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SULTANS OF SWING, 1978

Lead Vocal: Mihir Worah

"Sultans Of  Swing was the first song that really caught me"                                -- Sachin Tendulkar

Punk was a great antidote to the dullness and pretentiousness of most mid-seventies Rock. Unfortunately, in most cases, musical talent didn't accompany the attitude. However, three bands with a punk attitude but serious musical chops (and a more conventional sound) crossed over to mainstream success. Dire Straits, The Police, and U2 led the second 'British Invasion' (yes I know Ireland is its own country).

 

Mark Knopfler was an English professor, playing guitar and performing at small pubs and clubs for several years, until Dire Straits got their break in 1977. Stripped-down pub rock is certainly one of the progenitors of Punk. Mark did not even sing! His best songs were 'talked' rather than 'sung' - melodies instead came from the guitar doing the 'singing.' He was someone with an outsider attitude, who wrote lyrics like Dylan and played guitar like Clapton!

Dire Straits' eponymous first album is amongst a handful of debut albums that somehow come out fully formed, with tons of great songs out of nowhere. The sound (stripped down and different from most music of the time) was confident and the songs were consistently good. Clearly the band has been carefully honing its art. In addition to "Sultans," it has "Down To The Waterline," "Six Blade Knife," "Setting Me Up," and much more. Other similarly strong debuts that come to mind are The Doors, and more recently Young The Giant and Hozier. Coincidentally (or not), all these great debut albums are just named after the band.

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A jazz band that Knopfler saw performing in an empty pub in South London inspired “Sultans of Swing”. It’s essentially a straight up bar rocker — but one with great lyrics, interesting timing on the chord changes, and killer Mark Knopfler guitar work. 

 

Like all great guitarists, Mark blends the traditional rhythm and lead guitar roles. Chord patterns and rhythms are as important and expressive as frilly lead runs. His fingerpicking lead guitar style combines traditional blues/rock minor pentatonic riffs with chord-based arpeggiated riffs in a very natural way. A great example is near the end of the second solo on “Sultans.” Mark plays a standard D minor pentatonic riff (which I stole for the “Lies” outro) that leads into the iconic ending arpeggio riffs Dm -> Bb -> C -> C. I could go on with more technical guitar details, but honestly, the expressiveness that Knopfler plays with is what hits hardest.

I decided to sing this song because the 'talking rather than singing' works just fine for me, and couldn't resist a couple of minor tweaks to the lyrics.

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Mark Knopfler @ The Greek, 2019.