Behind the Hit-Sultans of Swing
A hit inspired by a bad band???
This song is about guys who go to a club after work, listen to music and have a good time. They are there for the music, and not for the image presented by the band. The song was a marked change from the waning Disco style and the nascent Punk movement.
Group leader Mark Knopfler got the idea for song this from watching a lousy club band perform. As the story goes, Knopfler was in Ipswich on a rainy night. He ducked into a bar where a mediocre band was closing out the night to an audience that was maybe four or five drunks unaware of their surroundings. The hapless band ended their set with the lead singer announcing, with no apparent irony, "Goodnight and thank you. We are the sultans of swing." Knopfler got a lot of songwriting ideas from observing everyday people, something that got harder to do when he became famous.
This was Dire Straits' first single. It was one of 5 songs on a demo tape they used to get their record deal. The tape got played on London radio and started a bidding war for the band.
There is a CD which contains 24 tracks which were from a production company which recorded various artists between 1989-1995. One of the tracks was by an artist only identified as "B. Wilson." There was an asterisk after his name and on the CD it says that this was from a live show performed at The Warehouse which was in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before Wilson plays his song he says the following:
"I do this thing I co-wrote about, I guess, it's been about 12 years ago I wrote the lyrics and a friend of mine used to work a lot of sessions for my old producer, Bob Johnston, and worked a session with this fellow from England by the name of Mark Knopfler. Has his own group over there called Dire Straits. He had this little melody. It sounded like "Walk, Don't Run." And he had this little story concerning a band that nobody wanted to listen to. Only a few people show up to hear. So we got together one night after the session and tossed these lyrics around on a napkin and I guess I wound up writing most of the lyrics to the tune. made enough money to buy a new Blazer that year I remember, so... didn't do too bad. It goes like this..."
Then he starts playing an acoustic guitar, strumming Spanish style and sings Sultans of Swing. The lyrics are pretty close to what Mark Knopfler recorded but are slightly different.
Regarding the line, "The band was playing Dixie double four time," Dixie double is a style popularized by Django Reinhradt (and Les Paul in his early years) where the guitar goes quite fast and plays bass as well, all together.
Knopfler has said that he is sick of this song because he had to play it thousands of times.
Dire Straits played a nearly 10 minute version with lots of saxophone at Live Aid in 1985. This performance is available on the Live Aid DVD.
Their 1998 Greatest Hits compilation Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits was named after this song.
According to Rolling Stone magazine in their "100 Greatest Guitar Songs" issue, Mark