Viikon biisi (6/2018): Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing (1978)

Dire Straitsin, bändin nimeä kantanut, debyyttilevy julkaistiin 40 vuotta sitten. Sultans of Swing sementoi välittömästi asemansa kitararock-musiikin aatelistossa. Mark Knopflerin säveltämä ja sanoittama laulu sai alkunsa, kun Knopfler oli todistamassa pienen jazz-yhtyeen konserttia. Vaatimattomasta yleisömäärästä ja meiningistä huolimatta bändi oli esitellyt itsensä ”swingin sulttaaneiksi”. Knopfler viehtyi kontrastista keikkakokemuksen ja bändin esittelyn välillä.

Dire Straitsista kehittyi myöhemmin 1980- ja 90-luvuilla soundipolitiikan kärkinimiä kansainvälisessä rock-musiikissa. Vuonna 1978 yhtye kuitenkin soitti vielä vaatimattomammalla laitteistolla ja äänitti pienemmissä studioissa. ”Sultans of Swingin” levylle saakka päätynyt versio taltioitiin Lontoon Basing Street-studiolla helmikuussa 1978. Sittemmin biisi kuultiin toki jokaisella bändin (ja sittemmin myös herra Knopflerin soolo-) keikoista ja jyhkeämmin soundein, mutta tärkeä osa alkuperäisen ”Sultansin” viehätystä on sen kuiva soundi. Se nimittäin soi kuten tarinansa pääosassa oleva bändikin: köyhästi, mutta taitavasti.

”Sultans of Swingin” sovitus on kuin ajankuva tuon hetkisestä Dire Straitsista keikalla: Knopflerin veljeksistä Mark laulussa ja kitarassa sekä veli David toisessa kitarassa, John Illsley tunnistettavasti bassossa sekä Pick Withers rummuissa. Withersin rumputyö tuo soitantoon sopivan ripauksen tekstin kontekstiin kuuluvaa jatsia. Davidin tarkka kitara- ja Illsleyn vastaava bassotyöskentely tarjoavat pohjan, josta ponnistaa tietenkin Markin ikonimainen johtava kitarointi.

Mark on todennut jälkikäteen haastatteluissa että monet ”Sultansin” kitarakuvioista ovat äänitystilanteessa improvisoituja. Sittemmin niistä on tullut kiinteä osa sävellystä ja tapaa, jolla kappale ”kuuluu” esittää. Keikkaversioissa, erityisesti Dire Straitsin loppuaikoina, sovitus kuitenkin venyi reilusti toiselle kymmenelle minuutille ja tarjoili pitkän loppusoiton jossa yhtye pääsi irroittelemaan isommin. Tuolloinkin kuitenkin esimerkiksi alkusoitto ja levyversiossa kuultavat kitarasoolopätkät olivat vahvasti mukana.

Tätä kappaletta pohtiessa etualalla on usein instrumentaatio sanoituksen jäädessä kauemmas valokeilasta. Ilman tekstin kohtauksia kuitenkaan ei itselleni soittokaan olisi niin jäsenneltyä. Heti ensimmäiset rivit asettavat kuulijan sateisille, iltaan kääntyville englantilaisille kaduille. Myöhemmin kun mainitaan tarkistamaan ”guitar George” esittelemässä sointuja, niin ne todella kuullaan. Kuten sanottua, niin biisi soi kuten tarinansakin.

SULTANS OF SWING

You get a shiver in the dark
It’s raining in the park but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie double four time
You feel alright when yoy hear that music ring

Well, now you step inside but you don’t see tuo many faces
Coming in and out of the rain you hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places
Oh, but the horns, they’re blowing that sound
Way on down south, way on down south London town

You check out guitar, George
He knows all the chords
Mind it’s strictly rhythm
He doesn’t wanna make it cry or sing
Left-handed old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

And Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene
He’s got a daytime job, he’s doing alright
He can play the honky tonk like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans
With the Sultans of Swing

And a crowd of young boys, they’re fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don’t give a damn about any trumpet-playing band
It ain’t what they call ”Rock ’n’ Roll”
And the Sultans
Yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole, Creole

And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
”Goodnight, now it’s time to go home.”
Then he makes it fast with one more thing
”We are the Sultans
We are the Sultans of Swing”

Atso’s Time Machine: Year 1980 & Dire Straits – Making Movies

In a certain way the evolution of the band during its first years culminated on this record: with the following ones they moved on to softer expression while this one still has some edge.

Making Movies, the third studio album by Dire Straits, was released on 17 October 1980. In a certain way the evolution of the band during its first years culminated on this record: with the following ones they moved on to softer expression while this one still has some edge.

The album starts with Tunnel of Love. This one is a song to be listened via LP: the fade in and the intro played with organ and piano (it’s borrowed from Carousel Waltz, actually) is great. By the way, sitting behind the keyboards on this album is one Roy Bittan, who is described in the inner sleeve of the record as “Courtesy of the E Street Band”. So he’s main activity has been playing in Bruce Springsteen’s trusty band since 1975.

When the band rushes in and the lead guitar takes its place, the band playing is instantly recognisable.  Knopfler’s guitar sound and vocal performance are inimitable. The story of the song is easy: a boy meets a girl and the adventure begins: the arrow of love pierces through boys heart and soul.

The chorus is light and catchy. The sounds and imagery come from their time during the late 70s and early 80s, especially the reference of the “neon light burning”.

With the next verse comes some uncertainty. The girl wants to keep the boy as a stranger and not know too much about him. The chorus following verse is the same as first time: “Tunnel of love” is of course a metaphor. “Spanish City” is in real life a place in Newcastle, England.

When the girl leaves the boy in the end of the verse, Knopfler’s lines get heart-rending:  “And watched her walk away / I could have caught up with her easy enough / but something must have made me stay”.

After the chorus comes a solo during which the rhythm of the song is molded a bit before returning to the basic groove. Knopfler’s guitar sings the same song all the time, at times it almost feels as the guitar is in main role and the vocals are irrelevant. In the last quiet section (“And girl it looked so pretty to me…”) Mark’s singing is perfectly unperfect, small and almost whispering. With the guitar leading the song gets out of this quiet section one more time.

The guitar melodies during the outro are beautiful and Knopfler plays at his most soulful. His guitar sound is so bare it wouldn’t forgive any mistakes. The band plays as a piece. As the outro reaches its finale both Bittan’s piano and Knopfler’s guitar rise to higher, specifically selected notes.

I listened to Tunnel of Love via Youtube a while ago. There was a great comment for this one: “I wish this song would never end…”. The effect of fade out is at its best on this song: the listener would want to drag the song out of the “well of heard songs” to play once more.

The record continues with Romeo and Juliet. For me this is the number 1 love song by Dire Straits. It starts with an acoustic guitar arpeggio, played by Knopfler with his legendary resonator guitar. The bass is playing a few selected notes while Knopfler sings in his trademark tone, almost speaking at times. The text is a classic one about Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet / the dice was loaded from the start / and I bet / and you exploded in to my heart

The last line of the chorus is especially a classical one: “When you’re gonna realise / it was just that time was wrong”.

The lovers are, like in the original story, from different backgrounds. Their dreams are the same however, and for a while they were shared. Now all there’s nothing left and the narrator is only one of Julia’s “previous cases”. Knopfler sings from the point of view of the one to have been left: saying you can fall for everyone for a moment. Although they had promised everything, all there’s left now are memories. The band accompanies with single, powerful strokes. The line “I used to have a scene with him” is even sang in contemptous tone.

The second chorus is a bit different than the first one. Now the narrator remembers when they pretended to be in love and promised it would last forever. The time was just wrong, however…

The third verse is a silent one, Knopfler singing even more whispering. The boy can’t talk like on the TV and he can’t write a love song like the way it’s meant to be but he would do anything for his Julia. During the last half of the chorus the band plays minimally. All the narrator has are his thoughts and memories of Julia and their moments together. The ending of this verse of verse is beautiful: love remains through the rhymes along with a spark of hope.

The song ends with the chorus heard after the previous verse. There’s a last half of verse however: there’s always Romeo and Juliet somewhere, the boy asking “you and me babe, how about it?”.

Skateaway is the last song on the LP-versions A-side. This one has a fade in like in “Tunnel of Love”, this time led by tambourine and drums. The chord progression sounds familiar. The song is about a girl who skates around with headphones on, listening to rock ‘n’ roll: rock music offers her a chance of escaping this cruel world.

“She gets rock’n’roll in a rock’n’roll station / and a rock n roll dream-
She’s making movies on location / she don’t know what it means
But the music make her wanna be the story
And the story was whatever was the song what it was
Rollergirl don’t worry
D.J. play the movies all night long”

There’s the album title as well! If this song had to be packed in some way, I’d do it with the lines “But the music make her wanna be the story / And the story was whatever was the song what it was”. The song goes on with the melody and the band in the front, not like its predecessors with Knopfer’s guitar. The chorus is traditional sounding Dire Straits. Bittan’s piano can be heard nicely as well.

Come sippin’ and a slidin’ / life’s a rollerball

Slippin’ and slidin’ / skateaway, that’s all

That’s what it is. This song has a long outro, as like the its story goes on and the song keeps on playing in the girl’s headphones…

The B-side of the LP starts with Expresso Love. Knopfler counts the song in and joins in with his guitar. Also in comes Bittan’s dramatic sounding piano.

The first time I heard this one has been stuck in my memories. It was the beginning of October in 2008, Lieksa’s landmark Kaarisilta (=”arc bridge”), MP3-player and cycling home from school. I think it was a thursday afternoon, and a beautiful one.

This one is a love song as well, telling the story of a girl who has charmed a boy. Just before the band kicks in there’s a reference to “honeysuckle mask”, which is a kind of facial mask treatment. The girl must be using it, because she smells like a rose and tastes like a peach. The boy would do anything for her… According to him “she was made in heaven and heaven’s in the world”.

The boy asks himself if it’s just “Expresso Love”, meaning it only lasts a moment and then goes away.

The line in the second verse “hey mister, you wanna take a walk in the wild west end sometime?” is a reference to the band’s debut album and a song in it called Wild West End. The narrator gets trouble with his breathing, when the girl says that boys don’t know anything. This one does know what he wants: he wants please his girl. He also wants “everything”.

After the chorus we get to the C-section: albeit being Expresso Love, but it feels good because it feels right, Knopfler singing “I was made to be with my girl like a saxophone was made to blow in the night”. The following solo is however played with a guitar, not a saxophone. There’s some smart harmonic riffs in the end of the solo to be heard.

During the last quiet verse the couple is close to each other although this is not directly called, the girl is doing her magic. Then they surrender: it might be just “Expresso Love”, but it feels good.

This one rocks in a different way than the other songs on the album, kind of bolder. The feel of the drama is different.

The memory of the first listen of this next one is also vividly in mind: it occured in the second year of high school during the day’s opening via central radio. A song was played there that sounded unerringly like Dire Straits but I didn’t recognise it. The sound of it told me it must had to be from the record Making Movies. Later that day I had to call and ask  the girl who had played the song what it was: the call was made from swimming baths’ cafe!

The song was called Hand in Hand. It starts with a beautiful intro decorated by an acoustic guitar and the piano. “The sky is crying, the streets are full of tears”. The narrator know how read between the lines during the hard times. The metaphor of the detergent effect of rain is a classic.

The chorus is straight: although I might have treated you bad, I never never wanted no one else. I wish we could go on hand in hand like lovers are supposed to. The band plays assertively and the melody has familiar tones. Knopfler’s singing has more edge and some kind of power than the previous ones.

In the second verse the dreaming goes on and the narrator talks about sleeping next to each other and how lovely it would be to ask “baby, what’s wrong?”. The verse condenses in its last line “if my love’s in vain / how come my love is so strong?”.

The following chorus is the same as the first. After that comes the last verse, which once again chimes quietly. The narrator speaks, that even if the main couple goes ahead together or apart they’ll go in the same direction but the girl wouldn’t let him close. It all ends up in a love gone wrong, once again. The boy wonders that although things change, will the girl think about him anymore.

After the last chorus the song gets back to its beginning. The last line gets a new tone althought it was heard previously. “Oh, I can read between the lines” sound almost sarcastic this time.

This song and Romeo & Juliet are almost like cousins, I think. They both got a similar acoustic sound and the stories have got some similarities as well.

The penultimate song on the album is its only basic rock’n’roll song Solid Rock Accompanied by great rock piano it’s a song with lyrics full of metaphors and trademark guitar playing by mr. Knopfler. The castles made of sand go with the tide.

There’s a funny emanation in the chorus. “Solid Rock! I wanna give, I don’t wanna be blocked”. In the second verse the narrator is displeased with possibilities and vanity, it would be more important to focus in the essential. There’s also a question of which is more stupid: to make a silk purse or live in an illusion or confusion. In the C-section he states that a house of card was never made to last in the wind, but two solid rocks can take any kind of weather.

After a punchy guitar solo comes the third verse, which has some great rhyming.

“Because the heart that you break / that’s the one that you rely on
The bed that you make / that’s the one you gotta lie on
When you point your finger ‘cos your plan fell through
you got three more fingers pointing back at you

The song ends with the chorus: it needs nothing more. It’s the shortest song on the album, lasting only 3 minutes and 27 seconds. Nothing superflous!

Les Boys is the last song on the album. There’s not much to say about this one: in my mind it’s just a funny piece of music to end the record. The guitar sound is traditionally clear and piano accompanies it nicely. If there would have been one more great song in this slot the record could have taken the next level…


Lasting 37 minutes, Making Movies is a record full of strong material. It’s also easy to listen to: not full of stuff but all of it (well, excluding the last track) has been produced with a good taste. I’ve got this album as a CD and LP as well, sadly the latter hasn’t aged very well…