If you’re just joining us, check out the About This Project link for details. Basically, I make playlists of all the singles by certain musical artists and then try to order them using the guiding principle “do I like each song more than the last song.” I define “single” in a broad enough way to include any song that was released as a purchasable single in any format in any country; as a promotional single in any country; as a video; or generally any song that I know charted anywhere. My main sources are Wikipedia (mostly reliable) and Discogs (reasonably reliable). I welcome editing feedback since sometimes I favor speed over spelling.
Dire Straits is one of those bands that is largely defined by a single member – songwriter, guitarist and lead singer Mark Knopfler. The only other musician who was part of the band for the length of it’s existence was bassist John Illsley. This is not to say that Illsley and the rest of the members of Dire Straits weren’t excellent musicians (quite the opposite!), just to say that Knopfler’s vision and talent (particularly as guitarist) overshadowed the rest of the group. You could replace every other member (and, as I mentioned, Dire Straits very nearly did) but Knopfler and the band would still seem essentially like Dire Straits.
I became a fan of the band – like most people my age – because of the success of the song “Sultans of Swing.” That track was an FM radio staple (particularly on I-95, our local rock station in the greater Danbury, Connecticut area) so I probably heard it a hundred or more times while riding the bus back and forth to high school (we had a cool bus driver who played rock music). My interest in the band remained pretty casual until I read Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish in which Mr. Adams sings the praises of Making Movies. I belatedly bought that record and it’s nearly a perfect album (except for one genuinely dreadful song which you can ignore by not burning it to your MP3 player or not including it on your Spotify list or whatever – more on that song, though it wasn’t a single, later). After discovering that album, I became a devoted fan.
Dire Straits have a sort of more-complicated than usual release history. I’ve left off several songs that were released as promo singles at one point because I couldn’t determine with 100% certainty which versions of the songs were singles – including “Telegraph Road,” and “Portobello Belle.” I was vexed about this for several weeks but I’m living with it now.
I don’t feel like Dire Straits necessarily released many songs that were bad, per se. This chunk of the lists starts out with two songs that are quite good but piss me off (and these lists are, after all, about how much I like to listen to songs) and continues with songs that are a little dull. By #18 or #19 on the next list, everything is pretty universally excellent.
27. Lady Writer
First single from Communiqué (1979), released as a single in 1979
Ya know, I’m just going to come out and say I find parts (two intelligence insulting lines in specific) of the lyrics to “Lady Writer” be misogynist. An argument can be made that, yes, that is the point – Knopfler is trying to portray a guy who “fell from grace” with his ex-girlfriend and we’re hearing a few snippets of why she left his insulting face. I can’t get past it, but that’s just me. Otherwise, this song is reasonably good (even if it sounds like a conscious attempt at recreating “Sultans of Swing”). I get the feeling the Knopfler swings between states of profound lyrical inspiration and moments of crippling writer’s block. He wrote the lyrics for this song literally after seeing a female author on TV discussing her book on the Virgin Mary. Anyhow, if I could get over my ill feelings about the lyrics, I’d push this one up into the top twenty at least – probably not the top ten.
26. Calling Elvis
First single from On Every Street (1991), released as a single in 1991
In 1987, Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper released the song “Elvis is Everywhere” and there was much rejoicing (largely at then-healthy Michael J. Fox’s expense). Two years later, they released another Elvis-themed song called “(619) 239-KING” that wasn’t quite as delightful but that got a bunch of airplay. Now, Elvis is of course iconic and singing a rock song about wanting to contact him is certainly not a theme that need be unique to Mssrs. Nixon and Roper, but when “Calling Elvis” came out in 1991, I couldn’t help but call foul (to myself since nobody else in my circle seemed to notice that this song had even released). Granted, the lyrics are about a person calling Elvis not about asking Elvis to call the singer so they’re not identical per se. I don’t know, it bothers me and is a barrier to me enjoying the song. Even without that barrier, the song is not really one of their best – it’s kind of a dull shuffle with the interesting guitar work buried in the back of the mix. Dire Straits’ final album – On Every Street – does have it’s share of decent songs but the singles didn’t (couldn’t?) live up to the work from Brothers in Arms.
25. Ticket to Heaven
Sixth single from On Every Street (1991), released as a single in 1994
I don’t have a clue as to why Dire Straits released “Ticket to Heaven” as their last single in 1994 – three years after it’s parent album had been released and two years after the last previous single. Apparently, it was only released in The Netherlands where it was a minor hit. The lyrics are a reasonably interesting critique of televangelists but the music sounds like a JImmy Buffet cast off (“Nope, this one’s too mellow”). I appreciate that Knopfler always seems to be exploring and experimenting with his music and this certainly isn’t a bad song – it’s just kind of dull. The last time I heard it prior to working on this list was likely back in 1992 or 1993. I would have been comfortable leaving it that way.
24. Love Over Gold (live)
First single from Alchemy (1984), released as a single in 1984
Good news! Every song from here on out is at least pretty! “Love Over Gold” was the title track of the album prior to their 1984 live release, Alchemy. This is an expertly played live performance of a lovely song but – in general – I don’t enjoy live recordings as much as studio tracks. I feel like Knopfler’s vocal is a little buried in the mix here. Instead of sounding like an earnest declaration of the value of love, it just sounds pretty. Pretty is good.
23. Brothers in Arms
Third single from Brothers in Arms (1985), released as a single in 1985
Oh man, I feel like a monster. I think this is a beautiful song with a great set of lyrics. I know this is a beloved tune – especially in the UK where it is often played at military funerals. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who holds this song in higher esteem than anything else the band has ever released. I just don’t think it as interesting out of context of the full Brothers in Arms album. After listening to that whole record, this is a lovely code. Off album, it’s beautiful but a little dull. My apologies to the entire world. I didn’t feel bad about ranking “Cherish” by Madonna at #84 on her list or David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” at #91 on that his, but I feel terrible ranking this song here. I stand by the ranking, but I don’t feel good about it.
22. Two Young Lovers (live)
European and Philippines release single from Alchemy (1984), released as a single in 1984
I wrote to my friend Stu, who plays the saxophone, to ask him what he thinks of guest musician Mel Collins’ performance on “Two Young Lovers.” Stu reports that Collins sounds like an excellent team player who is contributing a strong performance without showing off. “Two Young Lovers” was originally a track on the 1983 EP ExtendedanceEPlay , a Dire Straits rarity that has never been re-released (perhaps because the title is the worst). The studio version of this song is, in my opinion, inferior to this spirited live performance. Both the lyric (about two young lovers meeting, falling in love and getting engaged) and the music draws heavily on 50’s rock traditions. That’s not a bad thing and the song is good fun. It just sounds like a perfectly good song that many other bands could have done equally well. Again, though, kudos to Dire Straits for playing around in other genres.
21. Think I Love You Too Much (Live)
Promo single from the Live at Knebworth EP (1990), released as a single in 1990
Eric Clapton guests on this live performance. You can see when he takes over lead guitar in the video, but if you’re into that kind of thing you can have fun listening to the track for the moment he comes in. “I Think I Love You Too Much” was originally written by Knopfler for The Jeff Healey Band. I hesitate to call this a cover, since it is Knopfler’s song, but Healey took the song into the top ten in Canada. This Dire Straits/Clapton cover sounds like a B.B. King tribute to me (which is praise, obviously). Knopfler wrote songs for a number of other artists in the 80’s (including, of course, “Private Dancer” for Tina Turner). Anyhow, I like this performance for the guitar wankery (and it is some first class wankery) but, as is always the case on these lists, there’s just a whole bunch of singles I like better.
Coming Soon: One of their biggest hits which I used to love but now I’m all like “hmmm.”