This post originally appeared on A Sound Day by Dave as part of the most recent round of his great recurring feature Turntable Talk, for which he invites fellow blogger to provide their thoughts on a topic he suggests. In Dave’s words: This month, our topic is First Time’s The Charm. We’ve asked our guests to pick a debut record by an artist that really impressed them…and maybe let us know if they feel the artist kept up the quality and momentum with subsequent works.
Following is my submission, which I reformatted to fit the template of my blog. I also added the Spotify link to the album at the end.
Thanks, Dave, for fearlessly continuing your fun series Turntable Talk and, of course, for inviting me back to share some additional thoughts.
When I saw the topic for this round, I immediately had an idea which debut album that really impressed me I would cover. Then, as oftentimes happens once I start reflecting on stuff, I had second thoughts, so I decided to get inspired by Mr. Google.
One of the first hits I got was Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time, published on July 1, 2022. While the list includes fine debuts, such as The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963), The Doors’ The Doors (1967), Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced? (1967), Lynyrd Skynyrd’s (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (1973) and Pretenders’ Pretenders (1979), it excludes gems like Jackson Browne’s Jackson Browne (1972), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976) and Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp! (1979).
Of course, no list can be perfect. When I realized Rolling Stone also didn’t feature the album that had come to my mind first I thought, ‘screw it, I go with my initial pick’ – The eponymous debut album by Dire Straits, released in June 1978!
When I first heard Sultans of Swing as a teenager in the late ‘70s, I was immediately hooked on the British group and Mark Knopfler’s cool sound he got out of his Fender Stratocaster. Since German radio would always fade out the song, which drove me nuts, I needed to own that tune myself. So I bought the vinyl album that includes Sultans of Swing, not realizing I could have gotten the single instead. I’m glad I did what I did since I would have missed out on great music otherwise, at least at the time!
Sultans of Swing, the album’s best-known tune, is the first song on the B-side. The single was first released in the UK in May 1978. In the U.S., it came out in January 1979. It climbed all the way up to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 8 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart. But there’s definitely more to the album than Sultans of Swing.
Let’s start with side A and the great opener Down to the Waterline. Like Sultans of Swing and all other tracks on the album, it was penned by Mark Knopfler. Mark’s brother David Knopfler, the band’s first rhythm guitarist, has said the song was based on Mark’s teenage memories walking along a river at night under the lights with his girlfriend.
Another tune on side A I’ve always liked is Water of Love, which also became the album’s second single. Knopfler created a cool sound on that song, playing a so-called resonator guitar. Some critics noted the song’s style is reminiscent of J.J. Cale’s blues approach. I think that’s fair. I also don’t have a problem at all that Knopfler was inspired by another great guitarist. In fact, I would argue great musicians getting inspiration from other great musicians happens all the time!
Moving on to side B, I’m skipping the above-mentioned Sultans of Swing and go right to Into the Gallery. Sure, you could say Knopfler’s electric guitar sound is more of the same. I just happen to love it, so I don’t mind getting more of it!
Let’s do one more: Wild West End. Songfacts explains the title refers to an area in London (West End) where Knopfler enjoyed walking around, “always with an eye on the ladies”. Apparently, this particular tune recalls “a particularly attractive young woman in Shaftesbury Avenue.” Interestingly, the official video only shows the band performing the song on a stage and doesn’t include any footage of the West End.
To me and I guess to most other Dire Straits fans, most of the band’s appeal came from Mark Knopfler and his melodic and sparing way to play the guitar. An important aspect of his technique is the use of his fingers on the strumming hand instead of a pick, which creates a very transparent and distinct sound. Knopfler was a pretty good writer as well, which would become more obvious on the group’s later works, especially Making Movies, their third studio album released in October 1980.
While it is fair to say that Mark Knopfler was Dire Straits’ dominant force, a band is never just one guy. So this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the other musicians on the album: Mark’s aforementioned brother David Knopfler (rhythm guitar, vocals), John Illsley (bass, vocals) and Pick Withers (drums).
Undoubtedly, Dire Straits are best remembered for their 1985 studio album Brothers in Arms and the mega hit single Money For Nothing. While I won’t deny it’s a good album, I will always prefer their 1978 debut, along with Making Movies. Thanks to fellow blogger Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews, I’ve also gained new appreciation for Love Over Gold, the September 1982 predecessor to Brothers in Arms.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify