The old music industry adage of great things coming from modest beginnings was rarely more true than in the case of Dire Straits. In their formative months, the group had to endure plenty of low-profile gigs that paid next to nothing, and lots of travelling to their own shows in a van, or on public transport. On July 22, 1978, they first had something to show for their efforts in terms of a UK chart position — but only just.
Dire Straits’ self-titled debut album was recorded at London’s Basing Street Studios from February 1978 with producer Muff Winwood. It arrived with the band emerging as critical favorites, supporting Talking Heads, the Climax Blues Band, and Gerry Rafferty on UK dates, and playing headline shows of their own. The LP contained the later hit single “Sultans Of Swing,” as well as “Southbound Again,” “Down To The Waterline,” and other examples of one of the tightest little four-piece bands on the live circuit.
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All of that would eventually lead to a big hit album, but certainly not at first. “Sultans Of Swing” missed the UK charts altogether when first released. It was only in April that, fuelled by the success of the reissued single, the album rebounded in the UK and hit a new peak of No.5. Back in the summer of 1978, the going was tougher.
Dire Straits made its UK chart debut as disco ruled the roost, with the Saturday Night Fever in the 12th of an incredible, unbroken 18-week run at No.1. Rock giants new and old were big, from the Rolling Stones and the Moody Blues to Genesis and (Straits’ Vertigo labelmates) Thin Lizzy. The hot new British singer-songwriter of the year was Kate Bush.
Barely Top 40
In that environment, a band with no visual gimmicks and only their songs and live reputation to help them were always going to find it tough, even if they were the big new label priorities. The album entered the Top 75 at No.48, in between releases by Irish flautist James Galway and American rock heavyweights Van Halen. A week later, it climbed to No.40 but then fell back to its entry position.
The album flickered around the charts for the rest of the year, peaking at No.38 in early September. But it wasn’t until 1979, with the momentum of a hit single and new-found American success, that Dire Straits really got their foot on the commercial ladder in their home country. Once they did, there was no turning back.
Reviewing the album at the time for Rolling Stone, Ken Tucker wrote of “an English quartet led by singer songwriter Mark Knopfler [that] plays tight, spare mixtures of rock, folk and country music with a serene spirit and witty irony. It’s almost as if they were aware that their forte has nothing to do with what’s currently happening in the industry, but couldn’t care less…as a writer, Knopfler pens terse little narratives about the mundane problems of his brethren: women trouble, money trouble, one’s-place-in-the-world trouble.”
Dire Straits reached its eventual top five UK peak in April of that year, amassing eight weeks in the top ten in their home country. The album continued to pop up in the lower reaches of the British countdown throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, outlasting even the active life of the group itself.
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