One of my favorite bands of all time is Dire Straits, and I remember when their first album was released in 1978. I loved it, and many of my friends hated it. As the band progressed through subsequent releases, it became clear that Mark Knopfler was more than just a flash in the pan. His pop songwriting abilities yielded many hits for Dire Straits, but his solo efforts have delivered just as many beautiful moments.
I also distinctly recall seeing the band live on October 1, 1985, at Radio City Music Hall. Brothers in Arms had been released a few months earlier, and you could just feel that their star was rising. I hadn’t purchased a ticket in advance for that show, so I hopped on the subway and headed for Rockefeller Center station, just a stone’s throw from Radio City, with hopes that I could scalp one.
Getting a good seat was easy because I was alone, and scalpers have a tough time dumping single tickets. It felt like the fanbase was a secret society that knew they were witnessing music history in the making. “Money for Nothing” had already been released (June 1985) and yet the band still had some dates on the calendar for smaller venues like Radio City. But soon “Money for Nothing” would settle into the heaviest of rotation on MTV, and you’d be hard pressed to see the band perform in a room smaller than a hockey arena.
One of the songs in the set list that night was “Private Investigations” from the Love Over Gold album. [As a quick aside, if you don’t own Love Over Gold you owe it to yourself to get a copy. Don’t waste your money on MP3 files—get a high-res download, vinyl or CD. The recording and production are exquisite.] If you’re not familiar, the song is really dynamic and gets down to some very quiet moments.
So, I’m sitting in RCMH listening to this song, and the band is getting more and more quiet—but not all of the 6,000 patrons are cooperating. A few rows over, two people are just blah, blah, blahing over absolutely nothing, and as the thought begins to form in my head, the guy seated next to me yells at them to shut the F– up. And they did. It was wonderful. I’ve never heard Radio City Music Hall that quiet.
All of this came to mind the other night when—trying to clear my head of the relentless, current news noise—I grabbed my iPad and a pair of ‘cans, headed for bed and cued up the Dire Straits debut album. In quarantine, of course.
I couldn’t help but think how bizarre this would appear to someone looking ahead from 1978. Thousands of songs on a tablet, what? Wireless headphones? Quarantine? You must be insane!
Yet here it is, 40-plus years later: a recording made on analog tape with performances by real musicians playing in real time (not to a click), played back using technology that was unimaginable when the recording was made. It still holds up.
I don’t know whether to be scared out of my wits or jump for joy.