "Money for Nothing" on MTV. It's hard to imagine now but before "Money for Nothing" there really was nothing like it in music video or on MTV for that matter. It was an example of an inspired first move that spawned an endless series of imitations, from bad to mediocre, with the occasional masterpiece. Although it was the peak of the MTV phenomenon, "Money for Nothing" also signaled MTV's slow slide into a form of media life that might, on a good day, provide a gruelish nutrient slop for bottom dwelling pop-cult life forms. DS, however, would go on...

The title track, "Brothers in Arms" from the same album that held "Money for Nothing" signaled that the band had bigger game in it's sights than just charting. Deeply moving and yet ambiguous in it's view of war and warriors, "Brothers in Arms" has done duty for both warriors and peaceniks. This animation seems to capture that duality of the song, even if it seems to slant towards those with true and not just Dutch courage. No matter how you want to take it, those who are not moved by "Brothers in Arms" probably fail the test for the truly human.

"Brothers in Arms," the album and the tour, marked the end of the first immaculate conception of Dire Straits. They dissolved only to return in one form or another over the succeeding decades. And they did some first tier work too:

But by the time of Love Over Gold the initial melding of the band had melted. The concepts and the musical structures became more complex in pursuit of the poetic and hence missed the mark more and more. Still it had been a ten year run and that's a long run in the world of popular music.

Mark Knopfler, the band's center, having lost Pick Withers, the only drummer who could ever keep him on center, tended to write towards the operatic without the range. With no one left to reign him in, the band lost the groove. And since the groove must move, you have to move with it, not it with you; a lesson most bands never seem to learn.

Knopfler's been productive if not, as he once was, central. Recently he came out with another hymn to violence and peace much like the sensibility that powered the anthemic "Brothers in Arms" called "Cleaning My Gun:"

"We're gonna might need bullets should we get stuck

Any which way, we're going to need a little luck

You can still get gas in Heaven, and a drink in Kingdom Come
In the meantime I'm cleaning my gun"

It's got clean chops and tricky lyrics, but it's not "The Walk of Life." But then again, what is?

Hit It!

"And after all the violence and double talk
There's just a song in all the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, you do the walk of life, yeah he do the walk of life."

UPDATED: Knopfler talks about the riff structure of "Money for Nothing"

Posted by Vanderleun at September 16, 2011 7:01 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I was always partial to "Industrial Disease":

"Doctor Parkinson declared, "I'm not surprised to see you here
You've got smokers cough from smoking
Brewer's droop from drinking beer
I don't know how you came to get the Bette Davis wheeze
But worst of all young man you've got industrial disease"

Posted by: Robohobo at September 16, 2011 8:14 PM

Oh yes, that's exceptional too. Other's in the same mode might be "Heavy Fuel"

I don’t care if my liver is hanging by a thread
Don’t care if my doctor says I ought to be dead
When my ugly big car won’t climb this hill
I’ll write a suicide note on a hundred dollar bill
’Cause if you wanna run cool
If you wanna run cool
Yes if you wanna run cool, you got to run
On heavy, heavy fuel
Heavy, heavy fuel
Heavy, heavy fuel

And "The Bug"

sometimes you're the windshield
sometimes you're the bug
sometimes it all comes together baby
sometimes you're a fool in love
sometimes you're the louisville slugger baby
sometimes you're the ball
sometimes it all comes together baby
sometimes you're going to lose it all

Posted by: vanderleun at September 16, 2011 8:23 PM

One hundred years from this day
Will the people still feel this way
Still say the things that they're saying right now?
Everyone said I'd hurt you
They said I'd desert you
If I go away, you know I'm going to get back somehow

Nobody knows what kind of trouble we're in
Nobody seems to think it all might happen again

One hundred years from this time
Would anybody change their mind
And find out one thing or two about life?
But people are always talking
You know they're always talking
Everybody's so wrong that I know it's going to work out right

Nobody knows what kind of trouble we're in
Nobody seems to think it all might happen again

Gram Parsons is why I like this song but he didn't write it.

Posted by: notquiteunBuckley at September 16, 2011 11:37 PM

Three cheers for the greatest rock band ever.

Posted by: ed at September 17, 2011 6:50 AM

I had Sultans of Swing on vinyl in '78. It was the shit, but evaporated in the first divorce war. I have all of Knopfler's stuff on my ipod now, and am partial to the ballads. They're all good. Don't Crash The Ambulance, and The Doctor are favorites, but I even love his collaborations. Chet Atkins and Emmylou Harris? What's not to like??

Posted by: Casca at September 17, 2011 6:53 AM

Thanks for the memories. Another guitar centered rock band of note in the late 70s was the Eagles - and of course their fantastic "Hotel California"

Posted by: Tom at September 17, 2011 7:07 AM

I cannot recall another rock musician employing this use and range of dynamics. Sultan doesn't get old.

Posted by: james wilson at September 17, 2011 9:23 AM

First album I purchased, and the CD I purchased. Awesome.

Posted by: Mike at September 17, 2011 12:14 PM

Once, when I was in college, my friends and I went down to Club Schmitz in Dallas for a jar. A couple of hours and pitchers later, we decided that, while country music was a fine accompaniment to the night's activities, a better time might be had by all if a bit of rock and roll were to be played on the jukebox. At that juncture one of our number took out a roll of quarters he had procured for this purpose, fedall ten dollars' worth into the jukeox, and started punching buttons. He sat down, and a few songs later "Sultans of Swing" began to play.

The next song was also "Sultans of Swing." And the next. And the next. "I really like that song," explained One of Our Number in a boozy voice.

After eight or nine replays of "Sultans of Swing", a tall man in cowboy clothes got up from a barstool. Without a word, he walked to the jukebox and unplugged it. No more "Sultans of Swing". The bar became quiet. He plugged it in again, put in a few quarters, punched a few buttons, and returned to his beer.

Country music began to play once more. The normal hubbub of laughter and conversation returned to the barroom. We all applauded and ordered another pitcher of Shiner.

True story.

Posted by: B Lewis at September 17, 2011 3:39 PM

I have seen a number of videos of live performances of Sultans of Swing that were ponderous, verging on lame-o. This one is not, it must be the best live recording of that song. Bravo!

Communique was for many years on my most-played list, just a well-packaged song pile that took the listener into it's own little world. And Making Movies had some wonderful performances, with Mark Knopfler laying down some exquisite licks. The trail out at the end of Skateaway gives me goosebumps every time, I never tire of it; the guitar and drum stutter is sheer genius.

Mark Knopfler, like Richard Thompson and J J Cale and John Martyn and a few others were among the few who had some excellent early works and still maintained a long and interesting career with a lot of fine music even in the later stages. We are lucky to have them among us, though John Martyn passed a few years ago.

Posted by: Dan D at September 17, 2011 4:53 PM