Mark Knopfler may have called his most famous band Dire Straits, but there's no denying the richness of their work. Coming out of London in the late '70s - a time when punk rock was taking the nation by storm - their no-frills, guitar-forward blues sound may have seemed sober by comparison, but over the next decade-plus, Knopfler's six-string style and distinctive, seen-it-all vocal style brought the intimacy of a smoky club to arenas around the world.
This Memorial Day weekend, our fine friends at Rhino are offering a special sale on their catalogue: 15% off select items through Monday, as well as free shipping on all orders over $50. Included in that sale is The Studio Albums 1978-1991, an eight-vinyl collection of all of Dire Straits' long-players, newly re-cut for the format and featuring restored artwork and a collectible poster. In that spirit, we present to you a favorite track from each of those albums.
"Sultans of Swing" (from Dire Straits, 1978): Knopfler had this song committed to paper for some time but didn't really get a feel for it until finding the right guitar to try it on. It “just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat," he later told Guitar World. "The new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.” It took six months to chart, but when it did, it did big: a Top 10 hit in their native England and a Top 5 in America.
"Lady Writer" (from Communiqué, 1979): considered a sonic sequel to "Sultans," the riff to "Lady Writer" will get stuck in your head almost as easily. By the way: that writer in question was believed to be Dame Marina Warner, a historian who'd published a book on the Virgin Mary not long before the song came out. "I wish I could claim something of more distinction in terms of popular culture," she later told TIME, "but I don't know that I can."
"Romeo and Juliet" (from Making Movies, 1980): one of Knopfler's best performances, hands down, this wounded ode to a lost love runs the sonic gamut as its electric guitar figure mutates from simple arpeggios to a louder rock arrangement. You'll hang on every note.
"Telegraph Hill" (from Love Over Gold, 1982): inspired by a lengthy stretch of road Dire Straits' tour bus drove across in Detroit, the epic 14-minute opener to the group's fourth album reflects on the rise and fall of the American man ("Then came the churches, then came the schools / Then came the lawyers, then came the rules") wrapped in deft guitar solos and contemplative piano and synthesizer flourishes. Knopfler was as British as they come, but this is a must if you're a Bruce Springsteen fan.
"Walk of Life" (from Brothers in Arms, 1985): an oddity of sorts in the Dire Straits discography - its epic track lengths burnished the popularity of the then-new compact disc, and two worldwide Top 10s helped the album sell millions around the world - Brothers in Arms is perhaps today not defined by lead single and chart-topper "Money for Nothing," featuring a guest vocal by Sting and a computer-animated video that broke ground on MTV. Instead, it might be "Walk of Life," which mixes Knopfler's rock 'n' roll heroes with a chirpy, instantly catchy synthesizer hook.
"On Every Street" (from On Every Street, 1991): after Brothers in Arms went supernova, Knopfler was ready to hang up Dire Straits for good. (His most notable work in the interim was the soundtrack to the hit film The Princess Bride.) He put the band back together for one last go-round, and On Every Street's title track is one of its standouts: a pensive track dominated by subtle riffs and acoustic piano before giving way to a lively outro driven by a hypnotic rhythm and - as ever - Knopfler's scintillating instrument.