Dire Straits

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Dire Straits 1978 debutBritish quartet Dire Straits launched their fruitful career in 1978 with an impressive self-titled debut studio album. This album features nine tracks composed by guitarist/vocalist Mark Knopfler who blended elements of American roots music with a distinct guitar style and a reserved, husky vocal for an appealing overall style which found receptive audiences worldwide. The multi-platinum selling Dire Straits topped the album charts in several countries and reach the Top 5 in several more, including the US and the UK.

The group was formed in the mid 1970s by Mark and his younger brother, rhythm guitarist David Knopfler. Originally from Newcastle, England, the brothers migrated to London where Mark was working as a teacher while performing with pub bands at night. Bassist John Illsley and veteran drummer Pick Withers were eventually recruited and the band was formed with a name that referenced to their current financial situation. The band borrowed money to record a five-song demo tape, which was well received by a local disc jockey and the airing of “Sultans of Swing” led to a recording contract with the Vertigo Records division of Phonogram Inc.

The debut, Dire Straits, was recorded in early 1978 with producer Muff Winwood. Following its recording (but months prior to its release), the group began heavily promoting the songs with a European summer tour which created much anticipation for the album.


Dire Straits by Dire Straits
Released: October 7, 1978 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Muff Winwood
Recorded: Basing Street Studios, London, February-March 1978
Side One Side Two
Down to the Waterline
Water of Love
Setting Me Up
Six Blade Knife
Southbound Again
Sultans of Swing
In the Gallery
Wild West End
Lions
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Knopfler – Guitars, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Pick Withers – Drums

 

“Down to the Waterline” features a methodical entry to the album before the full band arrangement kicks in with a bit of a western swing and direct, narrative vocals with ever-present guitar licks. Right from the jump, the rhythm and lead dynamics of the Knopfler brothers is established as a dynamic on this album. Withers introduces “Water of Love”with some methodical percussion. Soon the rootsy, acoustic song proper arrives with methodical vocals for an overall pleasant effect. “Six Blade Knife” is a rhythm-fronted textural song which seems to draw much influence from Fleetwood Mac rhythms on their then-recent Rumours album. Released as a single, this song actually charted on Country charts in both the US and Canada. The Southern rock influenced “Southbound Again” completes the original first side with a repeated riff motif played much during its short, less than three-minute duration.

Dire Straits in 1978

“Sultans of Swing” is the best and most popular track on the album, a true masterpiece from beginning to end. Each group member is at top form in support of Knopfler’s mastery on lead guitars and vocals with variety, movement and distinction between verse licks and solo leads. The song became the group’s first international hit in 1979 with its descriptive lyrics inspired by Knopfler witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a deserted pub in South London, and is uniquely delivered as they describe a musical genre much unlike the excellent, rhythmic rock song, right up to the rather ironic lyrics;

they don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it aint what they call rock n’ roll…”

The duration of the album features three quasi-jam tracks of differing sub-genres. After a pleasant intro, “In the Gallery” morphs into a quasi-reggae beat for the verses with interesting drum fills and lyrics written as a tribute to Leeds sculptor/artist. “Wild West End” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with a repeated riff under the verse and chorus hooks, along with some sparse vocal harmonies. The closer “Lions” has a walking rhythm guitar and a bluesy lead guitar above a strong, rhythmic rock storyteller.

Dire Straits spent no time enjoying the success of their debut record. Soon after its release, they jumped on the circuit with Talking Heads on their first North American tour and before the end of 1978 they traveled to the Bahamas to begin work on their second album, Communiqué.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

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Infidels by Bob Dylan

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Infidels by Bob DylanIn 1983, Bob Dylan released his studio album, Infidels. With this, Dylan received his highest critical and commercial success in nearly a decade. Still, through time, Infidels received criticism for not including some classic tracks like “Foot of Pride”, “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” and “Blind Willie McTell”, which were both recorded for this album but ultimately omitted. The latter of these would not be released until an outtakes album in 1991 but has come to be considered a true classic in Dylan’s expansive portfolio.

Late in the 1970s, Dylan became an evangelical Christian and, after dedicating three months of discipleship, he decided to release a trilogy of Gospel influenced music. Slow Train Coming (1979) was well-received critically, won Dylan a Grammy award for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody”, and marked his first work with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. The subsequent albums Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) were less regarded by critics and fans.

Co-produced by Knofler, Infidels was seen as a return to Dylan’s secular music roots. He initially wanted to self-produce the album but capitulated due to his lack of knowledge of emerging recording technology. Dylan had spoken with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello about producing this album before hiring Knopfler.

 


Infidels by Bob Dylan
Released: October 27, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan
Recorded: The Power Station, New York City, April-May 1983
Side One Side Two
Jokerman
Sweetheart Like You
Neighborhood Bully
License to Kill
Man of Peace
Union Sundown
I and I
Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Mark Knopfler – Guitars
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Robbie Shakespeare – Bass
Sly Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its strongest tune, “Jokerman”, which is musically led by Robbie Shakespeare‘s thumping bass and the subtle duo guitars of Knopfler and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Meanwhile, Dylan provides potent lyrics and great melody and, although very repetitive, the song has much forward motion due to the increasing vocal intensity as well as the subtle building of musical arrangement and fine harmonica leads late in the song. Released as a single in 1984, “Jokerman” simultaneously spawned Dylan’s MTV-era music video. “Sweetheart Like You” follows as a rather standard ballad with a good hook. Knofler’s influence is very evident in its arrangement which also features keyboardist Alan Clark.

Much of the material on Infidels has a solid rock or pop arrangement, displaying how far musically Dylan had strayed from the folk or roots based music he proliferated in the 1960s while still touching on the topical issues of the day. “Neighborhood Bully” has a new wave edge with a bit of Southern-style guitar slide while lyrically using sarcasm to defend Israel’s right to exist. “License to Kill” closes the first side as a slow and steady rocker with plenty of twangy and guitar motion with lyrics that address man’s relationship to the environment.

Bob Dylan in 1983

The surprising rock arrangements continue into the second side with the layered electric guitar riffs, Hammond organ of “Man of Peace” and the crisp rocker “Union Sundown”, with Clark providing some nice rocking piano in mix and guest Clydie King adding some backing vocals. “I and I” is an interesting tune with subtle verses and more forceful choruses, making it perhaps the best song on the album’s second side. The album concludes with the pleasant, upbeat ballad, “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”, a purely traditional love song.

A gold selling record, Infidels Reach the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in the UK. This achievement would mark the artist’s best success in the decade of the 1980s up until the 1989 release of the classic Oh Mercy.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

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Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

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Brothers In Arms by Dire StraitsDire Straits reached their commercial peak and achieved worldwide fame with their fifth studio album, Brothers In Arms. All the songs on this album were composed by lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Knopfler and he and the group honed their signature sound of r&b and jazz with an increased sense of pop song craft that ultimately paid off as the album dominated charts worldwide and won two Grammy awards. It is also notable for being one of the first directed towards CD sales by offering extended versions of some songs and, as a result, Brothers In Arms became the first CD ever to sell over one million copies in that medium.

Early in the 1980s, Dire Straits had a couple of successful albums with 1980’s Making Movies and 1982’s Love Over Gold. The latter of these two featured long and experimental songs with extensive piano and keyboard Alan Clark’s piano and keyboard work and was the first Dire Straits album produced by Knopfler. The group embarked on an extensive world tour before taking a break in late 1983 and early 1984.

Recording for Brothers In Arms took place on the Caribbean island of Montserrat during the Winter of 1984-85. The album was co-produced by Neil Dorfsman, who made good use of the limited space of the small studio. During the sessions, group drummer Terry Williams was replaced by Omar Hakim, who reportedly recorded all of the album’s drum parts in just two days. A second keyboardist, Guy Fletcher, also joined the group for the first time during recording.


Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits
Released: May 13, 1985 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Neil Dorfsman & Mark Knopfler
Recorded: AIR Studios, Montserrat, November 1984–March 1985
Side One Side Two
So Far Away
Money for Nothing
Walk of Life
Your Latest Trick
Why Worry
Ride Across the River
The Man’s Too Strong
One World
Brothers in Arms
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Guy Fletcher – Keyboards, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Omar Hakim – Drums

The opening track, “So Far Away”, was also the album’s lead single, reaching the Top 20 in the UK. The song features a very simple but effective structure, with two complementing guitar patterns and subtle vocals by Knopfler. Lyrically, the track speaks of distance in a relationship, whether it be real or symbolic. The only song to feature a co-writer and co-lead-singer, “Money for Nothing” was co-written by Sting (credited as Gordon Sumner). The song was a pure pop attempt that paid off big time, as this catchy dance track with a crunchy riff became the group’s most successful single. The lyrics were inspired by a conversation Knopfler heard while in an electronics store in New York City, with the words delivered entirely as a third person narrative.

 
“Walk of Life” is the best pure pop song on the album and the high point of danceable pop before the album comes down to a more mellow level. Musically, it is built a classic Hammond organ line by Clark along with a contrasting Western-style guitar by Knopfler. The melodic lead vocals are nicely complemented by interesting backing vocal patterns, which made for another smash hit worldwide and the group’s biggest commercial hit in their native UK. Starting with a signature saxophone by Michael Brecker, “Your Latest Trick” is Adult contemporary at its best, utilizing fine electric piano chords and a steady bass by John Illsley along with jazzy, clicking percussion by Hakim. “Why Worry” may be the finest overall song on this album, as a quiet and reserved ballad with finely picked guitars throughout. It starts with a long, subtle guitar intro and remains mellow throughout, building only slightly during the chorus with a nice, descending keyboard line in between verse sections. Poetic lyrics persist throughout;

Why worry, there should be laughter after the pain, there should be sunshine after rain, these things have always been the same, so why worry now…”

The album’s second side has less pop pursuit with several tracks lyrically focused on militarism. “Ride Across the River” contains a very slight reggae beat and distant horns throughout the long, story-telling song. “The Man’s Too Strong” is an acoustic, outlaw country-style track with interesting hard electric guitar riffs after each chorus, while “One World” is much weaker musically with a totally 80s style of fretless bass, standard funk guitar, simple beats and cheesy keys. The album concludes with the title track, “Brothers in Arms”, which starts with a dramatic key swell before settling in with a slight guitar lead in the vein of Pink Floyd. Later, the track contains calm but effective melodies before the keys and lead guitars carry the mood through most of the second half of the song.

Earlier this year (2015), Brothers In Arms re-entered the UK Album Charts, making it a total of 356 weeks it has spent on those charts. It is one of Earth’s best-selling albums, having sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Another successful world tour followed, including 21 straight nights playing in Sydney, Australia in 1986. However, another long break after the tour led to a temporary breakup of the band, and they would not release another studio album until 1991, six years after Brothers In Arms.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

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Private Dancer by Tina Turner

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Private Dancer by Tina TurnerThe story surrounding Tina Turner and her remarkable comeback with Private Dancer is the stuff of Hollywood movies. In fact, it was a Hollywood movie, and this remarkable vocalist who got her start nearly three decades earlier made the biggest commercial splash of her career in 1984. The fifth overall solo album from Turner since leaving her ex-husband Ike’s band in 1976, this was Turner’s debut for Capitol Records after she had absurdly been left without a recording contract during several previous years. When the album that so many record executives were hesitant to make was finally released to the public, it was a tremendous smash world wide.

Just a few years earlier, no one could have imagined that this longtime star of the soul genre would become the top performer on the pop charts, and do so without compromising her musical repertoire. In the late 1970s, Turner made her living through various television appearances and Las Vegas-style gigs and her initial solo albums reflected this strategy musically. In 1982, Turner met A&R man, John Carter, who promised her a new record deal.

Carter also set about finding the right songs for Turner, which she recorded at several different studios and with several different producers. However, while recording was in process a new regime of executives at Capitol and initially planned to drop Turner. The new label president called Roger Davies and summarily dropped Tina Turner from the roster. Carter fought hard to keep her on and the label was more than rewarded when Private Dancer spawned seven singles.


Private Dancer by Tina Turner
Released: May 29, 1984 (Capital)
Produced by: Terry Britten, John Carter, Leon Chancler, Wilton Felder, Rupert Hine, Joe Sample, Greg Walsh & Martyn Ware
Recorded: England, 1983-1984
Side One Side Two
I Might Have Been Queen
What’s Love Got to Do With It
Show Some Love
I Can’t Stand the Rain
Private Dancer
Let’s Stay Together
Better Be Good to Me
Steel Claw
Help!
1984
Primary Musicians
Tina Turner – Lead Vocals  |  Terry Britten – Guitars, Vocals
Rupert Hine – Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals  |  Jack Bruno – Drums

Bassist and producer Rupert Hine was enlisted to work on several tracks on Private Dancer, starting with the opener “I Might Have Been Queen”. The song was co-written by Jamie West-Oram, lead guitarist of The Fixx, a band which Hine had recently produced with great success. The song was written specifically for Turner and its lyrics reflect Turner’s belief in reincarnation. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” is the most popularly sustained song from the album, due in part to the later movie of the same name. Turner’s vocal and melodic delivery are masterful in both their ascent and constraint. Written by guitarist Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, the song topped the charts in the Summer of 1984 and marked the undeniable moment of Turner’s comeback success.

“Show Some Respect” is another song written by Britten with a decidedly eighties synth and funk approach. One of the later songs released as a single, this track became a Top 40 hit in 1985. Britten also produced the next track, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, a remake of of the 1974 hit for Ann Peebles. The album’s title song was written by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, who wrote the song for his band’s Love Over Gold album, but ultimately decided he didn’t want to sing a song from a female perspective. Ironically, Knopler is the only member of Dire Straits not to appear on Turner’s version of the song, which also features a guitar solo by the legendary Jeff Beck.

Private Dancer‘s second side begins with a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, which turner released in late 1983, well ahead of the album. While Turner remains faithful to the original, she also adds some unique delivery to this track which topped the Billboard Dance chart. “Better Be Good to Me” is the most pop/rock oriented song on the album, originally intended for Pat Benatar. Produced by Hine and composed by the team of Holly Knight, Mike Chapman, and Nicky Chinn, the song reached #5 on the pop charts.

The album winds down with three lesser known recordings. “Steel Claw” was written by Paul Brady and features a lineup similar to “Private Dancer”, with members of Dire Straits (sans Knopfler) and Beck adding a solo. The Beatles’ “Help!” is delivered in a gospel-tinged by Turner, in a rendition she had been working on since the early eighties. David Bowie’s “1984” concludes the album as an electronic track that pays homage during the actual year it was written about.

Private Dancer reached the Top 10 in over a dozen countries, sold over eight million copies, and won four Grammy’s for Turner. Capitalizing on this immense popularity, Turner went on a World tour through 1985, which included over 170 dates on three continents.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

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