Dire Straits – Dire Straits
When one is engaged in the process of recording an album outside of Manchester, one often finds oneself at the pub at the end of the day, sprawled across table and chairs with a group of musicians, and a producer, and an engineer. And at those times, one often finds oneself arguing good-naturedly with the group over important things like “Who is the greatest live band ever,” and “Who is rock’s greatest drummer” and “What’s the greatest guitar solo ever?”
I recall that last question in particular being debated not once, but over the course of many nights. The producer in this ensemble was insistent that “Hotel California” was the obvious choice, but as he also felt The Who were the greatest live band, his opinion was obviously suspect.
I was torn between Hendrix on “All Along The Watchtower” and Knopfler from this album, on “Sultans of Swing.”
It will probably be obvious to you, if you’ve heard me on electric guitar before, that I did not learn my instrument by learning famous guitar solos note-for-note. To date, I think I can probably play a grand total of 5, and one of those is Neil Young’s solo from “Cinnamon Girl!” (That’s the guitar player’s equivalent of a Dad joke). Of the other four, one is “Stray Cat Strut,” one is Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight,” and one is Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” And then finally, the most challenging of them all by orders of magnitude, “Sultans of Swing.”
My obsession with writing “character songs” was certainly fueled in part by this song; Guitar George, Harry, and those young boys foolin’ around in the corner who were drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles, who didn’t give a damn about any trumpet playin’ band … in fact, it’s safe to say the lyrical legacy has been far more inspirational to me than the guitar work.
That said, it might in fact BE the greatest guitar solo.
But more than that, the album is an incredible debut, and it ain’t just about Sultans. Personally, I think “Down By The Waterline” is every bit its equal, in quality if not in scope:
Sweet surrender on the quayside
You remember we used to run and hide
In the shadow of the cargoes I take you one time
And we’re counting all the numbers down to the waterline
Near misses on the dog leap stairways
French kisses in the darkened doorways
A foghorn blowing out wild and cold
A policeman shines a light upon my shoulder
Up comes a coaster fast and silent in the night
Over my shoulder all you can see are the pilot lights
No money in our jackets and our jeans are torn
Your hands are cold but your lips are warm
She can see him on the jetty where they used to go
She can feel him in the places where the sailors go
When she’s walking by the river and the railway line
She can still hear him whisper
Let’s go down to the waterline
And while “Southbound Again” is fairly shameless with its J.J. Cale-isms, it’s still badass. Same for “Setting Me Up”.
“Water of Love,” in a weird way, may actually be the most important song on the album, from an artistic standpoint, pointing forward as it does to some of Dire Straits’ later work on blockbusters like Brothers in Arms.
Anyhow, about those arguments in the pub? Nobody won. We just agreed to disagree.