One of the most distinctive and versatile bands of the 1980s was Dire Straits, a British rock band lead by guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Mark Knopfler. Although Dire Straits officially broke up in 1995, the band still has a loyal following due to the band’s unique blend of commercial sounds, complex arrangements and dark sense of humor.
The band began with the dreams of brothers Mark and David Knopfler. During this time, Mark was a teacher and David was a social worker. They teamed up with roommate, a timber broker undergraduate named John Illsley and professional studio drummer Pick Withers to record a five song demo in 1977.
The demo caught the attention of popular BBC disc jockey Charlie Gilette, who played the demo for his audience. The audience loved it. Suddenly, Dire Straits were asked to headline for Talking Heads in 1978. They scraped together enough money to record their first album, Dire Straits (1979), which went on to become a multiple gold album in America.
Brothers in Arms
Dire Straits’ monster album was Brothers in Arms (1985) which featured the mega-hit Money for Nothing with guest vocals by Sting of the Police. The single was followed up with a quirky video despite Knopfler’s hatred of music videos. The video combined computer animation and footage of the band playing. The video soon went on heavy rotation on MTV and would win a Grammy and the MTV Video of the Year for 1985.
Subsequent tours went well, culminating in an unforgettable performance with Eric Clapton at Wembly Stadium in 1988 to celebrate the then still imprisoned Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. Knopfler would be asked to do soundtracks such as for the award-winning Local Hero (1983) and the hit movie The Princess Bride (1987.) Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler would never be so popular again, although they did reportedly turn a handsome profit during their 1993 tour.
Dire Strait’s big strength was its songwriting. Although not afraid to put out an instant classic rock hit like Twisting by the Pool, they also could do a complete 180 degree turn in mood with a heart-wrenching yet sly ballad like Romeo and Juliet where the immortal lovers live long enough to break up. Juliet recalls Romeo to her friends, “Yeah, I used to have a scene with him.”
Poetic lyrics were coupled with great musicianship, including subtle harmonies and brilliant studio recording. Dire Straits songs were not only hummable, but also made listeners think.