The perfect debut album: "Dire Straits"

Posted by Bo Ellegaard on November 23, 2020 0 Comments
In the "perfect debut album"-series the next perfect debut album is the self-titled album by Dire Straits. (UK Vertigo 9102 021, 1978)

Released right in the middle of the first Wave of British punk rock in the first days of June that year "Dire Straits" was not an instant succes at all. It took a warm-up stint for Talking Heads and the re-release of their 7" single "Sultans Of Swing" to enter the British singles charts late 1978. 
In Denmark it only took a viewing of the "Sultans"-video in the late night TV show "Kanal 22" on Danish monopoly network!!
I was interested in all the new music emerging at that time: Ian Dury's "New Boots...", Devo's "Are We Not Men?...", Elvis Costello, Sex Pistols- that sort of thing! 
And then suddenly this rather conservatively sounding laid back rock music very well executed and with good songs too came out... but was this music really a part of the new wave called punk? 
No...but still! 
A past in the British Pub Rock scene (see my blog post on "40 Years Anniversary Of Punk" for more info on the subject pub rock!) had honed their act as well as hardened Dire Straits as musicians.  This together with strong songwriting made them an excellent live act. You immediately got the feeling that they could easily perform the songs from the debut live on stage. 
Listening to the "Dire Straits" debut album then, both JJ Cale and 461 Ocean Boulevard era-Eric Clapton came to mind as Dire Straits drew on other inspirations than for instance Sex Pistols who looked back on Iggy's Stooges, MC 5 or even The Who. 

But with the advantage of a younger band's fresher approach and equally important: a set of good songs- they pulled it off: inspired yet original. And then there was the guitar sound- a clean, yet biting sound of a Fender Stratocaster that had rarely sounded better on record before. Was it plucked with the guitarist's fingers instead of a pick? Yes it must have been...a guitar sound that instantly became Dire Straits' hallmark. The more quiet songs also incorporated the Dobro resonator guitar with its slightly metallic acoustic guitar sound- good for slide too! Mark Knopfler had changed his technique to a country-like fingerstyle playing giving his songs a certain American twist hence the JJ Cale allusion. And then there was his voice. Not at all the World's greatest singer... more with a voice of a storyteller- and now with an album full of good stories to tell. Again as in the case of Television's "Marquee Moon" what you have here is a complete and ready sound of a band recording their first set of very well written songs. Luckily it was produced by a responsive Muff Winwood at the helm of the recording. In a decent British recording studio even if it was done on a budget! A hallmark sound can be a heavy burden and difficult to cope with if a band wants to move on. The next couple of albums were in fact repetitions of the debut album until "Love Over Gold" with its long epic "Telegraph Road" and escpecially (next album) "Brothers In Arms" with Mark Knopfler alternating the Strat and indeed Dobro with the more aggressive guitar sound of a Gibson Les Paul and succeeded: "Money For Nothing" took Dire Straits out of the pubs and straight into all the stadiums of the World. The answer to the question wheather you think this was good or bad lies entirely with you- and Mark and the boys? They smiled all the way to the bank!

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