No. 39: Dire Straits, ‘Sultans Of Swing’– Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
‘Sultans Of Swing’ was Dire Straits’ debut single. Let that sink in -- the fully-formed, blues-drenched tune was the first song many heard from the British act.
However, its appeal was evident long before it hit No. 4 on the Billboard singles chart in 1979, or our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list: A 1977 demo version of the song reportedly earned the band a record deal.
Vocalist Mark Knopfler’s speak-sing delivery, a laissez-faire drawl reminiscent of Tom Petty and Lou Reed, contributes little in the way of emotion. Instead, snaky guitars -- including a twang-dusted bridge that underscores Knopfler’s fluid, effortless playing -- tell the tune’s story: a love letter to a bar band called the Sultans of Swing, who live and die for the Friday night gigs where they can forget day jobs and immerse themselves in their tunes.
More specifically, the literal approach to the lyrics is subtle and clever. After Knopfler sings, “Check out Guitar George, he knows all the chords,” he strikes a few deliberate changes; after the next line, “Mind he’s strictly rhythm, he doesn’t want to make it cry or sing,” he plays a bluesy riff that’s, well, very rhythmic.
It’s brilliant: Dire Straits may not be the Sultans, but they understand the mindset of journeymen who play strictly for the love of music -- and so they can be the mouthpiece for all of those who are “saving it up for Friday night.”
Watch Dire Straits Perform 'Sultans Of Swing'