Album of the Week: Dire Straits
Welcome to the first ever Album of the Week! In this segment I will be presenting my favorite albums, some of which you may not know about, and also tell you about the perfect circumstances under which you should listen to them.
In the times we live in now, where music streaming services and YouTube allow you to instantly find a song with a few clicks, the concept of listening to albums has mostly become lost. The idea of playing a band’s full album from start to finish is unfamiliar to most music listeners, who instead chose to pick a few songs and add them to an eclectic playlist. Albums have lost their value as a means of storytelling and have just become a way for artists to release multiple tracks at the same time. But that was not always the case. There have been many artists through the years that put a lot of thought into their albums, carefully picking which songs to include and which to omit. Songs would blend in together, telling a story, serving a purpose. These are the albums that are worth listening to.
The Beatles were one of the first bands to introduce continuity in their albums; a notable example is Abbey Road, which includes a medley consisting of 8 different songs. But that’s a story for another time. For now, let’s focus on the debut album of the British rock band Dire Straits.
Name of Album: Dire Straits
Release: 7th October, 1978
Number of tracks: 9
Sales worldwide: 23,152,000
In 1977, Mark Knopfler, his brother David, and their friend John Illsley decided to form a band. The name Dire Straits (meaning: in a very hard or difficult situation) derived from their financial status at the time. After a few months of rehearsing, the band managed to gather enough money to record a five-track demo, which they sent to various radio stations. Luckily, one producer actually listened to it and, of course, liked it a lot. He started playing one of the band’s most famous songs, ‘Sultans of Swing’, on his show, which drew the attention of several record companies. Two months later, Dire Straits had signed a deal and were ready to record their first album.
At the time of its release, the album, which shares the name of the band, was an immediate success, reaching #2 on the US charts and #5 in the UK. Since then, however, it has been greatly unappreciated and forgotten for the most part. Granted, in retrospect, it might not be the band’s best overall work, but it is remarkably accomplished for a debut. The songs fit together perfectly, telling a story that evokes vivid pictures of the Wild West. It features a blend of slow-tempo and upbeat songs, each with their own value and purpose. The transitions between songs are seamless and the overall tone stays the same throughout the album. Themes include travel, love, loneliness and heartbreak.
Here is the track listing with a few highlights pointed out. It is important to mention that all songs were written by Mark Knopfler himself and were inspired by his life.
1. Down to The Waterline
The perfect way to start this album, ‘Down to The Waterline’ includes all the basic elements of a Dire Straits masterpiece; an incredible guitar riff and powerful vocals by Mark Knopfler, amazing drumming by Pick Withers, an upbeat rock rhythm and of course, the aura of a Western scenery.
2. Water of Love
I love the way this song starts. You will immediately be hooked to the rhythm and by the time the second verse comes around you’ll find yourself singing along with the band.
3. Setting Me Up
One of the most upbeat and fast-paced songs in the album, ‘Setting Me Up’ has been described as a “heavenly number combining humor with bitterness, despite having a typical messed-up romance theme.”
4. Six Blade Knife
‘Six Blade Knife’ comes to slow things down after the up-tempo rhythm of the two previous tracks. It’s a very easy-going song, once again showcasing Knopfler’s talented guitar playing.
5. Southbound Again
‘Southbound Again’ is the funkiest song of the album. It talks about a man that travels to south England after a bad break-up.
6. Sultans of Swing
Perhaps the band’s most popular song, ‘Sultans of Swing’ has become a rock classic. The song tells the story of the Sultans of Swing, a jazz band playing in the corner of an almost empty pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced their name, the Sultans of Swing. Knopfler was inspired by a true event; he found the contrast between the group's dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing. The song also features one of the most famous guitar solos of all time, performed by Mark Knopfler.
7. In the Gallery
‘In the Gallery’ serves both as a critique of modern art and as a tribute to Knopfler’s friend, Leeds artist Harry Phillips, who died in 1976. Knopfler decided to write the song when he visited an art gallery in Shaftesbury Avenue and was not impressed by what he saw. He believed that it was all a big con which was subsidized by the public pursuit for “all the phonies and all of the fakes” while genuine artists like Harry Phillips were “ignored by all the trendy boys in London and in Leeds” and lived and died in obscurity. According to his bandmates, he started writing the song in the back of the car on the way back from the gallery. When they arrived at their flat, he sat for another hour and a half by himself and finished the lyrics.
8. Wild West End
Although many might believe the song talks about the Wild West, the truth is that it refers to West End, an area in London. Knopfler was inspired to write the song while spending time in London when he was pursuing a music career. ‘Wild West End’ is, in my opinion, a very beautiful and touching song. It describes the daily life of a lonely man, who is searching for a purpose in life.
The eponymous ‘Lions’ either refer to the four massive statues in London’s Trafalgar Square, or to the ones outside Leeds Town Hall (Leeds was Knopfler’s hometown).
This album is best listened to on a relaxing evening at home. I suggest you sit down, close your eyes, and let Mark Knopfler’s guitar melodies take you someplace else. If you are a fan of either country, folk, blues, or rock music, this album will suit you well.
Bonus video: For something entirely different, here’s a video of The Beatles playing Long Tall Sally – I really wanted to share this as Ringo goes completely beast mode on the drums.