Saturday, June 13, 2009

Things are DIRE all over!

Haven’t done a band tribute in a while, so here’s one on a band I really got into in the early ‘90s, even though they’d been around quite a while, Dire Straits—one of the few “critic’s choice” bands I actually like.  I always enjoyed DS and their hit singles during the ‘80s, but it wasn’t until 1991’s outstanding On Every Street album that I totally embraced the group—just in time for them to cease making studio albums, naturally!  Singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler’s reason for shutting Straits down was that the group’s success “was all getting too big” (or words to that effect).  I’ve never quite understood that, because with their ever-changing line-up of personnel, it always seemed like Dire was more of a backing band for Knopfler than a full-fledged group effort anyway—only bassist John Illsley made the entire trip with him.  MK is sort of an odd duck with his quirky sense of humor and idiosyncratic Country-tinged style of guitar playing and Dylan-esque vocals, but it all worked and he could put out some fairly tasty music when he was fully-motivated to.

Although critically acclaimed, I never thought much of Dire Straits’ first two albums, apart from the classic hit “Sultans Of Swing”.  It wasn’t until album number three, 1981’s Making Movies, that they hit their stride, in my opinion, with great stuff like “Solid Rock”, “Skateaway”, “Tunnel Of Love” and “Romeo & Juliet”.  In spite of its goofy hit song “Industrial Disease”, 1982’s Love Over Gold didn’t honk my hooter either—it had too many long, drawn-out songs that didn’t hold my interest (one lasted almost 15 minutes—bigger isn‘t necessarily better).  DS hit the platinum motherlode in 1985 with Brothers In Arms, which contained the mammoth hit “Money For Nothing”, as well as “Walk Of Life” and “So Far Away”.  Much to the consternation of Warner Bros. Records, no doubt, six years of silence ensued before On Every Street appeared in ’91.  And nothing but silence since then…

My All-Time Dire Straits Top 15
15) So Far Away (1985)  Kind of a weird choice for the lead-off track on the Brothers In Arms album, but very atmospheric and trippy, all the same.
14) Les Boys (1981)  Oddball postscript from the Making Movies LP about some fellers who “are glad to be gay”.  Relax, Alex, if you’re reading this—it’s just a silly song and I still like girls, mmm-kay?
13) Money For Nothing (1985)  I absolutely loved this song when it first came out, but it’s been played to death so much on the radio that I’m burned-out on it now, otherwise it'd have finished much higher on my list.  The line “That little faggot with the earring and the make-up” was a direct hit on the Artist, and I loved it.  Classic video too.
12) Industrial Disease (1982)  Only really accessible song off Love Over Gold, and a funny one, to boot.  For some reason, I can’t help but associate the story of it with one Homer J. Simpson…
11) Walk Of Life (1985)  Resistance is futile here, with such a catchy hook and fun attitude.  Brilliant idea for the video, too, by including baseball, football and basketball bloopers therein.
10) On Every Street (1991)  Takes forever for this song to get going, but once it does, I love the riff Knopfler plays throughout and the steel guitar in the background.  It’s kinda fun to change the title to “On Sesame Street” while singing along…
9) Tunnel Of Love (1981)  I think of the line “let it rock and let it roll” every time I play a slot machine…
8) Sultans Of Swing (1979)  Man, what a breath of fresh air this thing was on Top 40 radio when it came out during the height of Disco malaise!  Way over-played on Classic Rock stations now, but still a great record.
7) Calling Elvis (1991)  Knopfler’s goofball humor hard at work here.  You can almost picture Johnny Cash singing this one too.  In both cases, “You got to tell him, he’s STILL the man…”
6) Heavy Fuel (1991)  True to its title, this is one of Dire’s heavier tunes, sounding very Z.Z. Top-like in places.  Six hamburgers, Gracie?  I can only assume he was talking White Castles.  Two regular burgers at a time is about all I can handle.
5) Ticket To Heaven (1991)  This was a brilliant body slam (performed in the most subtle manner possible by Knopfler) on TV evangelists everywhere, filled with lush strings and Flamenco guitar.  “Now I send what I can to the man with the diamond ring…”
4) The Bug (1991)  I believe this one’s been covered by more than a few Country artists, and it’s a great way to look at life:  “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug…”
3) Twistin’ By The Pool (1984)  Not unlike “Walk of Life”, this one is pretty irresistible too.  Although it got regular spins on MTV, it never really caught on as a hit record, for whatever reason.  Too bad, because it’s a fun little romp and a great party song.
2) Skateaway (1981)  This one is very atmospheric, too, and I always loved Knopfler’s twangy lead guitar as the song fades into the sunset here.
1) Solid Rock (1981)  Why this one doesn’t get played on the radio as much as “Money For Nothing” and “Sultans Of Swing” mystifies me.  Sonically, it’s not much different than “Sultans”, but never made it as a hit single.  Love the attitude in the lyrics here (“When you point your finger ‘cus your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointin’ back at you, yeah…”) as well as Knopfler’s staccato lead guitar work.


Mr. Mike said...

Cool post on Dire Straits, that Making Movies album was brilliant. I didn't hear it until a few years ago and thought it was awesome. Glad that "So Far Away" made the list, that was the one from them I liked the most.

dr sardonicus said...

My opinion of Dire Straits is somewhat the reverse of yours; I consider the early albums among their strongest, then the band got into a bit of a rut in later years.

Dire Straits is one of the best debuts in rock history. Especially on side two, with "Sultans Of Swing", "In The Gallery", "Wild West End", and "Lions", the LP has that rare combination of vision and consistency that makes it far more than the sum of its parts. Communique lacks the hooks of the debut but is still solid. I agree with you on Making Movies - it seems to be almost forgotten today, even though it was popular when it was released. BTW, "Solid Rock", although it received a lot of AOR airplay at the time, was never released as a single.

Love Over Gold might be the most underrated Dire Straits album. It's a concept LP about the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. "Industrial Disease" sets the tone, but the real gem is that 15-minute track, "Telegraph Road", a song about the rise and fall of Detroit. It takes a few listens to get it, but once you do, "Telegraph Road" rates as one of the greatest Dire Straits tracks. Brothers In Arms and On Every Street are both solid but overexposed.

Mark Knopfler broke up Dire Straits basically because he was tired of touring. He's released seven solo albums since then, so it's not like he's disappeared. His solo albums are a lot like his more opaque Dire Straits work - a lot of intellectualizing, not many hooks, yet rewarding listening if you're willing to put the effort into it.

Brian Holland said...

As you can tell, I'm a bit resistant to ultra-long songs like "Telegraph Road", for some reason. Not that I dislike all long songs--Elton's "Funeral For A Friend" and Skynyrd's "Free Bird" or even Zeppelin's "Carouselambra" are great because they hold my interest throughout, while others like Pink Floyd's and Rush's album-side length stuff often put me to sleep. Guess my attention span is a bit short sometimes...