British stadium rockers Dire Straits were THE live band to see in the '80s. They held records for selling out concerts in Australia that have only just been broken in recent years, and for Generation X seeing Dire Straits and U2 before you died was a must. Their collected chart toppers ("Money For Nothing", "Sultans Of Swing", "The Walk Of Life" etc) don't give much of an idea of the breadth of Dire Straits' cinematic sound. Here's a hand-picked list of deeper cuts that shows why Dire Straits are sorely underrated by modern music fans.
Dire Straits, 1978
The first song on their debut, "Waterline" isn't as immediate as "Sultans Of Swing", but it's the best possible advertisement for what was to come over the course of the band's next five or six albums. To hear "Down To The Waterline" is to listen to a band who were fully formed at their inception. Everything that we equate with Dire Straits appears at some point in this rough diamond.
Making Movies, 1980
Making Movies was all about creating cinematic moments, but behind the fruity intro is a song that is about as perfect a rock song as anything by Tom Petty or Springsteen. The band lock into a groove that carries through the entire song, pointing to the simpler rhythmic approach of their later commercial hits.
Love Over Gold, 1982
Love Over Gold clocked in at 42 minutes with only five songs, and they were all absolutely epic. "Private Investigations" was a departure for Dire Straits, a song that, for the most part, relies on pulsing synths, classical guitar and orchestral stabs to carry the spoken-word film-noir lyrics. It's a beautiful composition, and when the prettiness gives way to the sinister throbbing bass and explosive drums at the four-minute-mark, it's a pay-off like no other.
Love Over Gold, 1982
Amongst the prog-muscle-flexing on the rest of Love Over Gold is one of the prettiest melodies ever written by the band. Understated and wonderfully economical, it floats along so well that it feels like Knopfler is actually singing beautifully, when he's just doing what he always does, near-talking over the top of things.
Arguably the greatest live album of the '80s kicks off with a bang, with Dire Straits taking to the stage to a military salute that even the Queen might deem "a bit much" before jamming their way into a muscular version of Communique's lead track. Knopfler's immaculate handle on groove and pacing has never been more evident as he shreds his way through this guitar epic on what is essentially a bone-dry Fender Strat. Guitar pedals, who needs 'em?
Love Over Gold's epic opener always sounded a bit pretentious in its original form, but here, with the changed-up intro and the electric sound of the crowd propelling the song along, the song takes on a life all of its own. Hear the crowd singing the words in perfect unison throughout the whole song, and the screams of approval during Knopfler's solos.
Brothers In Arms, 1985
Amongst all of the pomp and majesty of Dire Straits' hi-fi ode to the shiny new CD format was this polished gem, a slinky, sleazy ode to kissing off an ex in the most passive aggressive way imaginable. Over a sax line that would make an elevator attendant cringe Knopfler croaks some of his best lyrics. Lines like "All of the late night bargains have been struck between the satin bows and their bells... Prehistoric garbage trucks have the city to themselves. Echoes the roar of the dinosaur, they're all doing the monster mash. Most of the taxis, most of the whores, are only taking calls for cash."
On Every Street, 1991
Off the back of the stadium-pleasing pomp of Brothers In Arms, Dire Straits came back with a light-hearted rocker that eschewed the polished surfaces of the rest of the album for a gritty tribute to Southern rock. The propulsive drums and Knopfler's chicken-pickin' make this the high point of an otherwise disappointing album.
Live at the BBC, 1995
Dire Straits, as anyone who saw them live will attest, were always known for reinventing songs, often putting unrecognisable intros before crowd favourites and seamlessly ripping into their hits while the crowd were still trying to figure out what was happening. Tunnel Of Love, here in its formative stages, is so different from the version on Making Movies that we didn't feel bad about including it for a second time.
The Dire Straits Experience tour heads to Australia this October. Tickets and dates available here.
Topics: Dire Straits