Dire Straits Money for Nothing

Dire Straits Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

One glance at Mark Knopfler’s bandana will tell you that Dire Straits have never been a fashionable band. Emerging in 1978, at the height of punk, their literate bar-band rock appealed to conservative listeners not enamoured by the upstart sounds of The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Despite their lack of critical cachet, Dire Straits are accomplished album artists – almost all of their albums have their own identity, from the stripped-down four-piece sound of their debut to the hi-fi blockbuster Brothers in Arms. I’ve only ranked their studio albums, but fans often vouch for the 1984 live album Alchemy.

Mark Knopfler grew up in Newcastle and formed Dire Straits in London in 1977. The original lineup also featured Pick Withers on drums, Mark’s brother David on rhythm guitar, and John Illsley on bass, the band’s only other constant member. The lineup grew over time, and the addition of keyboards from 1980’s Making Movies helped to flesh out Knopfler’s slow-paced songs. Knopfler was always the focal point, with his distinctive finger-picked lead guitar and his songs tinged with folk, blues and country.

After Knopfler wound down Dire Straits in 1995, he continued making music but he’s often gravitated to low-key work like instrumental soundtracks. It seems evident that Knopfler loves making music, but didn’t appreciate the pressure of fronting one of the world’s most popular bands.

Dire Straits Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

#6 On Every Street

In 1985 Dire Straits were huge. By 1991, reformed after a hiatus, they were less relevant. With a core band of Knopfler, Illsley, and keyboardists Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher, they’re reliant on outside musicians; On Every Street could have been branded as a Knopfler solo album. It suffers from 1990s CD bloat, running for an hour. On Every Street has its moments – the riff of ‘Heavy Fuel’ recalls ‘Money for Nothing’ and the title track is pretty.

#5 Communique

Shortly after their debut was released, Dire Straits were back in the studio recording a follow-up. The songs are mainly worthy, but it’s so close in tone to its predecessor that it feels like a facsimile; I enjoy ‘Lady Writer’, but it’s very reminiscent of ‘Sultans of Swing’. The bluesy ‘Where Do You Think You’re Going’ and the folkish ‘Portobello Belle’ break some new ground for the group.

#4 Dire Straits

It’s a little churlish placing the group’s successful debut in the bottom half of the list. The four-piece format is limiting despite Mark Knopfler’s prowess as a writer and guitarist – the group’s slow tempos and literate songs sound better with more detailed arrangments. The lack of diversity dulls the impact of well-written songs like ‘Six Blade Knife’ and ‘Southbound Again’. The breakthrough hit ‘Sultans of Swing’ still sounds great, despite the efforts of buskers and amateur bands, with its smooth riff and solos.

#3 Brothers in Arms

Dire Straits’ fifth album was an unexpected blockbuster in the early CD era – it was the first album to sell one million copies in the new format. Brothers in Arms is their first album without founding drummer Pick Withers; without him, they sound more like a studio project than a band. There are terrific tracks like the riff rocker ‘Money for Nothing’ and the elegiac title track with Knopfler’s emotive guitar solo. There’s also a rough stretch on the first side with the played-out ‘Walk of Life’ and the cheesy lounge of ‘Your Latest Trick’.

#2 Making Movies

Knopfler kicked his brother, rhythm guitarist David Knopfler, out of the band while recording their third album. Guest keyboardist, Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band, fills out their sound with his piano. As the title suggests, the record is full of cinematic songs that recall Springsteen’s romantic 1970s epics. Lengthy workouts like ‘Tunnel of Love’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are among the band’s most beloved tracks. Points are deducted for the closer ‘Les Boys’, a misguided homophobic shuffle.

#1 Love Over Gold

Dire Straits peaked with their fourth album, consisting of five lengthy songs. The key track is ‘Telegraph Road’, a fourteen-minute historical epic with plenty of space for Knopfler’s guitar solos, but there are treasures everywhere. The film noir atmosphere of ‘Private Investigations’, with its spasms of guitar noise, and the dark humour of ‘Industrial Disease’ are also excellent. My favourite Dire Straits song, though, is the pretty title track.

Do you have a favourite Dire Straits album? Or song?

What Is Your Favourite Album by Dire Straits?

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  1. I would rate the debut higher. Communique was a little disappointing. My favorite song of theirs- “Romeo And Juliet” in my Top 100 songs ever list.

    • I looked at Rate Your Music communal ratings, and their only difference was that Dire Straits was two places higher (and my #2 and #3 slid down a spot).

  2. I think you nicely captured it, Graham. Ranking albums is tough, in my opinion, and always subjective at the end of the day. If I had to do it, my order for numbers 1, 2 and 3 would be “Dire Straits”, “Making Movies” and “Brothers in Arms.”
    On “On Every Street,” which I generally agree is Dire Straits’ worst album, relatively speaking, the tune I dig the most is a track I initially felt lukewarm about: “Calling Elvis.” I just think it’s got a cool sound, and working in the titles of various famous Elvis songs in the lyrics is a fun idea.
    Another artist who is on my mind due to his upcoming 80th birthday tomorrow did the same thing for the title track of his 2015 studio album “Postcards From Paradise,” except he used titles of Beatles songs: Ringo Starr. He even co-wrote tune, together with Todd Rundgren.

    • We had a Beatles pastiche song named “Saint Paul” make it big in New Zealand – it helped spark the Paul is dead rumour.
      I often don’t like debut albums as much as everyone else – I often prefer bands when they expand in the studio a bit.

  3. When I first heard the song, “Sultans of Swing,” it blew my mind. However, I was very disappointed when I saw them live in 1985 that they didn’t play “Skateaway” nor “Industrial Disease.”

  4. For the casual listeners like me, Brothers In Arms is “The album” catapulted by the huge single Money For Nothing. A very good band contemporary to post punk and new wave but with a different style. It could be my second favorite period in rock music history (1978 – 1984) only surpassed by the classic years 1966 – 1972.

  5. Making Movies would be my 1 with the debut second…followed by Love over Gold and then Brothers in Arms. The only album I didn’t have was On Every Street…it sounds as if I don’t want it.
    1990s CD bloat…great term.
    This list is good though. Sometimes with them, it depends on the mood.

    • On Every Street isn’t that bad – just a bit long, and after their peak, but it could have been a lot worse. I think most 1990s albums are too long.

  6. #4 & #3 are on the 1001 list – encouraging that there are a couple more that might be even stronger.
    And I’ll never forget the fill-in-the-blanks Sultans of Swing lyric quiz that you hosted, a song I thought I knew reasonably well. To my credit, I earned double digits. Though it was a paltry 11/70!

  7. The first album remains the classic for me. In 1977 I had heard about the band from a friend who was living in North London and had seen them at the Hope and Anchor. The next year I was in London with my own band, dreaming of success. The Dire Straits album came out and our bass player and I bought it, took it back to our hovel in Streatham and put it on. By the end of side one we were both depressed. How could we ever hope to make it when there was a band like this – and particularly a guitarist like Mark Knopfler – showing what musicians should really be able to do?
    Listening to it now, I agree that the instrumentation is a little restrictive and there was no real attempt to influence the sound through production, but at the most basic level – here’s two guitars, a bass and a drum kit, now show me something – it’s incredible.

  8. On all of their albums there are such great songs that you wish the whole album could be that good. On each of their albums there are at least two super-great ones and sometimes three. I would probably say that Making Movies has the highest percentage of good stuff on it. Also, I rather like Walk of Life. And Les Boys, even though I’m gay. You’re right it’s a dumb song, but it’s a good record at the same time. I don’t let dumb lyrics get in my way of rnjoying something that’s good.

    • I had the Money for Nothing 1988 compilation for ages before I heard the individual albums. It did a pretty good job of highlighting the best stuff from the first five albums, including live versions of Portobello Belle and Telegraph Road.

  9. Unlike most people I know I’m actually a huge fan of compilations. I don’t know why people look down on them as being inferior to albums. I started collecting them like crazy years ago and anytime I see one at a decent price I buy it. It’s become like a special interest of mine. I compare them and rate them the same way that people rate regular albums. It’s just as hard to make a good compilation as it is to make a original album. And there are some artists who you can only get the full effect of their music by listening to a compilation. Money for Nothing is actually a pretty good comp. Their later best -ofs had too much on them, which is usually what happens over time. They get diluted by including too many weak tracks.

    • Money for Nothing is good – looks like someone just tried to choose their twelve best songs. It’s cool how there are a couple of live versions (Portobello Belle, Telegraph Road) on it.

      • Yeah, but it could have been a 5 star compilation if it included Lady Writer, So Far Away, Industrial Disease, Solid Rock and Skateaway. All of which were actual singles. Even the later compilations Sultans of Swing and Private Investigations didn’t get it right when they had a chance to. You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to make a great compilation. But for some reason it just isn’t.

        • I think it does a pretty good job of hitting most of the highlights – it maybe could have squeezed a couple of extra songs on. I have heard ‘Lady Writer’, ‘So Far Away’, and ‘Industrial Disease’ on the radio, unlike some of the songs here, though.

  10. I fully applaud your efforts here. I have no issues with the ordering you choose, or your reasonings. For me, they are all interchangeable. I love them all unconditionally. Yes, I am biased and blind, I know, but when Mark Knopfler picks up a guitar I’d follow him anywhere. Well done!

      • Oh yes. I have several here: golden heart, kill to get crimson, local hero, music by mark knopfler from the film cal, privateering 2cd, sailing to philadelphia, tracker, neck and neck (with chet atkins), all the roadrunning (with emmylou harris). I even have a David Knopfler album here (ship of dreams). Yeah, I’m a bit of a fan. Enjoy!

  11. I won’t argue the order/ranking – it’s all subjective I suppose. For me, the album “Making Movies” is track for track, their best. I do however like all of their albums and happen to think they have some great, great songs in their catalogue. I am apparently in the minority with re: to “Communiqué” as I have become more fond of it over the years. Some personal favorite songs include, “Romeo and Juliet” , “Ride Across the River”, “News” , “Wild West End”. Least favorite, “Money for Nothing”. Overall, great band, happy to still have them on vinyl.

  12. Love over gold is to me an absolute masterpiece for the extraordinary title song, for Telegraph road and Private investigations ! All of these fabulous songs have been improved in their live versions on Alchemy and especially Love over gold coupled with Romeo and Juliet !!! Just amazing

    • I should go back and hear Alchemy sometime. I love the live version of Portobello Belle that’s on the Money for Nothing compilation – it’s a huge improvement on the studio version IMO.

  13. A really good list.

    I as well think that Love Over Gold is their best. Private Investigations bores me a bit, whereas Telegraph Road enchants me and happily carries me for twelve minutes. Industrial Disease has lyrics second only to Romeo and Juliet.

    Dire Straits are much like The Police. Unique sounds and a handful of brilliant albums before calling it quits. Not fade away.

  14. A futile exercise. All six are great. Clear the room, turn up the stereo and give “You And Your Friend” from “On Every Street” another listen. Mark’s electric/electric acoustic double solo is sublime.

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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