Desert Island Discs: “Making Movies” by Dire Straits (1980)

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Dire Straits emerged during the post-punk era of the late ’70s, and while their sound was minimalistic and stripped down, they owed little to punk. If anything, the band was a direct outgrowth of the roots revivalism of pub rock, but where pub rock celebrated good times, Dire Straits were melancholy… The band, along with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Steve Winwood, become one of the leaders of a group of self-consciously mature veteran rock’n’rollers in the late ’80s that designed their music to appeal to aging baby boomers. – Stephen Thomas Erlewine

“Making Movies” is the record on which Mark Knopfler comes out from behind his influences, and Dire Straits come out from behind Mark Knopfler. The combination of the star’s lyrical script, his intense vocal performances, and the band’s cutting-edge rock’n’roll soundtrack is breathtaking — everything the first two albums should have been but weren’t. If “Making Movies”  really were a film, it might win a flock of Academy Awards. – David Fricke

The first five tracks on the disc are arguably the most passionately executed love songs put to vinyl (or whatever) that I can ever remember… If you are in love, this disc will move you to tears. If you are not, it will make you wish you were. – W. Todd Thornton

Dire Straits hasn’t gotten a lot of love over the years, mostly because they were (*shudder*) popular. I know, right?! Haters gonna hate. Damn, they’re in the record-selling business… and they actually sell records. Bastards. Like Yogi Berra said: “Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore; it’s too crowded.”

But I’ve always liked Dire Straits. When their eponymous first album came out I played it till the grooves wore through. “Sultans Of Swing” is one of my top-ten favorite singles, but isn’t even on this disc. Nor are other favorites “Lady Writer,” “Twisting By The Pool,” “So Far Away,” “If I Had You,” “Why Worry,” or “Walk Of Life.” The only DS song I tire of is “Money For Nothing,” a perfectly good song overplayed to death in the early MTV days: mostly because of guest singer Sting’s pandering sig line “I WANT MY MTV.” (Overexposure does not lead to memorability or reflect quality. Some day I’ll write a screed about the music lover’s lament: “I used to like that song, but then they played it over and over.”)

So why aren’t any of my DS favorites on this Desert Island Disc? What “Making Movies” has, quite simply, is a suite of songs that sweeps you up and carries you away. Cinematic like Bruce Springsteen.

Dire Straits reduced from a quartet to a trio during the recording of “Making Movies.” David Knopfler quit the band, and brother Mark re-recorded his almost-completed guitar tracks with uncredited Sid McGinnis (later of Paul Shaffer’s bands on David Letterman’s shows). Legendary producer Jimmy Iovine joined Mark at the helm, and the two of them shine. Iovine brought Roy Bittan from The E Street Band on board, due to his long association with The Boss, and made them an unofficial quartet again. The album would not have been complete without the interplay between Bittan’s keyboard landscapes and Mark’s soaring guitar lines.  As David Fricke wrote, he’s an underscore and a foil.

It’s too bad CDs or mp3 downloads don’t have Side One and Side Two. Because the first three tracks, “Tunnel Of Love,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Skateaway,” form a brilliant first act: the album break is a perfect intermission. The second act features “Espresso Love,” “Hand In Hand,” and “Solid Rock.” Tagged on as an encore is “Les Boys,” which is a weird little detour not unlike “Her Majesty” on “Abbey Road.” Writers like Robert Christgau have accused Mark Knopfler of gay-baiting and homophobia: I don’t get that at all. It’s a skit, and a respectful one.

The highlight of the album, though, is “Romeo and Juliet.” From Fricke again:

(Mark Knopfler) breaks through and makes us care, even cry, for the street kid who’s lost his girl because her dream of success came true and his didn’t (though they shared the same dream)… All he can do is realize that she’s suddenly in another league, that she thinks of him (if at all) as little more than a comic figure from her past… Pleading is useless — tragic, devastating, even funny, yet ultimately useless. We’re moved, but the subject of the song certainly isn’t.

Come up on different streets, they’re both the streets of shame.
Both dirty, both mean, yes, in the dream it was just the same
And I dreamed your dream for you and now your dream is real.
How can you look at me as if I was just another one of your deals?

I can’t do the talk, like the talk on TV
And I can’t do a love song, like the way it’s meant to be.
I can’t do everything, but I’ll do anything for you.
I can’t do anything, except be in love with you.

As Thornton points out: two lovers, vexed by time and circumstance. The dice were loaded from the start. Disposable love, heartbreaking stuff. They don’t make songs, or albums, like this anymore.

7 Comments on “Desert Island Discs: “Making Movies” by Dire Straits (1980)”

  1. […] “Making Movies” by Dire Straits (1980) 8/6/13: “Other Voices, Other Rooms” by Nanci Griffith (1993) 7/10/13: “When The […]

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I tend to write off the band because Brothers In Arms was one of the play-it-to-death albums in my college dorm years. They really did have a number of great songs (especially “Sultans of Swing” and “Lady Writer”) and this disc is charming throughout. I’ve always been partial to “Skateaway” — guess I need to dust it off and enjoy on a quiet Sunday morning.

  3. AnnMcK says:

    I love this record. My first college roommate played it all the time. It was one of the only things I liked about her! (She didn’t like ANYTHING at all about me.)

  4. […] referenced Dire Straits in “Desert Island Discs” before, but this is by far my favorite song of theirs. They arrived complete with this one. A nice […]

  5. […] sounded too much like what he imagined creating. Not surprising: legendary producer Jimmy Iovine helmed “Born To Run,” “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” and the reconfigured […]

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