Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Coming In Out of the Rain to Hear the Jazz Go Down

Songs Everyone Should Know

“Sultans of Swing” by Dire Staits (1978)

My parents were out of town and my friend was over. We bought a couple of steaks and were making french fires listening to Dire Straits by Dire Straits. It sort of bounced through the bungalow with open windows on a warm summer evening. We don’t get many in Calgary maybe that’s why this album stuck with me, or maybe it was the smell of french fries; they say smell has the best connection to memory of any of the senses. 

The phone rang and it was this girl I know who wanted us to come over. Her friends had a pickle jar full of god- knows-what and wanted to know if we could pop by. I told her we would be over after we finished listening to the record. When we got there, I remember they were playing K-tel records – the one with Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sherriff” but that is another story...........anyway........

Ya, o.k. so this could be a ‘70’s pick too but it is important culturally. Mark Knopfler was just getting warmed up as an artist at this point and the album Dire Straits is one of those well-crafted ‘flow’ albums – you can listen to the whole album and it makes sense, has some continuity. Sometimes albums having the same name as the artist is a clue that the band is going to put in a good effort on this, their debut album. Like The Doors by The Doors, The Eagles by The Eagles, Bad Company by Bad Company, or The Cars by The Cars. It can be a clue, but like every rule there are exceptions - like Duran Duran by Duran Duran. Do you know any of the songs on that album? (If you guessed “Hungry like the Wolf” you would be wrong!)

The British had long romanticised American blues and roots music. Knopfler was a student of this school also. But remember: this is at the time of the rapid decent of disco. Punk was going full bore in the U.K. - with bands like The Damned opening for The Sex Pistols, only a year or two before. Musically, probably a bit confusing for a guy raised on blues.  So I think he decided to do what sounded good to him.  Maybe this song is autobiographical – or so he may have thought at the time. Was it Knopfler himself who stopped in the rainy street and told his mates to shut up so he could hear what the band was playing in that club over there? Maybe the smell of French fries was in the air. Who knows?

“Sultans” talks about the end of an era and the change in direction that the youth were taking. They were throwing another proverbial “hero up the pop charts” as Paul Simon would say later. The King was now Johnny Rotten. (There seems to be a theme this week)

The band scene was huge in England with live music everywhere. Kids did not want to listen to this kind of music represented by the symbolic “Sultans” who themselves knew that as proficient as they were, they were approaching the end of the road. The Punk and then New Wave bands would blow the rest of the blues cobwebs out of the U.K closet for good.............well maybe.

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