“Sultans of Swing,” from Dire Straits self-titled debut album dominated the airwaves during my youth, but Communiqué (released a year later) was my first Dire Straits record. My uncle Mark had the record in his collection, which we listened to frequently.
While I initially loved “Sultans of Swing,” the radio stations wore it out for me. That album ended up untouched for years as a result. But thanks to the magic of random play on my digital music library one day, I was reintroduced to what I consider to be the album’s – and Dire Straits’ – best track, “Wild West End.”
There Are Places I Remember: Songs About Places has a great piece on the track:
“[‘Wild West End’ is] quite a multi-layered song. The lazy summer mood and the sound of Mark Knopfler’s National guitar gives a feel of strolling down the main street of a small North Carolina town and the whole song mythologizes the ordinary in the manner of Bruce Springsteen… Knopfler apparently wrote the song after watching a girl cross Shaftesbury Avenue – by such trivial moments can the inspiration for a song come.”
I’ve always been a fan of Knopfler’s guitar work, and I think there’s not a better exhibit of that than this seemingly overlooked track.
(Honorable mention on this album is “Six Blade Knife.”)
Back to “Sultans of Swing”: Best Classic Bands has a piece on the hit song, which includes this behind-the-scenes story:
“There really was a band called the Sultans of Swing. They were playing their jazz in a near-empty pub in South London one night in 1977, noticed by no one — except Mark Knopfler. The guitarist and singer of a brand new band called Dire Straits, Knopfler found it amusing, in an ironic way, that this band with the fancy name was holed up in a seedy dive, doing their best to entertain and receiving a shrug for their efforts. He went home and wrote a song loosely based on what he’d witnessed — these luckless but dedicated musicians, trying as best they could to reach the few people nursing their Guinnesses — but Knopfler wasn’t especially happy with what he’d composed. Perhaps, he thought, if I play it on my new Stratocaster instead of an acoustic steel guitar, it might have more life to it.”
Check out “Wild West End”: