The Studio Albums 1978 – 1991 – Dire Straits
With all the new purchases I made back in September and October of last year, it took me quite a while to get the chance to review a couple of the box sets, I also purchased during those months. This particular Clamshell Box Set I only really brought for two reasons. The first being that it was very cheap and secondly because I had not updated my collection since I brought them when they were originally released.
Dire Straits are a band I have always loved ever since I heard them when they came out back in the late 70’s and hit the BIG TIME! with their first single release of “Sultans Of Swing” back in 1978. They are a GREAT! band who have a very distinctive guitarist who has a technique that stands out a mile from the rest of the crowd. It is without doubt Mark Knopfler’s distinctive guitar sound, style and Midas touch that has attracted the attention of millions to flock towards the bands music.
Another good thing about buying a box set like this is that it gives me the chance to review their albums which is something I don’t get time to do with all the new releases coming out. It would take me an eternity to review all the albums in my record collection which is why I only stick to reviewing the newer purchases I have made. It will also give me the chance to take a brief look back at the bands history. But before I do so, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.
Packaging & Artwork…
The Clamshell box set looks quite neat with its design and the light blue stripe with the half-circle in the middle down the right-hand side of the box gives you the impression that you slide the box open to reveal its contents. Though has you can see in the picture below it opens like most Clamshell box sets and the good thing about this one is that it’s hinged.
The CD’s are housed in Mini-Vinyl-Replica cardboard sleeves each containing a double folded poster with lyrics/credits. They do more or less replicate the original vinyl albums because if I remember rightly none of the original vinyl albums came in gatefold sleeves. The only one I can think of that may have was their last album On Every Street and that was the only album I did have on CD only were as the others I had on both vinyl and CD.
It’s very similar to the Every Move You Make (The Studio Recordings) Clamshell box set by The Police I reviewed last year, only in that box set they did use cardboard gatefold covers even though the original vinyl albums were only put out in a single sleeve. In terms of quality, the Police box set is better made especially regarding how the artwork of the album covers had a better print quality and look to them.
However, at its well low price point, I have no complaints here and I prefer the cardboard sleeves in relation to the plastic jewel cases that my other CD’s came in. Stored in a box like this they are fine and the only time single sleeves like this are not appropriate is if CD’s were sold in sleeves like this simply because they are too thin to be stored with your other CD’s on a shelf and it would be hard to find them. They may have cut down on the quality of how the artwork looks but they certainly have not cut down on the quality of these recordings and they are EXCELLENT!
Oddly enough I even paid the same price of £16.66 for this box set as the Police box set which works out about the same price I paid for all 5 original vinyl albums when they were originally released. The box set is still available to purchase on Amazon UK for £16.99 which is excellent value for the buck.
Dire Straits In Brief History…
Dire Straits hit the scene around the same time as The Police and despite the fact that Punk Rock had exploded and raised its ugly head both bands managed to cut through all the nonsense and gained international success. The band were made up of two brothers Mark & David Knopfler from Newcastle in the northeast of England, and a couple of friends John Illsley and Pick Withers from Leicester in the east midlands region of England.
The bands drummer Withers, was the only one that came with any real experience in the music business having spent 10 years as a session player playing for the likes of Dave Edmunds, Gerry Rafferty, Magna Carta and others through the 70’s. He was also part of the group Spring, which recorded an album for RCA in 1971. At the time of the band’s formation, Mark was working as a teacher at art college, Illsley was studying at Goldsmiths’ College, and David was a social worker.
Both Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers played in a pub rock band known as Brewers Droop at different points around 1973 and at the time the band got together in 1975 they were initially known as the Café Racers. The name “Dire Straits” was given to them by Simon Cowe, of Lindisfarne back in 1977 who was Withers flatmate at the time and the name fitted in with the bands financial situation as Mark, in particular, was struggling to make ends meet as he was going through a divorce from his wife.
However, in the same year of 1977, they managed to record and put together a five-song demo tape that included “Sultans of Swing“, “Water of Love” and “Down to the Waterline” and took the demo tape to MCA in Soho only to be turned down. Mark used to listen to Honky Tonk on BBC Radio London on Sunday mornings and the presenter of the show Charlie Gillett seemed like a nice enough guy so he sent him the demo tape and asked him for some advice. What Gillett heard very much appealed to him and he played “Sultans of Swing” quite often on his show. A couple of months later the band signed a record contract with Vertigo Records a division of Phonogram and the rest was history.
The band drew its sound from various influences including country, blues, rock, folk and jazz and went on to have a stream of hit singles and blockbuster selling albums such as the bands 5th studio album Brothers In Arms. They also won many prestigious awards and won four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards and won Best British Group twice in 1983/86 and also picked up a couple of MTV Video Awards and various other awards throughout their active career. Like most bands there were also a few line-up changes along the way and I will delve a bit more into the bands history as I take you through all six of their studio albums.
The Albums In Review…
The CD Edition of The Studio Albums 1978 – 1991 by Dire Straits was released on the 9th of October 2020 which was near enough 7 years later than the Vinyl Edition of the box set that was released back in November 2013. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK on the 14th August 2020 and it arrived on the day of its release. This particular box set contains all six studio albums that the band had produced and put out over the 14-year career before the band dissolved at the end of their final world tour in 1992. It does not feature any bonus tracks or live recordings and neither does it come with new remasters. All six albums contain the remasters from 1996 when the whole catalogue was remastered and are believed to be the best recordings.
Because there is a lot to get through I am going to try and keep this review as brief as I can and merely point out the highlights rather than go through all the individual tracks on the album in more detail. I shall also go through all six albums in the chronological order that the albums were released.
The bands self-titled debut album was released on the 7th of October 1978. The album contained 9 tracks and has an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 34 minutes. The album was an international success owing to the success of the single release of “Sultans Of Swing” which had been released earlier in May of the same year and catapulted the sales of the album. The album went 2 times Platinum in many countries selling over 2 million copies in the US. It also went 4 times Platinum in Canada and Gold in many other countries.
Much of the material that had appeared on the bands first three studio albums had already been written by Mark Knopfler prior to the band getting a recording contract with Vertigo Records in the previous year. It’s also worth noting that the single release of “Sultans Of Swing” was in fact recorded as a demo in a different studio and was recorded at Pathway Studios, North London, in July 1977. It was this demo that got them the recording contract and was also used for the single release in the following year.
In February 1978 the band went into Basing Street Studios in London to record the material that would feature on their self-titled debut album. They even re-recorded some of the earlier demos that they recorded at Pathway Studios including “Sultans Of Swing” and finished off the recording process by March of the same year. The original release of the album also contained a slightly shorter version of the song omitting the last few seconds of the guitar solo. The full-length version was included in the remastered edition of the album.
The bands first concert tour kicked off on the 9th of June 1978 at the Lafayette Club in Wolverhampton, England. They played a series of 55 concerts across Europe with the first leg of the tour promoting the single release of “Sultans Of Swing” which was officially released in April of the same year. The second leg of the tour promoted their debut album and they played further afield than the UK playing in Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Germany ending it off back in the UK at the College of Education in Hitchin on the 18th of November 1978. At this stage of their career, the band was getting their foot in the door so to speak and typically performed in small halls where they met journalists and performed on television programs.
The bands debut album is quite a solid one with the material that was written for it. Although out of its 9 tracks it’s pretty much evident that “Sultans Of Swing” is the standout track on the album and perhaps the only one that would have been suitable enough for a single release. “Water of Love” was also released as a single in a few other countries with “Down to the Waterline” used for the B-Side. Though it did not have much success but did manage to scrape into the Dutch top 30 and peaked at 28.
Unlike The Police who were more about writing chart-topping hit singles, Dire Straits were certainly more of an albums band in the way the material was written. I would also say that the biggest majority of their albums do feel like an album in relation to the albums the Police made and that is where they rock my boat more than that band. As a songwriter, I can assure you that Mark Knopfler has just as much as a good head on his shoulders as Sting. Both bands enjoyed major success and you could even say that they disbanded for the same reasons.
Speaking of single releases the B-Side of “Sultans Of Swing” was one of the bands earlier demos entitled “Eastbound Train” which was only ever recorded live and has never been released on any of their albums including compilation albums. The band also used to play it as an encore at most of their concerts between 1977 – 1979 and the recording that was used for the B-Side of the single came from them playing at the Hope & Anchor pub in London sometime in December 1977.
Hope & Anchor
The Hope & Anchor originally opened its doors in 1880 and by the mid 70’s it was one of the first pubs to embrace the emergent, but brief, phenomenon of pub rock, it also went on to become a leading venue in the punk rock movement. The manager of the pub Dave Robinson went on to form Stiff Records with Jake Riviera and The Stranglers recorded a live album at the pub, and the pub was also featured in the 1980 film, Breaking Glass. Mark often wrote about the things around him and the lyrics to their hit single were inspired by a performance of a jazz band playing in the corner of an almost empty pub in Deptford, South London.
There was also a rumour spread around by American folk singer Bill Wilson who claimed to have written most of the lyrics to the hit song and he often told the story during his live performance of the song of how he met Mark in America and wrote the words on a paper napkin. He did not get a songwriting credit on the release but claimed to have received some monetary compensation for his input.
Some reviewers claimed that his story was false and that Mark had never been to America until 1979. Although strictly speaking that is not true either because he did go to America in 1976 having had a free greyhound ticket given him to travel around the country whilst he was working as a journalist. It was also that visit to the country that gave him the inspiration to quit his job when he got back home and go into music full time. Only Mark himself could clarify if Wilson’s claims were true and I personally believe that Wilson was spinning a right yarn and his claims were false.
The album was produced by Muff Winwood the older brother of Steve Winwood who was both former members of the Spencer Davis Group in the 60’s and the recording engineer onboard was Rhett Davies. Mark always had a keen interest in sound and later went on to produce and co-produce many albums himself. The album’s artwork was a commissioned painting done by Chuck Loyola who was part of a creative group known as Hothouse and were based in London’s west end. He did the paintings for The Lurkers and The Boomtown Rats around the same time and various other artists.
Many of the songs on the album reflected Mark’s experiences in Newcastle, Leeds, and London. The opening song on the album “Down To The Waterline” was inspired by his teenage memories of him walking his girlfriend along the river Tyne in Newcastle late at night, the ship’s foghorn on the intro depicts the scene. It’s a song that certainly gets into the swing of things with the rhythm from Dave’s guitar whilst Mark’s fingerpicking licks very much provide the tightness of it all along with the bass and drums. It really is a GREAT! song and gets the album off to a very cool start.
The next couple of songs “Water Of Love” and “Setting Me Up” have a J.J. Cale feel about them and the first of them runs along the lines of country blues and features Mark on dobro guitar and lyrically it’s most likely inspired from the break up of his marriage. The latter of them is more upbeat and in the style of country rockabilly and is a song that was soon picked up and covered by both Eric Clapton and Albert Lee. They have even done the song together and it was featured on Clapton’s double live album Just One Night in 1980. A decade later it was picked up by Highway 101 who released it as a single and it hit number 7 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in April 1989.
Next up we have one of the two punchy numbers on the album “Six Blade Knife” which features John’s dominant bassline driving it along and some cool licks from Mark’s guitar. This is perhaps another song where the lyrics pertain to the break-up of his marriage. The lyrical content behind “Southbound Again” might also appear to be along the same subject matter however, these are very much pertaining to the lifestyle of being away from home all the time with the busy schedule of being on the road with the band. This is another of the upbeat tracks on the album that has a bit of a swing to it.
“Sultans of Swing” I have perhaps already said enough about and it is the standout track on the album and my personal favourite along with everyone else I would expect. It’s very much upbeat with its swing and a song that uses an Andalusian cadence (diatonic phrygian tetrachord) which is a term adopted from flamenco music for the chord progression. Although for me personally the second of the punchy numbers on the album “In The Gallery” is another of the albums standout tracks and this was written in a way of a tribute to the Leeds sculptor and artist Harry Phillips who was the father of the musician Steve Phillips who in 1986 formed the band The Notting Hillbillies with Mark Knopfler.
Phillips and Knopfler go back a long way and Mark’s first encounter with Steve came when he was working in Leeds as a junior reporter working for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Mark had called Steve up to interview him and soon became good friends and started playing together and called themselves The Duolian String Pickers. They played in different pubs until Mark left Leeds in 1973 and moved to London to become part of Brewers Droop. The final couple of the tracks on the album “Wild West End” and “Lions” were written by Mark in those early days in the capital city. The first of them pertains to walking around the city eyeing up the girls and it’s quite a classic song that also has an uncredited piano player on it. The latter of the two was inspired by the Sculptured Lions that were erected in 1868 and stand in Trafalgar Square.
Overall, the bands self-titled debut album is quite a solid and very well produced album and one that easily still stands its test of time today and has never really outdated. It is very much one of my personal favourite Dire Straits albums and is not so commercial in relation to some of the others that followed. The written material makes it more like an album rather than a string of hits that can easily wear off hearing them all the time which makes it more pleasurable to listen to as a whole without having to skip a track. My personal highlights are as follows: “Down To The Waterline”. “Water Of Love“. “Sultans of Swing“. “In The Gallery” and “Wild West End”.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Muff Winwood. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded between the 13th of February to the 5th of June 1978 at Basing Street Studios London, England. Recording Engineer Rhett Davies. Remastering by Bob Ludwig. Art Direction by Alan Schmidt. Cover Painting by Chuck Loyola. Photography by Paddy Eckersley.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Lead & Rhythm Guitars.
David Knopfler: Rhythm Guitars – Backing Vocals.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Pick Withers: Drums.
The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Down To The Waterline. 3:59. 2. Water of Love. 3:25. 3. Setting Me Up. 3:18. 4. Six Blade Knife. 4:12. 5. Southbound Again. 3:00. 6. Sultans Of Swing. 5:48. 7. In The Gallery. 6:16. 8. Wild West End. 4:41. 9. Lions. 5:02.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.
Like I mentioned Dire Straits were more of an albums band and this is perhaps an album that escaped a lot of people upon its release though I would say it’s very much on par and equal strength to the bands debut album. It may not have produced a hit single which is most likely why it escaped most people’s radar apart from in Germany where the album shot straight to number #1 whilst their debut album was still at number #3 upon its release. It was also the first time an album had entered the German charts and gone straight to the top. Like many of the bands their first few albums took longer to circulate but later very much went Gold and Platinum with the number of record sales. This is another of their albums that speaks highly to me and is amongst my three personal favourite albums of the band.
The bands second album Communiqué was released on the 15th of June 1979 and like their debut album it contained 9 tracks and came with an overall playing time of 42 minutes, 33 seconds. You could say that with the success of the hit single from their debut album that the band were no longer in “Dire Straits” and unlike the £12,500 it cost to make their debut album no expense was spared as they jetted off to the Bahamas to record their second album. The band were very much in demand and on their first tour of North America were they played 51 sell-out concerts over a period of 38 days. This did have an effect and caused a strain on the bands rhythm guitarist David Knopfler who eventually decided to leave.
The album was produced by Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler who were both veteran producers from Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the band spent a couple of weeks in the final couple of months of 1978 recording the album at Compass Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. The studio was founded and set up by Chris Blackwell the owner of Island Records back in 1977 and over a decade it at churned out many albums from many famous artists including ACDC, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Iron Maiden, Madness, Grace Jones, Talking Heads, Brian Eno and many more.
As time went on Blackwell’s other business interests steadily increased and spent less time looking after the studio. It was after the death of the manager and producer Alex Sadkin in 1987 that the studio started to decline. Although in 1992 Blackwell took action to try and save the studio by hiring Terry and Sherrie Manning who upon their arrival began restoring the two large studios, tearing them apart and completely rewiring them with modern recording equipment. The studio was eventually closed in 2010 due to the amount of increasing crime in the area.
There is no doubt that Mark Knopfler has his own distinctive guitar style that gave Dire Straits its own distinguishable uniqueness and the set of songs he wrote for the bands second album if anything is perhaps less influenced. Like most songwriters, he tends to write about things he sees along his travels and in some places he might even visualize a different way of seeing things and putting them into another perspective so to speak. The opening song on the album “Once Upon A Time In The West” is such an example and you could say is a metaphor for the way he compares London’s west end with the wild west and it reflects upon the dangers of living in both.
You could say there is a sense of danger to many of the songs on the album and the next couple of songs are prime examples. “News” is a song that perhaps reflects back to his days as a journalist but not necessarily inspired by any of those stories. The words in the song refer to the dangers of drink driving and pertain to a motorcyclist meeting his fate. “Where Do You Think You’re Going” reflects on the dangers in a love affair where some men can be control freaks sort of thing. The albums title track “Communiqué” is perhaps more inspired from his days as a journalist and you could say is a journalist’s song with the amount of expressions and clichés that are contained in the songs lyrics.
There does tend to be a downbeat to all the songs on the first half of the album yet for my ears they sound “LUSH” and contain the better songs on the album, not that there is a bad song here mind. “Lady Writer” is perhaps the most uplifting and upbeat song on the album and perhaps more along the same lines of “Sultans Of Swing” with its uptempo and the way it swings along. The song was inspired by watching a lady writer on the TV hence its title and was also the only single release from the album with “Where Do You Think You’re Going” used for the B-Side. Unfortunately, the single release did not catch on and peaked just outside the top 50 here in the UK.
“Angel Of Mercy” is another of the songs that have a good upbeat to it and is perhaps the rocker of the album and you do get the sense that the second side of the album is more driven along. “Portobello Belle” simmers the album down and is a fine folk song and lyrically follows similar lines to “Wild West End” and “Lions” from their debut album. “Single-Handed Sailor” brings the tempo back up and this is a song that was inspired by Sir Francis Chichester whose greatest achievement was to sail single-handedly around the world from West to East. The album then sinks back to its downbeat and ends off quite soothingly with “Follow Me Home” to which the lyrics are inspired by an incident he had in another country perhaps somewhere like Spain and it winds up the album very well.
The bands second album contains a very consistent set of songs and like its predecessor is quite a solid album. It’s perhaps one of those albums that got least mentioned when people talk about the band but the written material is very strong and well-fitting to the bands formidable style. My personal highlights are as follows: “Once Upon A Time In The West“. “News“. “Where Do You Think You’re Going“. “Communiqué” and “Lady Writer“.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Barry Beckett & Jerry Wexler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded between the 28th of November to the 12th of December 1978 at Compass Studios Nassau, Bahamas. Mixed January 1979 at Muscle Shoals Sound, Sheffield, Alabama. Sound effects provided by Clack Inc. Sound Studios, New York. Recording Engineer Jack Nuber. Mixing Engineer Gregg Hamm. Mastered by Bobby Hata. Mastering Supervisor Paul Wexler. Remastering by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Hothouse. Art Direction by Alan Schmidt. Illustrations by Geoff Halpin.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Lead & Rhythm Guitars.
David Knopfler: Rhythm Guitars – Backing Vocals.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Pick Withers: Drums.
Barry Beckett – Keyboards.
The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Once Upon A Time In The West. 5:24. 2. News. 4:13. 3. Where Do You Think You’re Going-. 3:49. 4. Communiqué. 5:48. 5. Lady Writer. 3:44. 6. Angel Of Mercy. 4:34. 7. Portobello Belle. 4:29. 8. Single-Handed Sailor. 4:42. 9. Follow Me Home. 5:50.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.
The bands third album Making Movies is my least favourite of all Dire Straits albums though it was perhaps more popular with many because it churned out a hit single that was to put the band back on the map so to speak. Though personally, I don’t think this album is a patch on its two predecessors. I put a lot of it down to the production and how some songs, in particular, are not that suited to the bands formidable style. Although I would not say that the album had a bad production but perhaps the best way I could describe it, is that it tends to be on the dry side of things which does not really allow some of the songs to breathe. Though I will say that the 1996 remaster of the album does make it sound a bit better and it’s perhaps the written material that is more on the dry side of things more than anything.
Making Movies was released on the 17th of October 1980 and unlike its predecessors, it only came with 7 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 38 minutes, 27 seconds. The album did very well on its release and was spurred on by the single release of “Romeo And Juliet” that broke into the Top 10 of the UK Single Charts and peaked at number #8. The album reached number #4 in the UK Album Charts and done even better in countries like Norway and Italy where it reached the number one spot. The album also accumulated double Platinum sales in the UK and US.
The album was produced by Jimmy Iovine and Mark Knopfler and it was having heard the production done on Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” that spurred Mark to get in touch with him. Iovine had also recorded and mixed a couple of albums for Bruce Springsteen and it was him who brought in the E-Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan to play keyboards on the album. It was during the recording sessions of the album that Mark’s brother David Knopfler decided to leave the band and pursue his own solo career. Although he does appear on video with the band playing a couple of live songs from the album these performances preceded the recording. Sid McGinnis who is uncredited on the album played the rhythm guitar on the album.
The album was recorded at the Power Station Studios between June and August 1980 the studio was originally set up and designed by the producer, recording engineer and studio designer Tony Bongiovi back in 1977. The building was originally Consolidated Edison power plant hence the reason for its name and it picked up countless awards over the years including winning the best studio six years running. It is in fact one of the most awarded and decorated recording studios in the world and churned out hundreds of gold platinum records from artists such as the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Madonna, Bob Dylan, the Clash, John Lennon, Pat Metheny, Sting, Joan Jett, Chic, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aerosmith, George Michael, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, the Kinks, Billy Joel, and many others recorded iconic albums at the studios.
Power Station Studios
In 1996 the Power Station was renamed Avatar Studios and in 2017 the college of music Berklee in New York City renamed the facility the Power Station at Berklee by special arrangement in a nod to its founder Tony Bongiovi. Its live rooms are larger than typical recording studios thanks to their industrial origins, meaning the building is one of the last remaining complexes in the city capable of hosting a full-scale orchestra.
Perhaps one of the strangest things about the album Making Movies is that the albums self-titled song was left off the album and has never been released. They also recorded three other songs during the sessions that were also left off the album “Suicide Towers“. “Sucker for Punishment” and “Twisting by the Pool” to which the latter was released a couple of years later on an EP. This video taken from the BBC Arena documentary gives you an insight it how the song goes.
The material that Mark Knopfler wrote for the bands third album was perhaps more rock-driven and has a different feel to the country bluesy and even folky style that was associated with their first two albums and I personally do not think they have the right edge to rock in the same way general rock songs would rock out so to speak. In some ways I would even say the so-called rock songs on the album sound like they have a false pretence with how they are delivered especially its opening track “Tunnel Of Love” and the production does not really help it. I could say the same thing for “Solid Rock” too and although both of these songs sounded better played live I honestly think they lack the balls to rock out the way a rock song supposed too and they are not particularly suited to the bands formidable style.
No doubt others might consider “Tunnel Of Love” one of the bands classics and I dare say even Knopfler himself might lean more to it in that term being as it was written about where he grew up in Newcastle and holds some fond memories. “Romeo And Juliet” is by far the best-written composition on the album and would have been the song that I would have expected to have enticed most people to buy the album. Once again I do prefer it live in relation to the dryness of how the studio version presents it to you and the extended live version on the bands double live album Alchemy is much better for my ears.
You could say that “Skataway” is now the albums self-titled track being as they left it off the album and the words “making movies” are contained within the lyrics. Lyrically the song pertains to a female roller skater breezing through busy city streets listening to music on her portable radio with headphones on. A video was also made for the song and got quite a bit of airplay on MTV around the time. I don’t think that much of the lyrics but musically it perhaps does have more feel to it. “Expresso Love” is another song that potentially is meant to rock things up and personally I think it does so better than “Tunnel Of Love” and “Solid Rock“. It’s perhaps one of the bands heavier songs and lyrical content does hark back to some of the songs from their debut album that was written around the city of London such as “Wild West End” for example.
“Hand In Hand” is another fine ballad of a song though perhaps does not measure up to the strength of “Romeo And Juliet” and is perhaps in some ways along the lines of “Love Over Gold” which was the self-titled track from the album that followed it. The album ends off with perhaps a bit of fun with “Les Boys” and it does seem like a bit of an oddball track that is completely different to the rest of the material on the album. The lyrical content might not go down with everyone too as it is written about the gay scene in Germany and is perhaps not “Gay Paris” 😊😊😊. However, it’s not that bad and the song does have a fine structure to it and some fine musical lines.
Personally, I don’t think the material for the album Making Movies lives up to the material that is on the bands first two albums and with the majority of the songs on the album they do try to rock things out a bit more but are perhaps lacking the edge. I was also never happy with the production of this album even though the album does sound better with the 1996 remaster it does tend to sound dry and dull and the songs benefited more from being played live. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Romeo And Juliet“. “Skataway” and “Expresso Love“.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Jimmy Iovine & Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler except an extract from “The Carousel Waltz” by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II. Recorded between the 20th of June to the 25th of August 1980 at the Power Station New York, USA. Recording & Mixing Engineer Shelly Yakus. Assistant Engineers Jeff Hendrickson & Jon Mathias. Mastered by Greg Calbi. Remastering by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design & Artwork by Neil Terk. Photography by Brian Griffin.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Pick Withers: Drums – Vocals.
Roy Bittan: – Keyboards.
Sid McGinnis: Rhythm Guitar (Uncredited).
The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Tunnel Of Love. 8:09. 2. Romeo and Juliet. 6:02. 3. Skateaway. 6:38. 4. Expresso Love. 5:14. 5. Hand In Hand. 4:48. 6. Solid Rock. 3:26. 7. Les Boys.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 5/10.
Love Over Gold
The bands fourth studio album Love Over Gold is where I personally feel they had reached their peak and this album to me has something the others don’t have and it’s perhaps down to its atmosphere. Unlike their previous album Making Movies which I thought lacked the space and ability to breathe this album for me personally has it all and has always been my personal favourite album of the band. With the departure of David Knopfler and the fact that the band quite often used session players to play keyboards, Mark Knopfler recruited two new members to the band. Both Alan Clark (keyboards) and Hal Lindes (guitar) had played on the bands On Location Tour to promote their previous album which is how they became involved in the making of this album.
Love Over Gold was released on the 20th of September 1982 and its material was made up of 5 tracks some of which were on the lengthier side spread over an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 13 seconds. The album was produced by Mark Knopfler and was the first in a long line of collaborations between him and the recording engineer Neil Dorfsman who was noted for his work with the likes of Paul McCartney, Bruce Hornsby and Sting. The album was recorded at the same studio as their previous album at the Power Station in New York between the 8h of March to the 11th of June 1982. Although only 5 tracks made it onto the album once again Knopfler had written a few more that never made it onto it. One of the songs he wrote that was intended for the album was “Private Dancer” to which he felt needed a woman’s voice rather than his own so he handed the song to Tina Turner for her comeback album of the same title.
One of the other songs entitled “The Way It Always Starts” he wrote at the time eventually found its way onto the soundtrack album for the film Local Hero to which he scored and featured Gerry Rafferty on vocals. “Badges, Posters, Stickers and T-Shirts” found its way onto the B-Side of “Private Investigations” which was one of the two single releases from the album reaching number 2 in the UK Singles Charts. Though I am pretty sure that “Industrial Disease” was only released as a single in the US and “Solid Rock” from their previous album was used for the B-Side. The album did very well on its release reaching number 1 in most countries and spent over 200 weeks in the album charts here in the UK.
This was the last album that the bands drummer Pick Withers played on and he decided to leave the band after the sessions for the album were completed in 1982 to spend more time with his family and to pursue jazz music. He was eventually replaced by Terry Williams who joined the band for the worldwide tour to promote the album. The new rhythm guitarist Hal Lindes also left after the tour of the album though he did also work with Knopfler on his Soundtrack album Local Hero and he himself went into making music for films. Though later in 1989 he did team up with Fish and played on his debut album Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors.
Dire Straits fourth album Love Over Gold really showcases Mark Knopfler’s guitar skills and it contains some very well crafted and adventurous material. The album opens up with quite an epic fourteen-minute song entitled “Telegraph Road” to which you would have thought that the band were now breaking into progrock territory. The song is in every way a pure classic rock song that tackles the toils of growing up in an industrial civilization with the GREAT! set of meaningful lyrics that were written for it. The lyrical content we get on a couple of songs on this album are perhaps more politically minded in relation to the subject matter that Knopfler normally writes about and these are lyrics I am sure everyone can relate to and they immediately draw you in to be more attentive.
Musically, I think one of the key combinations of how the music was structured and put together is how both Mark Knopfler and Alan Clark feed off each other and it is the combination of the guitar and keyboards on this song (and for the biggest majority of songs on this album) that make it work so well. To be perfectly honest I find it hard to believe how Clark never got a writing credit simply because the keyboards play a vital role in the way the music is structured. There is no doubt that “Telegraph Road” is a Dire Straits Classic and for some, it might not just be the best song on this album but their all-time favourite song of the band. Though I will stress that when it comes to this album I would even say the next couple of songs that follow it are in every way in contention for the best song on the album.
Next up we have a song that is said to be inspired by the American-British novelist, screenwriter and detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler and “Private Investigations” is another sure-fire classic and very well written and constructed song. It really shows how versatile Knopfler can be on the guitar and this is an absolute GORGEOUS! bit of nylon playing. It’s also one of the two songs on the album that features Mike Mainieri on marimba. “Industrial Disease” is the shortest track on the album and even this is near enough 6 minutes long. It’s also by far the most uptempo track on the album and in my opinion and sure-fire classic Dire Straits song.
This is the second song on the album where the lyrical content is politically minded and the subject matter of the cold war is raised very well here. Whenever a country gets too big for its boots you can bet your life that America will intervene and as usual sticks its nose in where it’s not wanted. America is the greediest country in the world and it does not like it whenever other countries are doing better than they are and will often cause a war over it. It’s very much a warmonger country and a country that breaks all the rules. It is, without doubt, their so-called government that are the biggest terrorists in the world. Back when this song was made it was Japan that was doing well. These days it’s China and once again the Americans had to poke their noses into it all. If you want to know where COVID-19 came from. I would suspect that it would be no further than the White House in America and certainly not China and that is my personal opinion.
The albums self-titled track “Love Over Gold” is another GORGEOUS! acoustic ballad of a song that also features some fine vibes and marimba from the session player Mike Mainieri. Lyrically this could be seen as a sequel to “Romeo and Juliet” and both songs were written about Knopfler’s ex-girlfriend Holly Vincent and so too is the final track on the album “It Never Rains” that is another GREAT! song that builds its way along into a powerful crescendo to end off the album in GREAT! style.
Overall, the album Love Over Gold takes Dire Straits to another level and even though the band may have found their feet after making 3 albums things are done so masterfully here in the way of setting them on the path of a new direction and approach to their music that works 100%. I do feel that more than one hundred percent was put into the writing and the making of the album and it’s very much a solid album that is enriched with the right atmosphere that embellishes it to make it work so well. My personal highlights from the album are “Telegraph Road“. “Private Investigations” and “Industrial Disease“.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded between the 8h of March to the 11th of June 1982 at the Power Station New York, USA. Recording & Mixing Engineer Neil Dorfsman. Assistant Engineer Barry Bongiovi. Mastered & Remastered by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design & Artwork by Michael Rowe. Photography by Peter Cunningham & Alan Lobel.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
Hal Lindes: Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Alan Clark: Piano – Organ – Synthesizers.
Pick Withers: Drums – Vocals.
Mike Mainieri: – Vibes – Marimba (Tracks 2 & 4).
Ed Walsh: Synthesizer Programming.
The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Telegraph Road. 14:18. 2. Private Investigations. 6:46. 3. Industrial Disease. 5:50. 4. Love over Gold. 6:17. 5. It Never Rains. 7:59.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.
Brothers In Arms
In terms of sales, Brothers In Arms could easily be seen as Dire Straits most iconic album, it’s also perhaps their most successful commercial album too. It’s actually the eighth best selling album in UK chart history and went 14 times Platinum here in the UK and spent 14 non-consecutive weeks at number one in the UK Album Charts. It also done well in other countries reaching number one in almost every country and went 9 times Platinum in the US and spent 9 non-consecutive weeks at number one and down under in Australia it spent 34 non-consecutive weeks at the top of their album charts. It’s sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
The album was released on the 13th of May 1985 and contained 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 40 seconds the vinyl version that is. However it was also the first-ever full “DDD” Digital album to be released on CD and that version had the same amount of tracks only it was much longer and the total playing time of the CD was 55 minutes, 11 seconds. This was very much down to vinyl restrictions and there are quite a few differences between a few of the tracks on the CD and Vinyl versions.
I have to admit that I myself first brought the vinyl album not having a CD Player at the time of its release and it was not until the following year in 1986 that I brought a CD Player to which I then went out and brought the album again on CD. I think what makes this album more commercially successful is really down to it producing 5 hit single releases from the 9 tracks on the album. Being more of an albums man myself I do not usually bother buying singles though I do remember buying “So Far Away” basically because it was the only single that was released before the album came out and I was that impressed by their previous album Love Over Gold that I could not wait to get my hands on their next release.
I do tend to think there is a danger of an album wearing off a lot quicker when a lot of the tracks are released as singles and that is perhaps why the longevity of The Police albums soon wore thin so to speak. Like I mentioned earlier The Police were more of a singles chart-topping band and the biggest majority of the material on their albums is written for that market. Up until this point, I saw Dire Straits as an albums band and the trouble is with albums like this is that you are more or less getting into the Greatest Hits territory of albums.
Though what I will say about this particular album is that it does have some very good well-written album tracks and they to me are what I personally like the most about this album and out of the 5 singles they did release I would also say that both the albums self-titled song “Brothers In Arms” and “Your Latest Trick” I do feel are more like album tracks and to perfectly honest I cannot see for the life of me why the latter of those two tracks was ever released as a single. The self-titled track of those two songs is the only track on the album that I feel that would have fitted in with the material that was written for their previous album Love Over Gold because it does have that same atmospheric sound and feel about it with its production.
Speaking of the production the same recording & mixing engineer Neil Dorfsman on their last album also had a hand in the production along with Knopfler for this album. He also picked up the best-engineered album award and the album did win at least 4 awards including the best selling International Album. Unlike the bands last couple of albums which were recorded at the Power Station in New York the band jetted off to the eastern Caribbean and recorded the album at Sir George Martin’s second studio AIR Montserrat.
Quite a lot of GREAT! albums by many well-known artists came out of this studio during the decade from 1979 -1989 it was functional and in use. Unfortunately, Hurricane Hugo swept across Montserrat in 1989 and devastated much of the island forcing the studio to close. Things did not get much better on the island either and six years later the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, bombarding the land with lava flows and thick layers of ash. The ongoing volcanic eruptions have made nearly half of the island uninhabitable. These days Air Studios Montserrat is rotting away.
To cut down on the expense Mark Knopfler had already written the material for what was going to be the new album at the time and rehearsed it with the band before they booked Air Studios. Another keyboard player Guy Fletcher was recruited to the line-up from their previous tour and there is also quite an array of session musicians (mostly uncredited) who play on the album.
The album kicks off with “So Far Away” and like I mentioned earlier there is a difference in the timing on the CD although it’s nothing really to write home about and the ending is just a bit longer. To be honest I am not sure it benefits from being longer simply because it is one of those songs that can be a bit repetitious and tends to drag on a bit. That is something I did tend to find the more I played it. I could say the same thing for the following track “Money For Nothing” which has been extended even longer although lyrically at least the words are not too repetitive and with its uptempo, it’s easy to see why a song like this would appeal to many. Sting actually got a co-writing credit for this song although his contribution was nothing more than the words in the intro that get repeated along the way.
“Walk of Life” is perhaps the oddball track of the album and personally I felt should have been left off the album simply because it does not fit in with the rest of the material. It’s very much your standard rock n’ roll song along the same lines of what Knopfler did with “Two Young Lovers” to which he did see the sense to leave off the bands previous album. There is no doubt this is single material and will appeal to more than the biggest majority of tracks on this entire album but personally, for me, it’s too much of the same old thing I am afraid and I might as well just of brought an album by Showaddywaddy or Shaking Stevens and it would have sat more with their albums than Dire Straits 😊😊😊.
“Your Latest Trick” is the song where the biggest changes have been made between the Vinyl and CD releases and two different mixes were recorded of the song. The one on the CD release is much slower though both versions are very good I feel. “Why Worry” is another of the songs that have been extended only this time a 3-minute instrumental section has been added to the CD release and I have to say I prefer it for it as well. All the differences between both format releases appear on the first side of the album only.
The second side of the album is my personal favourite side and even though the albums self-titled track was released as a single it does feel more like an album track along with the other three songs on this side. “Ride Across The River” is a GREAT! song and one of my personal favourites on the album. It not only has GREAT! vibes but very well punctuated drums play their part in it. To be honest I am not sure who is playing the drums on this song but it could be Omar Hakim. I do know that once again Mike Mainieri is providing the vibes and marimba who played on the bands previous album.
“The Man’s Too Strong” is a very good acoustic ballad of a song and features Jack Sonni on guitar synth which lends a hand to the accentuating parts of the song. One of my other personal favourite tracks on the album is “One World” and this is a very well spirited uptempo and uplifting driven song that is driven along by a dominating and punctuating bass line to which it is played by non-other than Tony Levin. The final track on the album “Brothers In Arms” is another of my personal favourite songs on the album and perhaps the best song on the album and it puts an end to the album SUPERBLY!
Overall, Dire Straits 5th studio album Brothers In Arms is quite a solid album. However, much of the material written for it was perhaps a bit more commercially derived which is why it gained its popularity and it’s perhaps not quite as adventurous as their 4th studio album Love Over Gold. The one thing that does help me personally still play this album today is that it was released with a 5.1 mix on a Hybrid SACD in 2005 to which was mixed by Chuck Ainlay who is another of my personal best surround mixing engineers and its no surprise to me that it also picked up the Best Surround Sound Album at the 48th Grammy Awards ceremony in the following year. The sad thing is that it is the only Dire Straits album to get the 5.1 Surround treatment and I would love to see Chuck do a surround mix for Love Over Gold which is really crying out for one.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Neil Dorfsman & Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler except track 2 written by Mark Knopfler & Sting. Recorded between October 1984 to February 1985 at AIR Studios, Montserrat W.1. Recording Engineer Neil Dorfsman. Assistant Engineer Steve Jackson. Mastered & Remastered by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Sutton Cooper & Andrew Prewett. Photography by Deborah Feingold. Painting by Thomas Steyer.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar – Backing Vocals.
Alan Clark: Keyboards.
Guy Fletcher: Keyboards – Backing Vocals.
Terry Williams: Drums.
Sting: Vocals (Track 2).
Tony Levin: Bass (Tracks 8).
Michael Brecker: Saxophone (Track 4).
Jack Sonni: Guitar Synth (Track 7).
Mike Mainieri: – Vibes – Marimba
Omar Hakim: Drums.
The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. So Far Away. 5:12. 2. Money for Nothing. 8:26. 3. “Walk of Life. 4:12. 4. Your Latest Trick. 6:33. 5. Why Worry. 8:31. 6. Ride Across the River. 6:58. 7. The Man’s Too Strong. 4:40. 8. One World. 3:40. 9. Brothers In Arms. 6:59.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.
On Every Street
The bands sixth studio album On Every Street is an album that was lucky to surface depending on how you look at it that is. It was after the tour of their most successful album Brothers In Arms in 1987 that Mark Knopfler decided to take a break and work on other projects and his own solo project with film Soundtracks. The limelight of success and stress had got to him just like it did with Sting with The Police. However, the band did get back together in 1988 for Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute concert staged on 11 June 1988 at Wembley Stadium, in which they were the headline act. Knopfler announced the dissolution of Dire Straits in September 1988. In the following year, he formed The Notting Hillbillies and it would be a good six years since the overwhelming success of their previous album before he decided to reform the band for one final time.
On Every Street was released on the 9th of September 1991 and the album contained 12 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 60 minutes, 16 seconds. Although the album took its time coming off the back of their most successful album it was always going to be a tough act to follow suit in the same popular motive vein so to speak. However, the album still managed to hit the Number One spot in the UK Albums Charts and had twice Platinum sales in many countries proving that Dire Straits were still very much a popular force in the music scene and a force to be reckoned with.
Despite there being a good 6 years in between their last studio album, Knopfler did manage to keep most of the band together apart from the bands drummer Terry Williams who left the band after the Brothers In Arms tour ended in 1988. The band were now down to a 4 piece with two keyboard players a guitarist, and bass player so once again many session players were called upon to record the new material for the album. Jeff Porcaro best known for his work with Toto and Steely Dan and has literally played on thousands of albums as a session player plays drums on most of the tracks. Another well-recognised drummer Manu Katché perhaps more widely known for his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting plays on a couple of the tracks.
The album was recorded at George Martin’s Air Studios only this time the one in London, England. Looking at the material that Knopfler wrote to make up the album it does appear to be a bit of a mixed bag and it’s perhaps trying to follow the same commercial vein with some of the songs that were written as their previous album and some of the songs do have a bit of familiarity about them. Once again an array of singles were released to promote the album and a total of 6 in all. But only 4 of them were major releases and 2 of them were only ever released in France, Germany and The Netherlands.
It’s very much an album of contrasting styles ranging from blues, rockabilly, folk, pop, jazz and rock. It does appear that Elvis has left the building with its opening track “Calling Elvis” which was the first single to be released from the album and made its way into the UK TOP 30 peaking at Number 21. Like the opening track on Brothers In Arms “So Far Away” it does have an ending that drags on only the lyrical content is much better on this song I feel and so to is the guitar riff which makes it less repetitious in some respects.
Sticking with the major singles from the album “Heavy Fuel” is another song that has similarities with “Money For Nothing” with its distorted guitar riff and you do get the impression that Knopfler was trying to make a carbon copy with how he’s gone about his writing on some of these songs. “The Bug” is another rockabilly number like “Walk of Life” and no doubt all of these songs are potential hitmakers and very good well written single material. The albums self-titled song “On Every Street” is perhaps the most unusual single release out of them all and is in every way more of an album track in relation to the other 3 songs here. Although personally for myself along with the well laid back song “You and Your Friend” are my chosen favourites from the album.
“Iron Hand” is another song that could be likened to “The Man’s Too Strong” from their previous album and there is quite a few country songs on the album such as “When It Comes To You“, “How Long” and “Ticket to Heaven” which has a 60’s feel with George Martin’s strings and is perhaps something that Adam Faith would have sang all those years ago. “Fade To Black” is a deep down blues song and a good dose of humour is also thrown in for good measure with the up swinging “My Parties” and not forgetting the longest track on the album “Planet of New Orleans” which features some fine guitar playing by Knopfler has with most of the tracks.
On Every Street is perhaps an album that shows Mark Knopfler’s versatility and diversity when it comes to songwriting and you certainly get a mixture of styles on this album. In some ways, you could say that the material is a bit too versatile and diverse to make it stand up as a collective set of songs to put on one album and make it sound like a good album. All being said it is an album that has some fine moments and in terms of a rating I would put it on level par with their third album Making Movies. Though unlike that album this one is much better recorded and produced a lot better which is one of the things I personally think lets their third album down badly.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Mark Knopfler. All songs were written by Mark Knopfler. Recorded at Air Studios London, England between November 1990 to May 1991. Recording Engineers Chuck Ainlay & Bill Schnee. Mixing Engineers Neil Dorfsman (Tracks 1 – 6 & 8 -12). Bob Clearmountain (Track 7). Assistant Engineers Steve Orchard, Andy Strange & Jack Joseph Puig. Mastered & Remastered by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Sutton Cooper & Paul Cummings. Photography by Paul Williams.
Mark Knopfler: Vocals – Guitar.
John Ilsley: Bass Guitar.
Alan Clark: Organ – Piano – Synthesizer.
Guy Fletcher: Synthesizer – Backing Vocals.
Jeff Porcaro: Drums – Percussion.
Phil Palmer: Guitar.
Chris White: Flute – Saxophone.
Manu Katché: Percussion – Drums (Tracks 7 & 11).
Vince Gill: – Guitar – Backing Vocals (Track 5).
Paul Franklin: Pedal Steel Guitar – Acoustic Lap Steel Guitar (Track 6).
George Martin: Conductor – String Arrangements (Track 9).
The album tracklisting is as follows: 1. Calling Elvis. 6:26. 2. On Every Street. 5:04. 3. When It Comes to You. 5:02. 4. Fade to Black. 3:49. 5. The Bug. 4:18. 6. You and Your Friend. 5:59. 7. Heavy Fuel. 4:57. 8. Iron Hand. 3:09. 9. Ticket To Heaven. 4:26. 10. My Parties. 5:52. 11. Planet of New Orleans. 7:47. 12. How Long. 3:53.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.
Summary & Conclusion…
Dire Straits were, without doubt, a GREAT! band and one that that should appeal to most peoples taste in music I should think and a band that certainly left its mark in musical history. It was a vehicle for Mark Knopfler’s songwriting who still to this day writes such GREAT! songs in his own solo career. I would even go as far as to say that as a lyricist he has excelled himself since those days he was with Dire Straits. As much as I like his solo career I still prefer the musicality that was given to the songs in his former band and I can still play the albums he did with Dire Straits more so than the music he still churns out in his solos career. There are so many timeless classics that still sound GREAT! today and they are a band that have never been that far away from my turntable so to speak.
The Studio Albums 1978 – 1991 by Dire Straits offers you tremendous value for the money and £16.66 for 6 albums nicely presented in a Clamshell Box is hardly going to break the bank. No doubt many will already have their albums and this box set perhaps will not be of any interest to them unless you are an avid record collector who simply has to have everything. I myself am not an avid collector and brought it to update my old collection with the 1996 remasters that are said to be the best sounding recordings and I honestly cannot complain one bit because they do have the edge over the original recordings slightly apart from the Brothers In Arms SACD I have that is. For those who had their albums and sold them. This is the perfect way to replace them at its price point.
Lee’s overall Complete Box Set Value Rating…
The Box Set Presentation Rating Score. 8/10.
The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.
2 thoughts on “Lee Speaks About Music… #176”
I admit, that I don’t like Dire Straits at all. I have a lot of respect for Mark Knopfler. He is a phantastic guitar-player. Inspired by your article I have watched a live-version of “Down the waterline” on Youtube and it uncovered again, why they are not amongst my favourite bands. While I could listen hours to Mark Knopfler playing guitar-solos, Fills and other brilliant guitar-work, I don’t care so much about the rest. Especially the vocals turn me off, because the it reminds me on Bob Dylan and I can also not stand Bob Dylan as a singer 🙂 Second the song-writing can not impress me or catch my attention. You said, that they started together with The Police and I prefer The Police as a band by far. It’s all a matter of taste, but in my opinion The Police is a much better complete package as a band.
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Knopfler has a talking voice and it does not sound bad to my ears and unlike Dylan, he is not singing down his nose. The Police were much more of a pop band in relation to the music of Dire Straits who were more folk and country blues. I like them both but I prefer Dire Straits and for me, their music is not outdated and has a longer longevity.