When Dire Straits released their debut album in 1978, they’d been around for less than a year. While their lack of experience shone through, so did their potential. Seven years later, that potential was fully realized when ‘Brothers in Arms’ turned them into one of the biggest UK bands of the 1980s. Over the course of 6 studio albums, 22 singles, and numerous live and compilation albums, they won us over with their clean-cut, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll. Celebrate their best work with these 10 best Dire Straits songs of all time.
10. So Far Away
‘So Far Away’ was the first single to be released from 1985’s ‘Brothers in Arms.’ Or at least it was in the UK… in the US, it was the third single, and by the time of its release, ‘Brother in Arms’ was already well on its way to becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. But regardless of whether it was your introduction to the album or your reminder of it, ‘So Far Away’ dished up a great little helping of laid-back classic rock.
9. Walk of Life
‘Brothers in Arms’ is littered with classic tracks, ‘Walk of Life’ being one of them. According to ultimateclassicrock.com, it almost didn’t make it to the album at all. It was originally released as the B side of the UK release of ‘So Far Away,’ which came out just before the album. Eventually, it made its way to the A-side, peaking at No.7 on the Billboard chart and becoming one of the band’s best-selling singles of all time.
Just one year after releasing their disappointing second album, ‘Communiqué,’ Dire Straits returned in 1980 armed with a renewed focus and some outstanding new songs. ‘Skateaway’ was among them – written about a girl who jams to rock ‘n’ roll as she skates around town, it’s a fun track that oozes radio-friendly appeal.
7. Private Investigations
‘Private Investigations’ is a sprawling, 7-minute epic from 1982’s ‘Love Over Gold.’ Using the life of a private detective as a metaphor for the solitary work of the songwriter, Knopfler spins a tale filled with whiskey bottles, shuttered windows, and ‘pain behind the eyes.’ Tense, atmospheric, and, even now, quite extraordinary in its ambition, it charted at number 2 in the UK, giving the band one of their biggest chart successes.
6. Tunnel of Love
‘Brothers in Arms’ may have been Dire Straits’ biggest selling album, but for the sheer quality of its songs, ‘Making Movies’ is considered by many fans to be the superior of the two. One of its best songs is ‘Tunnel of Love,’ a sprawling, 8 minutes epic that kicks off with an intro from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Carousel and ends with one of the most blistering guitar solos of Knopfler’s career. This was the sound of the band at their peak – creatively, if not commercially.
5. Expresso Love
Ranked by CultureSonar as one of the best Dire Straits songs of all time, Expresso Love is yet another example of what makes ‘Making Movies’ such a creatively stunning work. A love song of a different kind, it finds the narrator pondering the question of whether his love is the real deal, or just “expresso love.” Featuring a distorted guitar, an insanely catchy piano hook, and some very fine vocals, it’s a thing of beauty.
4. Brothers In Arms
Loudersound.com says ‘Brothers In Arms,’ the title track to the band’s biggest selling album of all time, has a ‘dignified but lasting power.’ They aren’t wrong. Inspired by the Falklands War of 1982, the song is narrated from the perspective of a fatally wounded soldier dying on the battlefield. In his final words, he tells the soldiers by his side how foolish it is “to make war on our brothers in arms”. It’s hard to disagree with the sentiment; harder still to overlook the beauty of Knopfler’s other worldly guitar solo.
3. Money for Nothing
Taken from 1985’s ‘Brothers in Arms,’ ‘Money for Nothing’ gave the band their biggest hit and turned them into an almost permanent fixture on MTV – something that had a certain irony, considering the song was intended as a takedown of disposable pop stars and music video culture. As well as boasting a killer opening riff from Knopfler, the song features a guest appearance from Sting on backing vocals. The single spent three weeks at number 1 on both the US Billboard Hot 100 and Top Rock Tracks chart, scooped the award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 28th Annual Grammy Awards, and won Video of the Year and Best Group Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.
2. Romeo and Juliet
‘Romeo and Juliet’ was inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with singer Holly Vincent, who he’s since accused of using their relationship as a career boost. It tells the story of a Romeo who still loves his Juliet, but who now gets treated like “just another one of [her] deals”. Despite the bitterness of the lyrics, the song itself is delicious, ranking as one of Knopfler’s finest and most timeless compositions. Released before ‘Brothers in Arms’ turned Dire Straits into a commercial juggernaut, the single failed to dent the charts in the US but has since become one of the most popular songs in their catalog.
1. Sultans of Swing
When Dire Straits released their eponymous debut in 1978, they’d played a few pub gigs and recorded a demo tape, but that was it. ‘Dire Straits’ may have been a good album, but the band hadn’t been around long enough to fine-tune their sound – something that, on most of the tracks, is more than obvious. ‘Sultans of Swing’ is the exception. Their first charting hit is a meticulously crafted, exquisitely polished creation with an irresistible hook and a ton of late-night cool. This was the song that made the critics talk and the rest of us listen. It’s what won them a tour with Bob Dylan and what put them firmly on the map. They’d have to wait till 1985 for the full scale of their commercial success to be released, but this is where the seed was planted.