Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dire Straits - "Lady Writer" (1979)

Dire Straits started getting a bad rap after they sold a bazillion copies of their Brothers in Arms album and never achieved the same success afterwards. Perhaps it was a backlash to that cartoonish "Money For Nothing" video or the simplistic nature of that particular album, but it seemed like an undeserved treatment. You want bad music from the 80's, there's no shortage, but Dire Straits always produced quality.

I always had a soft spot for the band's single from the second Communique album, "Lady Writer." While "Sultans of Swing" broke this band of such unique sound and artistry, and that debut had some very good songs on it, this is about the only one I really liked on their follow-up.

When I was a college senior freelancing for the local paper, I did a phone interview with 10cc before they hit town for a concert, and they were raving about the new band, Dire Straits. And now let us bow down at the amplifier of songwriter/guitarist Mark Knopfler -- borrowing some Dylan-isms and English folk rock, he forged a sound led by his totally owned Stratocaster style. Knopfler sounded and played like nobody else, whipping off delicate folk pickings or just bending the strings like a wail.

After their debut album was produced in the UK by Steve Winwood's brother Muff, Dire Straits headed straight to the legendary studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record their second album Communique with famed producers Barry Beckett and Jerry Wexler. What they turned out sounded exactly like the first album, without even a hint of the Southern soul that made Muscle Shoals famous. The album was considerably mellower than the first one, but they whipped up a hit single, "Lady Writer."

Why the soft spot for this song? Knopfler writes complex little story lines and this was no different than his other superior material: observing a female author on TV stirs up memories of a long ago love affair gone bad. It could be the fast chords, the little flamenco lilt in the breaks ("Just the way that her hair fell down around her face/Then I recall my fall from grace/Another time, another place"). Or it could be after the last chorus when Knoplfer says "Take it!" and whips into a speedball solo on his Strat that then moves into that unmistakable cry.

Three minutes and forty seconds, and there's really nothing quite like this song (or early Dire Straits) anywhere now. Below, the band performs "Lady Writer" live on German TV, so watch our boy go.

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