Sultans of Swing

Album Credits
Roy Bittan
Alan Clark
Mel Collins
Danny Cummings
Guy Fletcher
Paul Franklin
Omar Hakim
John Illsley
Manu Katche
David Knopfler
Mark Knopfler
Joop de Korte
Hal Lindes
Jimmy Maelen
Mike Mainieri
Tommy Mandel
Phil Palmer
Jeff Porcaro
Sting (appears courtesy of A&M Records Inc.)
Chris White
Chris Whitten
Terry Williams
Pick Withers

Barry Becket
Neil Dorfsman
Guy Fletcher
Jimmy Iovine
Mark Knopfler
Jerry Wexler
Muff Winwood

Album Design by Rick Lecoat @ Mercury; still life photography by Josh Pulman; photos marked 'ML' ©Mark Leialoha; group photo by Brian Aris; other photos ©Chris Horler, LFI Rex Features London

Liner Notes
Perspective plays the strangest tricks. for most of their career Dire Straits have been regarded, even by critics who profess not to like them, as unstoppably successful. When they set out, it was a different story. Of all the new bands on the London pub and club circuit in 1977, Dire Straits seemed uniquely ill equipped to survive. As the fires of punk raged around them, they made no secret of their love for styles of music which the cultural commissars of the day had recently declared to be irrelevant. They sounded a bit country, a bit bluesy, not remotely shouty or angry. There was a hint of Bob Dylan in there, a bit of Celtic folk and a few nods to Chet Atkins. As for the way they looked, well, they clearly hadn't acquired their stage clobber down the King's Road. What part could this lot possibly play in the brave new world of anarchy, media manipulation and anti-musician-ship?

Aside from their consumate skills as performers, it was their complete disregard for all the fashioable nonsenses of the moment that rescued Dire Straits from the fate which swiftly overtook most of their punky contemporaries. While others lived and died in a blaze of publicity and disappointing record sales, they took the world by stealth. Their first album, Dire Straits, cost next to nothing to record, received minimal promotion and still, within a year of its release in 1978, became a massive hit. Unlike the rest of the class of '77 they made huge inroads in America, Europe and Australasia.

It wasn't so much that they discovered their audience: in many territories where the band had never been seen, and were then completely unknown, the audience found them.

Dire Straits were, above all superb communicators. Bob Dylan once said that he liked them as a group because great players though they all were, they sounded like one person. The heartfelt simplicity of their music - chiefly derived from Mark Knopfler's gruff vocals and elegantly burnished Fender guitar tone - came across in songs that sounded both fresh and timeless, and which also possessed a breathtaking accuracy. When the Straits sang about an elderly jazz band in a South London pub, as they did on their first single 'Sultans of Swing', they engraved the scene on your memory, right down to the knot of bored teenagers 'dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles' at the back. The track is a masterpiece of social observation. There are plently more like it. Listening to this compilation all through you're struck by the fact that the lyrics to these songs never engage ina rhyming for its own sake. As a lifelong fan of country music, Knopfler relishes the role of the singer as storyteller and his songs are full of poignant situations and vivid street characters.

They are often funny too. In what may be Dire Straits most celebrated song, 'Money For Nothing,' a salesman in a consumer electronics store in New York bitches about rock stars and - blisters on their little fingers aside - the easy life they lead. At the other end of Knopfler's spectrum as a lyricist there are songs like 'So Far Away' which express the painof separation with a touching directness and lack of artifice. Somewhere in the middle comes 'Romeo & Juliet,' the best remembered tne from their third album Making Movies. This is in many ways quintessential Dire Straits, a deeply emotional but profoundly skeptical take on true romance as enacted by a street musician whose back-to-basics chat up line - 'you and me babe, How about it?' - is made bizarrely persuasive by the sweetness of the surrounding music. In Dire Straits' world, you never quite know whether you've been suckered, or suddenly been dealt a winning hand. But hey, that's life. Love the ambivalence.

Their sound changed noticeably across the 6 studio albums. They started spry and clean, exactly the way they were live, then proceeded to expand and experiment with the recording process. After Making Movies, there were more spacious and atmospheric sound effecs, as witness the spooky twists and baroque pianistic flourishes in 'Private Investigations from the Love Over Gold album. Knopfler then developed an allergy for big studio productions, and their time consuming search for perfect drum sounds and the rest. The result was the Twisting By The Pool EP which took a day to record. The next album Brothers In Arms was full of quiet moments and sparse arrangements, made a lot of upbeat, cheerful noise. Quite why a collection of songs as subtly understated as this should have introduced a generation of listeners to the compact disc remains a bit of a mystery; maybe as Knopfler has always assumed, ordinary people have good taste.

On Every Street, the only Dire Straits album of the 1990's had a rootsier feel than anything they recorded in the 1980's, flagging Knopfler's oft articulated desire to leave the rocks star fol-di-rol behind. The band are currently on hold. We await further developments in the knowledge that there might not be any. What remains is an astonishingly diverse catalogue of hits. for a group who have never been particularly viewed as a 'singles band,' Dire Straits have done some fantastic work in this area. Thanks to Knopfler's strong melodic instints and structural ingenuity as a tunesmith Dire Straits have always functioned principally as a vehicle for songs rather than, as is the way with lots of bands, an excuse to rock out.

And reasoned commentary aside, let's get personal: anybody who finds nothing to love here has either got a problem with the essential fabric of rock and roll, or cloth ears.

- Robert Sandall
Released 10 years after Dire Straits first compilation album, Money for Nothing, Sultans of Swing features the best songs from Dire Straits.

Vertigo/Warner Bros. (1998)

  • 1. Sultans Of Swing
  • 2. Lady Writer
  • 3. Romeo and Juliet
  • 4. Tunnel of Love
  • 5. Private Investigations
  • 6. Twisting By the Pool
  • 7. Love Over Gold (live)
  • 8. So Far Away
  • 9. Money For Nothing
  • 10. Brothers In Arms
  • 11. Walk Of Life
  • 12. Calling Elvis
  • 13. Heavy Fuel
  • 14. On Every Street
  • 15. Your Latest Trick (live)