:: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 ::

Most underrated guitarists ever: number 6

When most people of a certain age (read: my age) think of Dire Straits, one song immediately pops into their head. "The Sultans of Swing" came out of nowhere in 1978 to become an unlikely radio hit from an unknown band from the UK. Lead guitarist Mark Knopfler's catchy, reverby hooks and his Dylanesque vocals draws me in to this song about an old-school, honky-tonk rock'n'roll band performing obscure Friday night gigs "way on down south London town." With his brother David keeping a steady pace on rhythm guitar -- "he's strictly rhythm/he doesn't want to make it cry or sing" -- Mark Knopfler intermittently performs one of the sweetest, most melodic guitar solos in the history of 70s rock. Heck, in the history of rock'n'roll, period.

Mark Knopfler's guitar gives Dire Straits its kick. It's subtle, the way he picks his instrument -- understated, even romantic. He can lull you to sleep with it, or kick your butt all over the stage.

That Dire Straits rose from obscurity at the time it did, playing bare-bones rock the way it did, is something of a feat. Consider 1977 in the UK. You had the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Clash and the Damned all proclaiming the death of rock-as-we-know-it. The punk mantra of "No Future" should have sounded the death knell for rockers like the Knopflers and their band of Scots. But "Sultans of Swing" was catchy enough to gain radio play and make the band famous.

Dire Straits went on to have great success in their career, but in my opinion, nothing they did ever touched the greatness of their first album. Making Movies was close, but Dire Straits remains unparalleled from my perspective. Along with "Sultans of Swing," recommended listening from that album: "Down to the Waterline" (wish I could find the mp3) and "Setting Me Up" (see below).

Dire Straits - "Sultans of Swing" (mp3)

Mark Knopfler - "Setting Me Up" (live) (mp3)

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:: Andrew 10:09 + ::

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