[Note: Dire Straits was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.]
It seems strange, in retrospect, that a band as excellent in their craft as Dire Straits would be so critically disrespected. Dire Straits managed to combine a classicist attention to fine musical craft with a style that ranged from baroque to spare and atmospheric, and that managed to give a dark and melancholy tone to their pub rock. Whether one looks at their songs, the influence of the band on future musicians, or their influence on the technology of music through their popularization of the compact disc. It is deeply ironic that a band with such traditional musicality and narrative songs was responsible for bringing the technology of the compact disk into popularity, but life is full of ironies. At the beginning of their career, Dire Straits were somewhat overlooked by critics because their music did not fit into the punk spirit of their times. Now, more than 30 years later, after they have shown their skill and achieved massive success worldwide, they do not receive their just laurels because they seem somewhat out of place in their time, much like the Sultans of Swing they popularized in their first album.
Dire Straits’ Contribution
Dire Straits’ contribution lies in a combination of their gifts and their timing. They showed the value (and the viability) of traditional skills in narrative songcraft and musical skill that had been overlooked in the late 70’s with their focus on bands with attitude but not a lot of musical skill. In fact, Dire Straits’ musical skill led them to perform with such well-respected artists as Bob Dylan and Sting in the course of their career . In addition to their musical ability, their songs have remained enduring and popular, both in covers and in their original form. These songs include such enduring classics as “Sultans of Swing,” “Lady Writer,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “Tunnel of Love,” “Private Investigations,” “Twisting By The Pool,” “Money For Nothing,” “So Far Away,” and “Walk of Love.” All six of their studio albums as well as a live album and a compilation have gone at least gold . Also, their serious attention to technology allowed their massive hit album “Brothers In Arms” to become the first successful album ever released as a cd. The combination of these gifts makes Dire Straits one of the standout bands of their age.
Why Dire Straits Is A No-Brainer For The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
More than thirty years after their debut, Dire Straits has a solid core of songs that can be heard on every street–Sultans of Swing, Money For Nothing, So Far Away, Romeo & Juliet, and Walk Of Love chief among them. That’s more than many of their peers can say, including bands that have already been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (like the Patti Smith Group, for example). Of their songs, twelve hit the UK Top 40 (including 5 top 10 hits) and 4 hit the US Top 40 (including 3 top 10’s and 1 #1 hit), and 6 hit the US rock top 10, despite the band being far more of an album act than a singles-driven one. Having sold 120 million copies of their bands worldwide, Dire Straits has shown enduring popularity in the US, UK, as well as other countries. Their songs have been covered by a diverse group of artists such as Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Killers, Edwin McCain, Matt Nathanson, the Judds, the Everly Brothers and Art Garfunkel . Some of these artists are already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and others are likely to be inducted. Given the quality of the bands and artists that have been inspired by the Dire Straits, this would suggest that the Dire Straits themselves are immensely worthy of induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Why Aren’t The Dire Straits In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame?
There are likely to be a few reasons why the Dire Straits aren’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For one, they went against the spirit of their times. They were not thought of as cool during their time by the rock & roll glitterati, and their low key approach to going about business, including a refusal to join the nostalgia tour circuit, can be thought of as a deliberate rejection of the media-driven frenzy fed by rock journalists likely to vote on Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. It is likely that like other bands of their time (Chicago, the Doobie Brothers, and the Steve Miller Band come to mind), their lack of induction appears to be a result of the low-key way they went about their business of making massively popular music that did not fit the trends of their age, even if it remains enduring and worthwhile. In addition, pub rock is a notoriously under-recognized genre in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Huey Lewis & The News is another worthy Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member from this genre that has yet to be inducted). Also, there might be some lingering controversy over the perceived sentiments of their hit “Money For Nothing.” None of these reasons is ultimately good enough–the quality of their music and the inspiration and influence they have had on other artists and on the course of music (through their popularization of the cd) makes them worthy of induction. Put them in.
Verdict: Dire Straits combines worthy songs, enduring influence, and an under-appreciated genre of music all in one quirky story of hard work, understated talent, resulting in well-deserved popularity from mass audiences despite a great deal of disinterest or hostility from music critics throughout their career. They deserve to go in as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame finishes cleaning up the worthy bands of the 70’s and the 80’s that have yet to be recognized. Hopefully that will not take too long.