Still on a Knopfler kick, here’s Dire Straits’ first album, from 1978 (!), and it’s a thing of absolute beauty. Now, in case you didn’t know the band’s origin story (and all superheroes have an origin story), here’s theirs:
“Dire Straits came about through a musical collaboration between Mark and David Knopfler. After graduating from college with a degree in English, Mark Knopfler took a job writing for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Wanting to pursue a career in music, he took a teaching position at Loughton College while playing music at night, performing with pub bands around town, including Brewer’s Droop and Cafe Racers. Following his divorce and struggling financially, Knopfler moved into his brother David’s flat, where John Illsley also lived. In 1977, Mark, John, and David decided to form a band. They recruited drummer Pick Withers and began rehearsing. A friend of Mark’s helped give the group their name, a reference to their financial situation. After a few months of rehearsals, the band borrowed enough money to record a five-song demo tape, which included the song “Sultans of Swing.” They took the tape to disc jockey Charlie Gillett, who had a radio show called “Honky Tonk” on BBC Radio London. The band respected Gillett and sought out his advice. Gillett liked what he heard and started playing “Sultans of Swing” on his show. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with the Vertigo Records division of Phonogram Inc.”
Awesome. And so, too, is this record…
Down To The Waterline, a single, psychs us out with a blues gentle intro and then bam! let’s go! and in full-on Dire Straits mode, no less. Such a distinctive sound, and what a great track. Water Of Love (the b-side for Down To The Waterline single) rolls things back with a sweet beat and brilliant slide guitar fills. This has a J.J. Cale feel to it and I love it. Setting Me Up sets us up (natch) with a busy country twangy rock swing sound that would fall apart if left in the hands of lesser bands. Six Blade Knife takes us back to the blues and Cale again, and with growly vocals, but this is not a complaint, not even close. I could listen to this all damn day. Southbound Again has a fun bounce to it, buoyed by that jittering guitar line and those bass stabs as the drums keep it between the ditches… seems so simple, really, but we know it’s not!
Sultans Of Swing, well, I don’t even need to comment on this one, do I? Of course not. What a monster hit track, perfect in every way. In The Gallery is a groovin’ blues that’s so sweet I didn’t want it to end when its 6:17 was up. Wild West End is deceptively titled, a sweet and slow dancer, late night in the bar story-telling at its best. And finally, Lions brings the mid-tempo blues with a touch of swing to the beat and I’m fully completely impressed.
My goodness, there isn’t even a mediocre track here, it’s all hits (in my humble opinion). Of course, my ear was constantly pulled towards the guitar work of one Mark Knopfler, the solos and the main riffs… all of it… but the whole band absolutely nails it. Every lyric is a tale worthy of a traveling raconteur, road-weary but willing to warm your night for the price of a drink and a meal… This copy I have here is the 1996 remaster and it sounds perfect. I also own the old original LP, which is even sweeter. Hot damn, what an album. I absolutely loved it.
BONUS: For a far more brilliant take than I could ever hope to offer, travel in time to 2015 and READ MR. 1537’s POST!
BONUS 2: For another far more brilliant look at the record, travel in time to 2012 and READ 80SMETALMAN’S POST!