Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

‘Sultans of Swing’ is a song by British rock band Dire Straits, written by lead vocalist Mark Knopfler. The demo of the song was recorded at Pathway Studios, North London, in July 1977 and quickly acquired a following, after it was put in rotation on BBC Radio London. Its popularity soon reached record executives, and Dire Straits were offered a contract with Phonogram Records. The song was then re-recorded in February 1978 at Basing Street Studios for the band's self-titled debut album.

‘Sultans of Swing’ was composed by Mark Knopfler on a National Steel guitar in open tuning. He thought the song was "dull" until he bought his first Stratocaster in 1977: "It just came alive as soon as I played it on that '61 Strat ... the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place." The lyrics were inspired by a performance of a Dixieland jazz band playing in the corner of an almost empty pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced their name, the Sultans of Swing; Knopfler found the contrast between the group's dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing.

Shortly after Dire Straits formed in 1977, they recorded a five-song demo tape at Pathway Studios, including ‘Sultans of Swing’. They took the tape to the influential DJ Charlie Gillett, presenter of Honky Tonk on BBC Radio London, hoping for advice. Gillett liked the music and put ‘Sultans of Swing’ on his rotation. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with Phonogram Records. ‘Sultans of Swing’ was re-recorded in February 1978 at Basing Street Studios for the debut album Dire Straits, produced by Muff Winwood. Knopfler used the guitar technique of finger picking on the recording.

Dire Straits

The song was originally released in May 1978, but it did not chart at the time. Following its re-issue in January 1979, the song entered the American music pop chart. Unusually, the success of this single release came more than six months after the relatively unheralded release of the band's debut album in October 1978. BBC Radio was initially unwilling to play the song due to its high lyrical content but after it became a U.S. hit, their line softened. The song reached the top 10 in both the UK and the U.S., reaching No. 8 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped drive sales of the album, which also became a hit.

‘Sultans of Swing’ was re-issued again as a single in November 1988, a month after it appeared on the band's greatest hits album Money for Nothing, when it peaked at No. 62. It was also included on Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits and The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations.

Record Mirror named ‘Sultans of Swing’ the tenth-best song of 1978. In 1992, Life named it one of the top five songs of 1979. In 1993, Paul Williams included it in his book Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles. The song is on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list, Dire Straits' only appearance. In 2006, Mojo included it in a list of the 50 best British songs. Guitar World ranked its guitar solo at the 22nd greatest, and Rolling Stone named it the 32nd greatest guitar song.

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Label – Vertigo, Warner Bros.
Songwriter – Mark Knopfler
Producer – Muff Winwood


[Verse 1]
You get a shiver in the dark
It's raining in the park, but meantime
South of the river, you stop, and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie, double-four time
You feel alright when you hear the music ring
[Verse 2]
Well, now you step inside
But you don't see too many faces
Coming in out of the rain to hear the Jazz go down
Competition in other places
Ah, but the horns, they blowing that sound
Way on down south
Way on down south, London town
[Verse 3]
Check out guitar George
He knows all the chords
Mind, it's strictly rhythm
He doesn't want to make it cry or sing
Yes and an old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing
[Verse 4]
And Harry doesn't mind if he doesn't make the scene
He's got a daytime job, he's doing alright
He can play the Honky Tonk like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans
With the Sultans of Swing
[Verse 5]
And a crowd of young boys
They're fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies
And their platform soles
They don't give a damn
About any trumpet playing band
It ain't what they call Rock and Roll
And the Sultans
Yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole
[Guitar Solo – 3:20-4:13]
[Verse 6]
And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last, just as the time bell rings
“Goodnight, now it's time to go home”
Then he makes it fast with one more thing
“We are the Sultans—
We are the Sultans of Swing”
[Guitar Solo – 4:46-5:49]
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