Dire Straits were a British rock band formed in London in 1977 by Mark Knopfler (lead vocals and lead guitar), David Knopfler (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), John Illsley (bass guitar and backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums and percussion). They were active from 1977 to 1988 and again from 1991 to 1995.
Their first single, “Sultans of Swing”, from their 1978 self-titled debut album, reached the top ten in the UK and US charts. It was followed by hit singles including “Romeo and Juliet” (1981), “Private Investigations” (1982), “Twisting by the Pool” (1983), “Money for Nothing” (1985), and “Walk of Life” (1985). Their most commercially successful album, Brothers in Arms (1985), has sold more than 30 million copies; it was the first album to sell a million copies on compact disc and is the eighth-bestselling album in UK history. According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Albums, Dire Straits have spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart, the fifth most of all time.
Dire Straits’ sound draws from various influences, including country, folk, the blues rock of J. J. Cale, and jazz. Their stripped-down sound contrasted with punk rock and demonstrated a roots rock influence that emerged from pub rock. There were several changes in personnel, with Mark Knopfler and Illsley being the only members who lasted from the beginning of the band’s existence to the end. After their first breakup in 1988, Knopfler told Rolling Stone: “A lot of press reports were saying we were the biggest band in the world. There’s not an accent then on the music, there’s an accent on popularity. I needed a rest.” They disbanded for good in 1995, after which Knopfler launched a solo career full-time. He has since declined reunion offers.
Dire Straits were called “the biggest British rock band of the 80s” by Classic Rock magazine; their 1985–1986 world tour, which included a performance at Live Aid in July 1985, set a record in Australasia. Their final world tour from 1991 to 1992 sold 7.1 million tickets. Dire Straits won four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards (Best British Group twice), two MTV Video Music Awards, and various other awards. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Dire Straits have sold over 120 million units worldwide, including 51.4 million certified units, making them one of the best-selling music artists.
Dire Straits is the debut studio album by the British rock band Dire Straits released on 9 June 1978 by Vertigo Records, internationally, Warner Bros. Records in the United States and Mercury Records in Canada. The album has the hit single “Sultans of Swing”, which reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 8 on the UK Singles Chart. The album reached the top of the album charts in Germany, Australia and France, number 2 in the United States and number 5 in the United Kingdom. Dire Straits was later certified double platinum in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Dire Straits was recorded at Basing Street Studios in London from 13 February to 5 March 1978. Knopfler used a few guitars for the recording, including a pair of red Fender Stratocasters—one from 1961 (serial number 68354) and one from 1962 (serial number 80470). He played his 1938 National Style O 14 fret guitar (serial number B1844) on “Water of Love” and “Wild West End”. He also used a black Telecaster Thinline (serial number 226254) on “Setting Me Up”. David played a black Fender Stratocaster and a Harmony Sovereign acoustic guitar. The album was produced by Muff Winwood, and engineered by Rhett Davies,assisted by Greg Cobb
The album was released in the US on 20 October 1978. The first single released was “Sultans of Swing” which first broke into the United States top five early in the spring of 1979, becoming a hit a full five months after the album was released there, and then reached number eight in the UK Singles Chart. “Water of Love” was also released as a single in some countries, and charted in Australia, reaching number 54, and in the Netherlands, reaching number 28.
“Sultans of Swing” was re-released as a single in the UK in November 1988 to promote the greatest hits compilation Money for Nothing, released in October that year.
The album was remastered and reissued with the rest of the Dire Straits catalogue in 1996 to most of the world excluding the U.S. and on 19 September 2000 in the United States.
The album cover artwork is designed by Hothouse, who commissioned the cover painting from Chuck Loyola. The Dire Straits Fender logo, which appears on the back cover, was designed by Geoff Halpern.
Dire Straits promoted the release of their first single and album with the Dire Straits Tour, which started on 6 June 1978 at the Lafayette Club in Wolverhampton, included 55 shows, ending on 18 November 1978 at the College of Education in Hitchin. The European tour included concerts in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. These concerts presented Dire Straits with their largest audiences to that date. The first leg of the tour promoted their first single, “Sultans of Swing”. This first leg took the band around Great Britain in June and July 1978, performing in England, Scotland and Wales. The band typically performed in small halls with a maximum capacity of 1,000. The second leg of the tour promoted the band’s debut album. This leg took the band to several European countries, where they met journalists and performed on television programmes.
In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Ken Tucker wrote that the band “plays tight, spare mixtures of rock, folk and country music with a serene spirit and witty irony. It’s almost as if they were aware that their forte has nothing to do with what’s currently happening in the industry, but couldn’t care less.” Tucker singled out “Sultans of Swing” for its “inescapable hook” and “Bob Dylan-like snarl in its vocal”. He also praised “Setting Me Up” as a “heavenly number, funny and bitter”
Dire Straits’ minimalist interpretation of pub rock had already crystallized by the time they released their eponymous debut. Driven by Mark Knopfler’s spare, tasteful guitar lines and his husky warbling, the album is a set of bluesy rockers. And while the bar band mentality of pub-rock is at the core of Dire Straits — even the group’s breakthrough single, “Sultans of Swing,” offered a lament for a neglected pub rock band — their music is already beyond the simple boogies and shuffles of their forefathers, occasionally dipping into jazz and country. Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album. While a few of the songs fall flat, the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
John Illsley (bass, background vocals)
David Knopfler (guitar, background vocals)
Mark Knopfler (vocals, lead guitar)
Pick Withers (drums)
01. Down To The Waterline 4.02
02. Water Of Love 5.25
03. Setting Me Up 3.19
04. Six Blade Knife 4.12
05. Southbound Again 2.59
06. Sultans Of Swing 5.48
07. In The Gallery 6.16
08, Wild West End 4.42
09. Lions 5.04
All songs written by Mark Knopfler