Number Ones: #49


  • DIRE STRAITS Money For Nothing (Vertigo)
  • Week Ending 10th August 1985
  • 1 Week At #1

Let me tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb…

Famously inspired by overheard comments from a department store delivery worker as MTV played across banks of screens on the shop wall, Money For Nothing was very much a product of its era.

Launched in 1981, MTV was still in its infancy when Dire Straits’ mainman Mark Knopfler was sitting in that store with the typical diet of New Wave and AOR acts on the screens, with silly haircuts and wearing too much make-up. It would have been the early days of what became “Poodle Rock” or “Hair Metal”, and the likes of A Flock Of Seagulls and Kajagoogoo flying the Brits-in-America pop flag.

Our microwave oven-lugging friend’s withering observations were a mixture of homophobia, racism, sexism and a grudging envy at these people getting rich by poncing around in videos on TV.

Knopfler’s lyrics, written in character, would cause him problems down the line; what raised eyebrows in 1985 could provoke widespread condemnation in the 21st Century. It’s matched by the sleaziest-sounding guitar riff that Dire Straits would ever come up with, apparently intended to ape the fashionable ZZ Top sound of the mid-80s, which gives the track a distinctly un-Dire Straits-like feel.

In fact, that’s probably why this was the first Dire Straits record I could recall ever liking (the atmospheric beauty of Private Investigations eluded me in 1982; I’ll put that one down to age). Add in an elongated intro, all fat keyboards and clattering electronic drum pads, and Money For Nothing was almost a novelty in their catalogue.

Their previous single, and the Brothers In Arms album’s lead 45, So Far Away had held absolutely no interest, confirming in my teenage mind their utter irrelevance and penchant for boring soft rock. The album had been released at the same time as Around The World In A Day, Be Yourself Tonight, Youthquake, Low-Life and Flaunt The Imperfection; unsurprisingly, it was not remotely on my radar.

By the end of 1985, all that had changed; Money For Nothing laid the foundation for my change of attitude, then the title cut and finally Walk Of Life did the rest.

Extra wit was provided by Sting’s “I Want My MTV” refrain – the channel’s adopted calling card, sung to the melody of The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me – and it really was layering on the irony and post-modernism. Rock band have mega hit on MTV as they take sly dig at rock bands on MTV, while singing MTV’s jingle.

As I said, them guys ain’t dumb.

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