Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Aristocrats: Sultans of Swing

Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing


So many king and queen songs yet to come, not to mention all those folk songs about Lord This and Sir That, but I thought I'd break up the folk and the trend toward western royalty a bit more by sending forth a relatively common but no less poignant or potent poptune from the Sultans of Swing themselves, as led by mastermind lyricist and distinctive guitarrock wizard Mark Knopfler.

You probably know this as ubiquitous and easily dismissable, despite its great hooks and masterful guitar solo (#22 on Guitar World's list of the greatest ever), but the tune has relevance, I think. The song emerged in the midst of the late disco era as an anomaly -- a daringly straightforward rock tune in the midst of a disco and pre-punk era; it took a few months to take off, given the BBC reluctance to play the song due to its "high lyrical content", but eventually reached top ten in the UK and the US; the tune, a first single, originally recorded as a demo and later re-recorded, truly put Dire Straits on the map, driving their self-titled album double platinum, and setting the stage for a long and fruitful career.

The song also holds an unusual place in the musical pantheon: to wit, most bands don't write a song about failed bar bands just happy to be playing the songs until at least their third album (see, for example, The Late Greats, which closes Wilco's fifth release), when they start to miss their roots a bit. Look past the cultural familiarity, and listen with 1978's ears; I think you'll find this song remains a powerful statement for the ages, even as it masquerades as classic rock fluff in an indie world.

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