Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Sultans of Swing: My Top 5 Dire Straits Songs

After my previous music blog post on Blue Oyster Cult (You can find it here: http://unrealpossibilities.blogspot.in/2014/03/blue-oyster-cult-my-top-5-live-songs.html ), I've been listening to a lot of the other rock bands of the 60s and 70s. And in the process, I have developed a liking for a specific type of classic rock music that I first witnessed in Blue Oyster Cult songs. One that is kind of a mix between blues rock and hard rock with long guitar solos. To know more about the rock scene of that era, I watched a few documentaries on the history of rock and rock bands and read a few biographies. During that journey of exploring the music, I passed through a specific version of 'Sultans of Swing' performed by Dire Straits and Clapton at the Wembley stadium in 1988 at the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute. Instead of just passing onto the next video, I somehow felt an urge to stay back and try out some other Dire Straits songs. Back in college, I had listened to 'Sultans of Swing' and it was one of my favorite rock songs back then. But this version that I had just heard was different from what I remembered. In fact, there were places where it fell short of the original version, but some parts of it, especially the extended guitar solo at the end was mind blowing. I wanted to hear more of where that came from, if there were any. And there were plenty of where that came from and even better music lied beyond the horizon.

Dire Straits were a British rock band formed in 1977 by Mark Knopfler, David Knopfler, John Illsley and Pick Withers. They mainly played blues rock songs with some occasional country rock and hard rock  influence here and there. The guitar solos that you might have heard in 'Sultans of Swing', which is often ranked among the top 100 guitar solos were performed by Mark Knopfler, the lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the band. Mark Knopfler and John Illsley were the only two members who were present in the band throughout it's 15 year span. After the band disbanded in 1995, Mark Knopfler took onto a solo career and is still performing, even though his style has changed a lot over the years, which isn't necessarily a bad thing though. Anyways, now onto the real deal.





After listening to a lot of Dire Straits songs, I've come to realize that I can't fit in just 5 songs in this list. There were just too many awesome performances that were too good to pass. So I've basically made a list of my top 5 songs, and below that I've mentioned the other good versions of those songs that I think are worth listening to. Unlike my previous post on BOC, I've added studio recording videos as well in this list. Also I've not added any of the songs from Knopfler's solo career. That would just make this list too long. So here we go:



1) Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing (Alchemy Live)


Hands down, the best performance by Dire Straits. Of all the videos that I've seen, this is the most energetic performance delivered by the band. From Mark Knopfler's electrifying solos to Terry Williams' impressive performance on the drums to the amazing sync with the keyboards, everyone in the band perform really well. The vocals aren't as good as the original studio version, but the instrumental music shine out exceptionally well. Knopfler's skillful improvisations on the second solo from the original are a welcome treat. And as if that's not enough, he throws in an impressive extended solo at the end that builds upon layers and layers of sonic power delivered by the guitars, drums and keyboards all working in unison.

Other notable performances: Dire Straits & Eric Clapton - Sultans of Swing (Wembley, 1988):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jxsnIRpy2E


2) Dire Straits & Eric Clapton - Brothers in Arms Live (Wembley, 1988)


Even though 'Sultans of Swing' is the song that most people associate with Dire Straits, 'Brothers in Arms' stands toe-to-toe with 'Sultans of Swing', maybe even better on many occasions. While 'Sultans of Swing' has got an energetic pub rock type feel to it, 'Brothers in Arms' has a very melodic and sublime feel to it. It's one of those songs, where you just sit and let the music play and get lost in it's beauty. Also in this version, Eric Clapton plays the rhythm guitar alongside Knopfler and it's never a bad thing to have Clapton onboard. I have never seen anyone play guitar with such feel as Knopfler does while playing 'Brothers in Arms', and especially so in this version. This is one of those songs that just synced with me on every level. It just resonated with the deepest parts of my mind. I sincerely thank Knopfler for making this wonderful masterpiece.

Other notable performances: Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms Live (On the Night, 1993):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2rx3IAEISA


3) Dire Straits & Eric Clapton - Money for Nothing (Live at Knebworth)



'Money for Nothing' is one of Dire Straits' most successful singles, peaking at most of the charts both in US & UK. The original video featured some really good computer animations (for it's time) back in 1985 and was famous for it's take on MTV being an easy way for pop stars to make money by making some random music video. I guess no one liked Justin Bieber stereotypes even back then. Good! I chose this version over the studio version mainly because the ending part with these two backup singers and all those guitars together easily surpasses the studio version. Plus there was Sting backing up the vocals as well. And yet again, we have Clapton and this time both Knopfler and Clapton deliver some blistering solos.

Other notable performances: Dire Straits - Money for Nothing (Official Video):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTP2RUD_cL0


4) Dire Straits - Lady Writer (Official Video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlD6jCGVU4A (Can't add the video image here)

Perhaps one of the most famous and underrated songs by Dire Straits, mainly criticized for it's similarity to Sultans, but yet not being able to capture it's feel. Nevertheless, 'Lady Writer' is a very enjoyable song on it's own and you just wanna sing along and do some crazy air guitar stuff when you watch the video. Unlike the previous videos, this is the official video of this song and all the founding members of Dire Straits perform in it. It's got a couple of short solos and I can assure you that if you like Sultans, then you'll like this one as well.


5) Dire Straits - Walk of Life Live (On the Night, 1993)


'Walk of Life' is the song that makes you feel good, no matter when you listen to it. It's got a touch of country rock in it, yet feels like any other Dire Straits song. No matter what type of music you listen to, it's very easy to enjoy this song. Watching it first thing in the morning just makes you very lively. You just wanna forget all the shit around you and just dance to this song. Just watch the video, it pretty much explains it on it''s own. 

Other notable performances: Dire Straits - Walk of Life (Official Video):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd9TlGDZGkI

Apart from these five songs, a few other songs worth checking out are 'Telegraph Road' (awesome guitar-keyboard combo and an epic 4 min solo at the end.. would have been in the list, but you have to pick one at some point), 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Southbound again', 'Expresso Love' and 'Down to the Waterline'. So that's it for now. Hope you all enjoy these songs. I might have another post on Mark Knopfler's solo career, Eric Clapton, or Led Zeppelin in a few months. Got to get back to work. Until then, Goodbye.