Sultans Of Swing by Dire Straits: Their Story Behind The Song

Dire Straits was a British rock band that was active from 1977 to 1995. The band was formed by lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Knopfler, and consisted of a rotating lineup of musicians over the years. Dire Straits is best known for their hit songs such as “Sultans of Swing,” “Money for Nothing,” and “Brothers in Arms.” The band’s blend of rock, blues, and folk influences, combined with Mark Knopfler’s distinctive finger-picking style and storytelling lyrics, earned them a loyal following and critical acclaim. Dire Straits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and is considered one of the most successful bands of the 1980s.

Dire Straits took to the stage at Wembley Stadium just after 6pm on July 13, 1985 as part of Live Aid, playing to a global TV audience that reached a mind-frying 1.9 billion. In their slot between U2 and Queen, they started with Money For Nothing (joined by Sting), and then came an epic version of the song that made them superstars: Sultans Of Swing.

“It was a very special feeling to be part of something so unique,” recalls bassist John Illsley. “Live Aid was a unique privilege for all of us. It’s become a fabulous memory.”

Dire Straits’ standing as MTV megalords belied the absurdly humble origins of Sultans Of Swing. Singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler had written it in 1977, after ducking into a deserted pub one rainy night and witnessing a lousy jazz band. Undeterred by the lack of both talent and punters, their lead singer finished the set with a mildly enthusiastic, “Goodnight and thank you. We are the Sultans Of Swing.”Knopfler at least left the pub with the seed of an idea. Returning home to the Deptford council flat he shared with his younger brother David and Illsley, he set about writing a song for the new band they’d just formed.

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