Calling Elvis: On Dire Straits' Final Album

Mark Knopfler in 1991
Photo Credit
Mick Hutson/Redferns

On Sept. 9, 1991, Dire Straits did something that fans and critics alike had been waiting for them to do for half a dozen years: they released a follow up to the multi-platinum smash Brothers in Arms.

Recorded at London’s AIR Studios and produced by frontman Mark Knopfler with assistance from the rest of the band, On Every Street was one of those albums that was always destined to be at least a little bit of a disappointment, if only because of the absolutely insane success of the LP which had preceded it. Consider these numbers: Brothers in Arms spent nine weeks at No. 1 in the U.S., 14 weeks at No. 1 in the U.K., and forever holds the honor of being the first album to ever be certified 10x platinum in the U.K. (Knopfler was certainly aware of the band's blockbuster status when he decided to temporarily end it in 1988, telling 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." The band would perform together only once in the interim, at 1990's Knebworth Festival.)

Suffice it to say that the odds of On Every Street doing better numbers – particularly after the passage of six years – were relatively negligible. Fortunately, everyone from the band on down knew this was going to be the case, but that didn’t mean that folks weren’t interested in seeing what Knopfler and his crew had put together.

When Rolling Stone reviewed the album upon its release, they described On Every Street as “an album that falls somewhere between a radical reinvention of Dire Straits and the next step on a continuum from the mega-platinum Brothers in Arms,” which is an oblique statement, to be sure, but it’s not an entirely inaccurate assessment. There are moments which feel like a continuation of that which came before, but then you’ve got “Calling Elvis,” the album’s first single, which definitely doesn’t.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the video for “Calling Elvis” was unabashedly designed to make U.K. viewers giddy, answering a question posed by precious few Americans: “What if the members of Dire Straits were transformed into characters on Thunderbirds?”

Beyond “Calling Elvis,” the album’s highest-charting U.K. single at No. 21, On Every Street also spawned three lesser hits across the pond: “Heavy Fuel” (No. 55), “On Every Street” (No. 42), and “The Bug” (No. 67). While precisely none of the singles even so much as cracked the Billboard Hot 100, three of them were Top 10 hits on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart – “The Bug” landed at No. 8, “Calling Elvis” made it to No. 3, and “Heavy Fuel” went all the way to No. 1 – and it may surprise you to discover that both “Calling Elvis” and “Heavy Fuel” made it into Alternative Top 30. Now, if that doesn’t tell you that Dire Straits’ sound had changed somewhat from the Brothers in Arms days, we don’t know what does.

All told, On Every Street may have arrived belatedly, but it still ended up sitting solidly in the “win” column: it topped the charts in the U.K., Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Portugal, and several other countries, and while America had to be obstinate – it only made it to No. 12 on the Billboard 200 – let’s just keep things in the proper historical perspective and remember that this achievement occurred as grunge was happening, which is still pretty darned impressive.

Alas, On Every Street would prove to be Dire Straits’ swan song – they toured behind the LP and formally disbanded a few years later – but you can’t say they didn’t go out with a success.

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