DIRE STRAITS, DIRE STRAITS, 1978
Apparently, my pod is fascinated with the 70s this week.
I first heard Dire Straits in 1978, when "Sultans Of Swing" was on the radio for weeks. My mom had a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle that was still going after 200,000+ miles, and we had a 35 minute commute each way to school, so I got to hear a ton of top 40 radio for a few years.
I loved the sound of the band instantly; they seemed mysterious and cool and were a nice change of pace from disco. I forgot about them almost right away, though, and they were off my radar until 1982. That year, as a 7th grader, I had to play varsity lacrosse because the school was too small to have a JV, and as a result I spent a ton of time on busses (and the bench) traveling to games with 11th and 12th graders. I learned a lot, to say the least, including about music. On his senior page in the yearbook that year, my teammate Andy Murchake (you out there, Andy?) quoted most of the lyrics from Dire Straits' third album Making Movies, and being a respectable, worshipping 7th grader, I paid attention, and got the 2 for 1 cassette of the first and third albums. (Am I the only one who remembers those 2 for 1 cassettes? I can't find pictures of them anywhere on the internet.)
"Water Of Love" is one of my favorite Dire Straits songs. It's not a very famous one, but I've always thought you could tell a ton about an album from its second song, and "Water Of Love" is perfectly placed. On a lot of my favorite records, it's the second song that most captures my attention. How about five albums where track two is the best one on the album? Nominations? I'll start--
"Bargain," Who's Next, The Who
"Manic Depression," Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?
"Paranoid Android," OK Computer, Radiohead
"Alex Chilton," Pleased To Meet Me, The Replacements
"Animal," Vs., Pearl Jam
"Water Of Love" starts just with claves, and then Pick Withers' restrained but percussive drum pattern. When the band kicks in, it's a completely acoustic groove. In fact, it's the only acoustic song on the album, and the song has half a foot in Fairport Convention-style British folk music and another in JJ Cale-style American blues. Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Mark Knopfler plays dobro throughout, and the appeal of the track stems from the counterpoint between Knopfler's limited but communicative vocal and his tasty responses on the dobro. The track feels totally unassuming and light but still meaningful. Dire Straits are better known for long, orchestrated tracks; "Water Of Love" is the quieter side of the band that has aged much better-- no embarrassing "Money For Nothing" lyrics here. In fact, this song has one of my favorite couplets about being single: "Once there was a river, now there's a stone / You know it's evil when you're living alone." It also has terrific background vocals, the best the band ever recorded, I think.
When Alchemy came out in 1984, I became a downright Dire Straits nut for a year; I loved that live album, and can still play pretty much the whole thing from memory. Strangely, Brothers In Arms was the beginning of the end for me. I went to see them that summer (a month after Live Aid), and loved it, and then... that was basically that. I don't think I've listened to the band on purpose more than a dozen times in the last twenty years. Not many bands have fallen off my "go to" playlist more precipitously than Dire Straits. It was nice to hear this one again.