With the honourable exception of Mr Phil Collins, no big British act of the Eighties more encapsulated the sales rep, dad-rock, driving classics, leather-jacket-with-the-sleeves-rolled-up uncool than Dire Straits.
They have sold an earth-shattering 120 million records, their 1985 Brothers In Arms LP practically launched the CD format, they were responsible for the first CD single, and the first video shown on UK MTV, they have played countless massive tours, they wore terry towling head bands, Princess Diana was a fan: maybe none of these things are cool and yet, in 2015, when you look back at what they recorded – it is timeless, beautiful rock music of the highest order.
But before they were a big beast of the stadium rock jungle, they had a stripped down, considered, bluesy R & B style married to a Dylanesque flair for rolling narratives about unsung aspects of modern life. Mark Knopfler’s unique finger picking style of lead guitar playing made all air guitarists sit up and take notice on Sultans Of Swing, which came out in the teeth of the new wave revolution but still made a hugh impact.
Their first two albums, the eponymous 1978 effort and – especially – 1979s Communiqué are excellent, under-rated efforts characterised by Mark Knopfler’s soulful yet economical playing and a nice line in dry story-telling. Bob Dylan was sufficiently impressed, after seeing them on tour in the USA in 1978, that he invited Mark to play on Slow Train Coming, the only one of his Christian records with any saving grace (if you’ll pardon the pun). Mark impressed the notoriously hard-to-please Becker and Fagan so much that they invited him to play on Steely Dan’s 1980’s Gaucho album. It doesn’t get cooler than that.
Dire Straits next record, Making Movies, is something of a belter: put your hand on your heart and say that you don’t like a bit of ‘Tunnel Of Love’ or ‘Romeo And Juliet’. Any band that includes references to both Cullercoats and Whitley Bay deserves their props. Talking of guilty pleasures, Brothers In Arms, one of the great pop-rock albums of the time contains ‘Walk Of Life’, ‘So Far Away’ and ‘Money For Nothing’. The title track itself captured the doomy mood of those nuclear armed times. They had evolved into a band that could create atmospheres with their music and tell stories with the lyrics.
The fact that this made them appeal to Ford Granada driving sale reps called Brian who only buy CDs at service stations, should not detract one iota from the appreciation of their craft. No band can control who ends up loving their music and in hindsight its easier to see that Dire Straits were uncool, less for their music, but more for the kind of people who liked them. As we’re now, incredibly, over 35 years away from that first album and 30 from Brothers in Arms, such shallow distractions no longer bother us. We’re just left with the music and the music is rather bloody good. You can pick up all of their records second hand in any vinyl store for pennies and I suggest you do because, chances are, you’ve forgotten how great they really are.
Knopfler continues to create superb, tasteful music on albums such as ‘The Ragpickers Dream’ and ‘Sailing To Philadelphia’. One of the good guys, Mark seems to be one of those fellas who seems to suit middle age more than youth and thus is cooler now than ever. He remains a unique, if too little celebrated talent.