French Kisses In A Darkened Doorway

Sweet surrender on the quayside
You remember we used to run and hide

Okay so I’m cheating again I only bought this LP for the first time a couple of months ago, but in my defence I submit that I’ve heard it approximately 35,902 times in my life* but never got around to getting the vinyl.  I picked the album out of my parents’ collection when they were out one day, I was marginally intrigued by the blurred cover and I always loved that spacey Vertigo logo**.  I slipped the album on and I was gone.  Dire Straits had arrived.

No money in our jackets and our jeans are torn
Your hands are cold but your lips are warm

Dire Straits 01

I was perhaps 11, 12 at most.  I knew my Beatles and  Stones singles, bits of Floyd and Marley along with various bits of pop trash I liked at the time, but this was different.  This was something to be digested as a whole album.  I quickly got obsessed and chased down the other two Dire Straits albums my dad had on tape and, until Live Aid and Queen struck me in 1985 (a couple of years later), they reigned supreme as my favourite band.  Hell, I once spent three days clearing out a massive goat shed to earn the money to buy Brothers In Arms the week it came out – you tell that to kids these days, that’s a proper investment in your music – I stank of sweat and goat shit for days, none of this Spotification Tubes they do nowadays.

Dire Straits 03

The reason it grabbed me so much? none of the usual adolescent reasons, there was just something so romantic, perfect and poised about it and that really appealed.  Take ‘Down To The Waterline’, it’s a tale of quays, cold hands and hot lips, delivered just so after an appropriately misty introduction.  It manages to be hot-blooded and nostalgic all in one, but overall there’s a romance there that appeals to me.  Oh and some wonderfully precise picking, as you’d expect.  Well, that and the fact that I’ve always been a sucker for anyone I can sing along to without straining my own very limited vocal chords.

Near misses on the dogleap stairways
French kisses in the darkened doorways

Dire Straits 04

To listen to Dire Straits is to be struck by the quality of the songs, time and time again.  ‘Water Of Love’, ‘Southbound Again’, ‘Lions’ they’re all great, a neat filtering of English sensibilities through an American lens, or maybe more precisely through a pseudo-American lens created by all those Anglo guitarists who fell in love with the land of plenty back in the 50’s and 60’s^.  Mark Knopfler by force of will and virtuosity later turned Dire Straits into one of those one-man bands like the Cure, or Whitesnake but back in 1978 they were a proper beat combo, putting it out there nothing fancy, they don’t make it cry or sing and that’s fine by me, I’ll take the slow romantic swing of ‘Wild West End’ any time.

Dire Straits 06

Best of all for me is their least typical song here ‘Six Blade Knife’, always loved this one.  There’s a strange air of dark kinky menace hovering hereabouts and that’s not really something you can write about Dire Straits very often^^.  That’s not quite how I thought of it aged 12, but there was something a little, umm, thrilling about this one, even if I couldn’t have accounted for it back then.  I just love the restraint that thrums throughout this track, Knopfler’s vocal is brilliant, he sounds like Dylan doing a DeNiro impression, but in a good way.  I still don’t really have a clue what it’s about, but that’s not the point, it’s a mood piece and the line ‘You take away my mind like you take away the top of a tin’ is hissed to perfection.

Dire Straits 05

It doesn’t need saying what a brilliant guitar player Mark Knopfler is, so I’ll witter on about it for a bit anyway.  The thing I liked best about him on Dire Straits and Communique at least, before the music got more bombastic, was the sparseness of his playing.  We get treated to exactly the right number of notes, just the ones we needed, no more and I really like the space this creates in his songs.  I’m no hotshot guitarist^* but I can imagine it being a more difficult exercise to leave notes out than to cram more in, especially on a debut LP when you want to show everyone what you can do.  We’re back to that word ‘restraint’ again.

Dire Straits 07 (2)
Oh, the glamour!

It also doesn’t need saying how uncool Dire Straits became later on, excellent though some of their music was still.  I blame that bloody headband, personally – that was tragic even by mid-80s standards.  I’ve fought their corner from time to time, despite getting more enamoured with energetic sloppiness than finely crafted precision as the years have rolled on.  It doesn’t matter, Dire Straits was released amidst all the white-hot ferment, filth and the fury of UK punk, it’s always been pretty uncool; timelessly good songs shrug at the very concept of cool, it’s an irrelevance, let posterity sort ’em all out.

579 Down.

PS- see what I did there I reviewed Dire Straits without even mentioning that song.  I rule!


*figures approximate at time of going to press.  Estimates may go up as well as down, please get the bill payer’s permission before dialling.

**my copy just has the boring 80’s Vertigo logo.

^and who spent most of their careers ripping off, the divine, JJ Cale.

^^although it has often been said about me.  Hey ladies? you know what I’m saying? … umm, hello … ladies? Don’t go!

^*although I can play the riff to ‘Smoke on The Water’ at 1/4 speed, given a decent run up, as long as the wind is blowing in the right direction.

31 thoughts on “French Kisses In A Darkened Doorway

  1. A friend from your side brought me the word on these guys when the album came out . You nailed it on your take. Still sounds good. A fave for sure. Lots of images conjured up on this record. Hung in for a while after but l faded. “The sparseness of his playing”, yeah that was a hook. I just busted out a headband the other day. I’ve been wearing it full-time. Someone close to me said I look like a dork.

  2. Much like The Police, The Cars, and every other band you guys have been talking about lately, my Dire Straits collection is limited to a greatest hits. But it’s a good one with a bonus live CD.

  3. Great piece. Always loved ‘Setting Me Up’, ‘Wild West End’ and ‘In the Gallery’ particularly. My dad bought the vinyl which he passed onto me. I’m pretty sure he would have heard it on Alexis Korner’s brilliant Radio 1 show back in late ’70s, early ’80s…

    1. Cheers Matt, I really love this one, not a below par moment on the whole shebang. I can’t stop listening to it on a loop at the moment. I clearly need to buy the next couple on LP too.

  4. I haven’t heard this one. Only two albums I know are Brothers in Arms and that big live effort (my dad had it on tape – Alchemist?). I bought Brothers in Arms not too long ago. Even the guy taking my money frowned. Felt like I was buying a Hear’say album or something. Anyhoo, great ol’ post, sir – I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a copy of this one (especially for that song and the space).

      1. Well, aye … Walk of Life isn’t the best. I find it to be all Paul Simon meets Elton John Disney years. Still, there’s enough on there to look past it.

  5. Delightful post Joe – I’d never thought about that neat Knopfler mix, impossible to duplicate picking work yet totally sing-a-long-able vocal range.
    I bought this LP earlier this year, haven’t put it on for a first or 35 thousandth time yet but I like the sounds of it based on your write-up

  6. Great write up that pick of Knopfler is classic ha! Great job not mentioning that song! So i won’t be the first either! Ha! Your right about his playimg and leving spaces to breathe so true especially coming from when Dire Straits got real big in 84-85 when it was shredders guitar alley! …
    Well Done Joe!

  7. “Poised” is a good word. So much more, er poised, than, say, “Repressed”.
    Cheap shots aside, nice review of an excellent and refreshing debut. Another example of success hastening the inevitable downward trajectory?

    BTW, could I just quietly mention, SULTANS OF SWING!
    You know, the single, SULTANS OF SWING!
    That one everybody knows the same four lines from, SULTANS OF SWING!
    The song you never really need to hear again, SULTANS OF SWING!

    1. Well, I wouldn’t expect someone from our former colonies to pick up on the varying shades of subtlety here!

      They never got bad, just more bombastic and a bit too simple. Commercial pressures? Probably, you can’t blame ’em for making a mint – hell, I’d sell out my 1537 principles in a New York minute if it’d get me money for nothing and my chicks for free.

      Sultans of what?

  8. I have this, on LP even (points with our 1537!). It’s been a long time since I gave it a spin, but I remember it being really, really excellent.

    And THIS: “…the sparseness of his playing. We get treated to exactly the right number of notes, just the ones we needed, no more and I really like the space this creates in his songs.” Yes. Yes yes yes.

    1. Definitely some bonus 1537 points for you there! I’ve really enjoyed hitting this one again, funny considering I haven’t listened to it for about 18 years I knew every second, every word, every note of it straight away.

      And thank you, there’s plenty of shredders out there, I guess its the old jazz knack of the notes you don’t play being more important than the ones you don’t sometimes.

      1. I just checked the shelf in the man cave to be sure, and I have this one, Communiqué, and Brothers In Arms on LP. A few others (and some Knopfler solo) on CD.

        I just love how the songs breathe, and you nailed it with that line! Way to go!

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