The bizarre encounter that inspired Dire Straits

More often than not, songwriting inspiration comes when you least expect it. Sometimes it comes from the subconscious – just like “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney in a dream. Other times, the origins of inspiration are slightly easier to identify – a phrase from a conversation with a friend, a phone call heard on public transport or, if you’re Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler , of clandestine listening to the anti-delivery message. -MTV rant.

Alongside his brother and bandmates, Knopfler led Dire Straits to rock and roll stardom in the late 1970s. The pub rock group immediately won over audiences with their iconic debut single, “Sultans of Swing,” a song whose opening sounds still echo through practice rooms and guitar shops more than four decades later. But that wasn’t Dire Straits’ only success.

In 1985, the rockers released “Money for Nothing,” a dramatic and atmospheric track lasting a sprawling eight minutes. A lengthy intro pairs spectral synths with Sting’s high, whispered vocals as he repeats the catchphrase “I want my, I want my MTV.” Rumbling drums anticipate the entrance of Knopfler’s now-iconic guitar line as he prepares to take on the persona of a disgruntled MTV hater.

“You play guitar on MTV,” he says, “It doesn’t work, that’s what you do, money for nothing and your girls for free.” Knopfler’s protagonist shares his dissatisfaction with his own life, spending his days installing microwaves and delivering custom kitchens while watching MTV pop stars get paid “money for nothing.” His comments are increasingly hateful, even invoking homophobic insults.

According to Knopfler, the song’s lyrics were inspired by a real-life rant he heard while in a kitchen store in the Big Apple. While walking the aisles of the store, Knopfler overheard a rather one-sided conversation between a delivery man and two saleswomen, and suddenly, inspiration struck him. Or, as the leader put it in conversation with Joan Armatrading, “the bells are ringing.”

It was the mid-1980s and MTV was booming. Thus, the store’s televisions were all tuned to the channel broadcasting music videos, which did not particularly please the delivery man. According to Knopfler, he “spoke about every artist on MTV. And he would come out with these great lines.

Nestled between the microwaves, Knopfler found “dark humor” in his speech, taking particular interest in the phrase “It doesn’t work.” The Dire Straits singer made sure to seize this moment of inspiration, borrowing a pen and paper from the store and writing “Money for Nothing” on the spot.

The phrase “That ain’t working” would become a staple of the song, turning the kitchen delivery boy’s anger into a number one hit. Throughout its eight-minute running time, “Money for Nothing” contains all of the same ignorant ramblings and ravings that Knopfler listened to in that electrical store, bolstered by a blistering riff and intermittent synths.

The origins of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” are proof that inspiration is all around us. Chart-topping turns of phrase can be found by listening on the doorsteps of electrical shops, on public transport or over a pint at your local. Add in a killer guitar line and a Sting feature, and you just might have a number one and enduring rock classic on your hands.

Revisit Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” below.

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