The compact disc was still two years away when Dire Straits released their third album, in 1980 – and the gargantuan Brothers In Arms probably not even a twinkle in Mark Knopfler’s eye – but with Making Movies, the band entered the new decade well on the way to the radio-friendly roots-rock sound that would go on to dominate the decade. The album entered the UK chart on 25 October that year.
With Knopfler sibling David having left the band during the summer 1980 recording sessions, Mark became the group’s sole guitarist and songwriting force, with ambitions befitting those of a band whose previous two albums had both hit the UK No.5 spot. His songs were increasingly stretching beyond the six- and eight-minute marks, allowing the group to flex their muscles on the likes of ‘Tunnel Of Love’, which incorporates the theme from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s much loved 1945 musical, Carousel, before later diverting into a jazzy breakdown.
As the album’s title suggested, Knopfler’s songs were taking the shape of mini-movies in and of themselves, thanks to the narrative focus of his lyrics. When Romeo sidles up to Juliet in the song named after the star-crossed lovers, propositioning her in Knopfler’s gravelly tones (“You and me, babe – how ’bout it?”), the moment is simultaneously intimate and cinematic: the world’s greatest love story given street smarts, over a decade before Baz Luhrmann brought his Romeo + Juliet adaptation to the silver screen.
Credit, too, goes to producer Jimmy Iovine, who, having manned the boards for Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town albums, was adept at giving small-town concerns a universal appeal. Even the comparatively low-key album cut, ‘Expresso Love’ – built on choppy guitars and Knopfler’s hoarse vocals – edges towards the epic by virtue of its layered guitars and evocative keyboards provided by Roy Bittan, on loan from Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Unsurprisingly, ‘Romeo And Juliet’ hit No.8 in the UK, matching Dire Straits’ previous best, the indefatigable ‘Sultans Of Swing’, while Making Movies hit No.4 and amassed 252 weeks, so far, in the UK charts, paving the way for a three-album chart-topping run which began with 1982’s Love Over Gold. The time might have been wrong for Romeo and Juliet, but for Knopfler and co it was undoubtedly perfect.