There are moments of clarity in music.
Like when I first dropped the needle on a new album…Dire Straits.
It was a time in the late 1970’s when disco was dominating everything. I mean, even The Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), and The Eagles (“One Of These Nights”) dabbled in Disco. There were some good Disco songs, but mostly Disco was annoying, and some songs had way too much falsetto screaming. Everyone thought they could have a hit if they just put a continuous disco drum beat under their song.
In early 1978, “Saturday Night Fever” dominated.
In September 1978, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” was #1 for three weeks.
In October 1978, Dire Straits released their first album.
As their songs came out of the speakers, it was like music could breathe again.
This is what had been missing. Rock had returned. No, not raucous distorted-guitar rock & roll. Rather, it was bass, drums, and electric guitars with a pure lead, and a vocal that wasn’t buried in the mix. I remember thinking how different it was from everything else, and how thankful I was.
Mark Knopfler was the songwriter, lead guitarist, and lead singer for this British band. “Sultans Of Swing” is the song that introduced Dire Straits to the world. That first album is all good. Other standout tracks include “Down To The Waterline”, “Setting Me Up”, “Water Of Love”, and “Southbound Again”. It’s not that the album is full of hits, it’s that it has a lot of really good songs that hold up well. It reached #2 on the Billboard album chart.
The next three Dire Straits albums didn’t march the quality or the sales of their first. Their second album Communique was their poorest. Making Movies was much better, with “Tunnel Of Love”, “Skateaway”, “Romeo And Juliet”, and “Hand In Hand”. Their fourth album, Love Over Gold was a step backwards, and sold half as many copies as Making Movies. So what happened next was a big surprise.
Somehow, someway, Dire Straits then released one of the best albums of the 1980’s, and one of the all time best sellers.
Who knew they had this in them? In May of 1985, Brothers In Arms was released, and I doubt even Mark Knopfler could have expected the reception. Fueled with radio and MTV hits “Money For Nothing”, “So Far Away” and “Walk Of Life”, the album spent 9 weeks at the top of the American charts, and was #1 in nearly every country. Brothers In Arms won Grammys for Best Rock Performance (by a duo or group), and for Best Engineered Album. It was the first major album to be recorded digitally.
1985 was a time when vinyl albums were still the norm. I bought the record album, and then the CD when it became available. I put the CD on, and as it started playing “Your Latest Trick”, I was shocked. There was a whole beautiful trumpet introduction that wasn’t on the record album! It turns out there were several cuts that had been edited down to fit the time restrictions of vinyl. Brothers In Arms became the first album with the CD outselling the record. It was the first CD to sell a million copies, and for quite a while was the best selling CD period. The album has sold over 30-Million copies.
For the two years after Brothers In Arms, Dire Straits toured with 247 shows in over a hundred cities. They burned out. In 1988, Mark Knopfler announced the dissolution of the band.
There was one reunion album in 1991, On Every Street, which has some good tracks, but didn’t live up to expectations. Mark Knopfler has gone on to do many solo projects, and works with other top artists.
Dire Straits may not be the long-term success story of some of the best classic bands, but Dire Straits and Brothers In Arms are two of Rock’s shining moments.
(Update: Dire Straits was inducted with the 2018 class of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Great choice.)
(Update: 5/31/2018. Last night the excellent TV series “The Americans” used the song “Brothers In Arms” to help convey an extremely important idea during the series finale of the Cold War drama. Interestingly, “The West Wing” also used the song for a key scene in it’s series finale.)