Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits – 1978

Dire Straits Album CoverDire Straits’ Sultans of Swing is one of the 70s most instantly recognisable songs.

who discovered dire straits?  i did, that’s who!

I discovered Dire Straits.  No kiddin’.

So, there I am heading off to the uni gym.  I always have lunch in the uni gym; in a corner of the mezzanine that Wozza and Kevin and Helen and Phyllis and Anthony and Linley and the other Kevin, and a few hangers on, have claimed as our own. We talk about music and sport and, well… anything other than study.  Today, I’m enthused.  I’ve heard a song on the radio that I reckon has ‘hit’ written all over it.

I have it on cassette tape and it’s in my bag primed and ready for the others to hear and rave over.

“Listen to this,” I say.  “These guys are gonna be big.”  And I play Sultans of Swing, the very first single off the very first Dire Straits album – and they don’t like it!  I can’t believe it!  How could you not LOVE it!

vindicated but forgotten

Of course, within a couple of years all my friends are singing the praises of Dire Straits but does anyone who discovered them?  Does anyone ever happen to say, “I remember that glorious day when GK played us Sultans of Swing and we rubbished him!?!?”

No, when it comes to unearthing superstars, I am truly a prophet without honour!

my love affair didn’t last

I might add, I went off Dire Straits as quickly as I fell for them.  While everyone else was buying that red album with the blue sash across the top, I was lamenting the addition of a keyboard player.  A dire step backwards in my opinion.

Having said that, Mark Knopfler remains one of my favourite and most respected musical artists – and it’s not just because he has such a cool surname!

knopfler trivia

A lot of people don’t realise that the Knopfler brothers, Mark and David, are Scottish, born in Glasgow.  Their mother was English and their father a Hungarian Jew who was forced to flee his homeland because of his rather vocal anti-facist sentiments.  In hindsite, having made the move in the early 1940’s, he escaped in the nick of time.

sultans of swing fax.

  • Sultans of Swing was released, in various forms, four times.  First as a demo recording in 1977.  It got played on Radio London and record exec’s came knocking wanting to sign the band.  Phonogram won the race and released Sultans of Swing proper in 1978 on Dire Straits’ first album.  However, the record company wanted a less polished version for radio play and so an alternative version was recorded and released.  It was then released for a fourth time in 1988 as a single from Dire Straits Greatest Hits album.
  • Sultans of Swing was inspired by Mark Knopfler’s visit to a deserted bar South London.  There was a jazz band playing in the corner.  There were more people in the band than there were listening to it (“they don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band.  It ain’t what they call rock ‘n’ roll”).  At the end of the gig the band lead singer said, “Thank you.  We are the Sultans of Swing.”  The song is a tribute to artists like that band, who play for the joy of music not fame.
  • An American named Bill Wilson claimed to have co-wrote the song with Mark Knopfler.  Listen to Bill’s claim and his version here. 
  • It’s said that “Guitar George” and “Harry” who are mentioned in the lyrics of Sultans of Swing are George Young and Harry Vander.  They were guitarists in the Australian band The Easybeats who were popular in the UK.  George Young is the older brother of Angus Young, guitarist with AC/DC.
  • The song was originally written and played on an acoustic guitar.  Only later did Mark Knopfler adapt it for his Fender Stratocaster.
  • The guitar solo from the album version of Sultans of Swing reached #22 on Guitar World’s list of the Greatest Guitar Solos of all time and #32 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Greatest Guitar Songs.
  • Sultans of Swing lyrics.

10 Responses to Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits – 1978

  1. wozza says:

    Did we really? I can’t remember the rubbishing part but I DO remember your enthusiasm for the song and band. A belated apology – and you were right! It’s an awesome song. There’s a great live version on a Live at the BBC CD!

    I loved lunchtimes in the rec centre and I loved my time at university (the self-indulgent years are especially sweet) and I loved our group of friends (well maybe with one possible exception – I’m sure you know to whom I refer). They were special, special times. I can remember laughing A LOT during those times.

    Where is everyone now I wonder? I know Kevy is your semi regular lunch date but I’d love to get in touch with Lou and Phyllis. Any ideas?

  2. Greg.K. says:

    I wouldn’t have a clue – I know Phyllis taught at Epsom Girls for a while. And I met the other Kevin at the rugby club one night with his kids.
    But apart from that…..

    Apology accepted 🙂

    Like I implied in blog – if I could be any musical artist, or have the abilities of any artist, I might just choose Mark Knopfler.


    • wozza says:

      The red cover one – I remember you loved Les Boys! Actually this is my favourite album of theres. I own two DS albums – the BBC live one – basically their first album done live, and the red one.

      It’s a shame we’ve lost track with those people. You haven’t changed, I haven’t changed. Kev doesn’t appear to have changed. It would be nice to find out if that’s true of the rest. I’ll do some digging – see what I turn up.

      If I could be any musical artist – I might just choose Justin Vernon.

  3. Greg.K. says:

    I haven’t heard much of Bon Iver. I have a friend who raves about them and is forever promising to buy me an album or two…. but they seem a little slow in coming forward!

    I always pictured you as more of a David Byrne!


  4. wozza says:

    Bon Iver is Justin Vernon. Justin Vernon is Bon Iver.

    Please go out RIGHT NOW and buy his first album (For Emma). It is the best thing I’ve heard in years!! Jacky and I never (ever) agree on a piece of music but we both listen to this non stop. Jade is also a fan. Can’t wait to get his second album (Bon Iver) which is yet to be released here. Watch Flume on you tube and you’ll be hooked.

  5. Greg.K. says:

    Yes, I realise the identities of these two – JV and BI – that’s why I mentioned Bon Iver.
    I won’t go out right now because it’s 9:37pm on Sunday. 🙂 But ASAP, I will do it!!

  6. wozza says:

    So – it’s fantastic right?

    Sad to note that the Big Man has gone to play Jungleland in rock n roll heaven. I can’t believe he was 69!!

  7. Greg.K. says:

    The Big Man… can’t believe it. Sam and I are HUGE Springsteen fans and have been talking about Clarence for the last few days.

    Watch out for this Thursday’s blog. A tribute song for Clarence. A song I first heard at your place in Glenveagh Drive….

  8. Nigel says:

    I think you’ll find that Mark regards himself as English, not Scottish.

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