Wednesday, 1 August 2012
August 10th: Dear all, it was this time during the last Olympics that I’d just finished writing about the ‘core’ 101 reviews for this site and had some rare time off to watch the Beijing Olympics, long before the News, Views and Music newsletters existed. Personally I’ve always found the summer Olympics really boring compared to the winter ones and so it was that year, but I still tuned in to see some of the excellent events I don’t get to see very often (badminton, hockey). This year Olympic madness is everywhere simply because its down the road and every time I see some smug look on David Cameron’s face or The Queen pouting in her Royal box I feel sick. The opening ceremony, while confusing, wasn’t the snoozefest I expected it to be (well, the alphabeticised team entries did get boring round about ‘B’) and the caulfrons lit at the end were genuinely impressive. What worried me was: Cameron’s smug face even though the Olympics were brought to London on Labour’s watch, the criticism of Paul McCartney ending the ceremony (where a subdued performance really wasn’t his fault - a dodgy monitor ended up echoing his performance round the hall after every word, just like on ‘Live Aid’ although Macca the trooper carried on; after all the only thing Britain has managed to give to the world since the last London olympics in 1948 is music) and the fact that we were praising the NHS and our wonderful cyclists at the same time when, in the real outside the stadium, the NHS is being destroyed and innocent cyclists are being kettled for mistakenly using Olympic lanes. Remember all the fuss four years ago about China’s human rights record and whether athletes were going to stay away in droves in protest? They should have waited four years for the Coalition to ban all types of protest and force one group of taxi driver protestors to risk his life diving from the Jubilee Bridge to get his point on the news. However many medals we come away with, however much we rescue our damaged world reputation by putting on a vaguely cohesive games, we should not get smug because we still have so much more to learn, our leaders especially. By the way the Olympic coverage is the perfect timing for the Government’s friends in the BBC to put on two specials about how awful and unfair the medical benefit system is, on Monday at 8.30 and 9pm. Be sure to tune in if you can, even if there is trampolining on the other side, because this the real state of Britain in 2012 that’s being kept from the world. I Just wonder how many more mistakes like showing the wrong flag for North Korea will happen by the time the games are over.. In happier news, if you’re a reader of our blogspot site (www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk) you may have noticed that we’ve added a whacking great list of links to all our reviews and top fives. In theory this means that you will be able to look for a particular article if you’re in a hurry and to ease things we’ve had a go at listing the albums by artist in chronological order. Unfortunately our hit rate on this site has tailed off remarkably (we’d hit a peak of 135 views last Monday, mainly because of a mention on the excellent Kinks site KindaKinksNet) – typical really because our first site (at www.alansalbumarchives.moonfruit.com) is getting more hits than ever (an average of 60 this past week!) Alas I’ll have to give it a breather because working on this and coping with the job centre has worn my cfs-attacked body out to a frazzle – but I’ll be able to do the same with the first site some time soon. We now stand at a high of 20598 on Moonfruit and 1345 on Blogspot, which isn’t bad for just over 7 weeks online! Oh and finally, most of Britain was surprised to learn that we’d kept our economic AAA rating this week. We weren’t surprised, though, were we AAA readers?! Perhaps they’ll get us to do the Coalition’s finances for them (we can’t do a worse mess than George Osbourne...) ♫ Beatles News: Dhani Harrison, son of George, has just released his second album under the pseudonym ‘The New 02’, with album ‘Thefearofmissingout’ (all one word) hot on the heels of well received debut ‘You Are Here’. The album got a right old drubbing in Mojo this month, but the references to psychedelia soft rock in the article have still whetted my appetite. More news if and when... Oh, yeah, and Paul McCartney played ‘Hey Jude’ at an Olympics ceremony best remembered for the bizarre juxtaposition of James Bond and the Queen (I always thought Dabiel Craig was the most wooden faced actor around – I was wrong) and the kettling of innocent bikers outside the stadium by police that night. What an absolute mess. At least Macca didn’t sing ‘Ob la di, Ob La Da’ at this one... ♫ Jefferson Airplane News: In one of those eerie coincidences that seems to keep happening with this site, Radio 4 are broadcasting a new dramatisation of John Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’ in their Afternoon play spot the next couple of Wednesdays at 3pm. We mentioned this book last issue because Paul Kantner based the title track of the album ‘Crown Of Creation’ on one of the chapters – now you can hear for yourselves how similar the two are! ♫ Rolling Stones News: A low quality bootleg of Mick, Keith and Ronnie meeting up with their idol Muddy Waters in 1981 has been doing the rounds on bootleg for years. However now all fans have the chance to see it as its now out officially on DVD under the title ‘Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago’. Mick predictably takes over and Keith predictably stands at the back whilst taking all the camera time, but most interesting for long term fans is the chance to see ‘sixth stone’ Ian Stewart in his element, boogie woogie-ing away on a piano like he’d been a member of Muddy’s band his life long through (filmed four years before his death, during a period when the Stones rarely toured, its one of the last chances to see him at all). Muddy, of course, famously gave the band their name (see below!) so its fitting to see two legends come together, even if it isn’t a release you’ll play that many times. A soundtrack CD is available too, although that must have an even more limited shelf life you’d have thought. ANNIVERSARIES: Birthday cakes with lots of candles are in order for the following AAA stars born between August 1st and 7th: Jerry Garcia (guitarist with the Grateful Dead) who would have turned the big 70 on August 1st. Anniversaries of events include: The Beach Boys spend their first week of many on the British charts with ‘Surfin’ USA’ (August 1st 1963) and finally, George Harrison’s first concert for Bangladesh (also starring Ringo and Badfinger) takes place at Madison Square Garden (August 1st 1971); The Beatles headline their first gig at Liverpool’s Cavern Club (August 2nd 1961); The Who rescue the film premises Shepperton Studios from demolition, buying the venue for use in their ‘Kids Are Alright’ documentary and ‘Quadrophenia’ film (they still own it too; August 2nd 1977); Just two years, one day and 293 appearances after their first headlining gig, the Beatles play their last show at The Cavern Club (August 3rd 1963); Beatles record are banned in South Africa following John Lennon’s statements about the band being ‘bigger than Jesus’ (August 3rd 1966) – a day later six South American states follow suit; Wings are officially formed on August 3rd 1971, with Dennys Laine and Seiwell as well as Paul and Linda McCartney; The Small Faces release perhaps their most famous single ‘Itchycoo Park’ (August 4th 1967); Pink Floyd stage The Wall for the first time at London’s Earl’s Court (due to costs they only ever stage the show four times – August 4th 1980); Two 1960s milestones are released on August 5th: The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ in 1966 and Pink Floyd’s debut ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ in 1967; The Small Faces release their debut single, the wonderfully ungrammatical ‘What’cha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’ (August 6th 1965); Pink Floyd’s film version of ‘The Wall’ premieres in America (August 6th 1982); Time Magazine becomes the first magazine to review the Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ released the previous month and – you’ve guessed it, they absolutely hate it, with a headline ‘avoid at all costs’! (August 7th 1964).
You can now buy 'Solid Rock - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Dire Straits' by clicking here!
Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” (1985)
So Far Away/Money For Nothing/Walk Of Life/Your Latest Trick/Why Worry?//Ride Across The River/The Man’s Too Strong/One World/Brothers In Arms
The fourth best selling AAA-related album ever (in fact the 7th best selling record of any kind in the UK), it used to be reckoned that one in four of all British citizens had a copy of this album in their collection. Dire Strait’s biggest seller by some margin, it brought worldwide fame and superstar status that Mark Knopfler decided he didn’t want, causing a retreat from the public eye that carries on today after a career that was already pretty high-profile. There were an astonishing five top 30 singles taken from this album, with three of them still known round the world today and heard endlessly on the radio – to the cost of some of the band’s better songs actually. This album also pioneered the CD format, being the catalyst for old and new collectors to finally shell out for a CD player in the same way that ‘She Loves You’ skyrocketed the sale of vinyl and ‘White Christmas’ pioneered 78s. The best-selling band of the 1980s released this, the best-selling album of the 1980s at the mid-point of the decade, hitting a chord with both the fidelity lovers of the times and the retro rock lovers from past decades. It wasn’t just sales either: the awards that ‘Brothers In Arms’ received would take up more shelf-room than all this year’s gold Olympic medals together. ‘Brothers In Arms’ really was everywhere and a record as close to the heart of what life was like in 1980s Britain as any I’ve come across. But is this record really worth the accolades, the 30 million sales and the overshadowing of the rest of Dire Straits’ back catalogue? Well, as ever with this site, the answer is yes and no. Just as ‘Sgt Peppers’ was to 1967 and the Sex Pistols were to 1977 so this is to 1987: an album so clearly of its time that its hard to come to it with later, more modern ears and fall in love with it the same way. A good four of the singles taken from the album – ie the ones that everybody knows – are actually pretty dire by Dire Straits’ standards, novelty rock light years from their best work. Had Dire Straits leapt straight to this album from the lacklustre ‘Comminique’ and the stepping stone seven-song ‘Makin’ Movies’ I’d have been perfectly happy with it, marvelling at Mark Knopfler’s ability to vary the tempo more than his old habit of writing purely fast and purely slow songs and ability to make such slow songs so commercial and easy on the ear. Yet coming after the band’s masterpiece ‘Love Over Gold’, which matched Knopfler’s love of retro 50s rock with a real empathy and passion for politics and people around the world circa 1983 I can’t help but feel disappointed at such a backwards step, with spot-on political commentary and wordy guitar-based epics no one else could have written now substituted for the short-term novelty fuzz of side one, songs which every vaguely commercial band have written or re-written in their time. Compared to the troubled citizens of ‘Telegraph Road’, the 14 minute opus that still barely has time to fit in the story of civilisation, the earnestness of ‘Love Over Gold’ or the sarcastic spot-on wit of ‘Industrial Disease’ much of this album sounds empty and hollow, built for airplay time not longevity. None of the singles from this album work anywhere near as well as ‘Sultans Of Swing’ or even ‘Private Investigations’ and the reason we talk about ‘Money For Nothing’ ‘#Walk Of Life’ et al so much now is simply a matter of timing: after a troubled half-decade pop this polished and uplifting, together with some cracks at the 1980s lifestyle, was exactly what was needed. However if you were an alien who’d just come to the planet and wanted to check out Earthling music by starting with the best-sellers, oblivious to what was happening on the planet at the time you landed, chances are you’d be scratching your three heads by the time the fifth track finished and wondering what all the fuss was about. Yet that said this album is a game of two halves, a real curate’s egg of songs that worked better then on side one and songs that work better now with some 25 years’ distance on side two, with the one-two punch of ‘Ride Across The River’ and ‘The Man’s Too Strong’ among the band’s greatest achievements (along with ‘Telegraph Road’). The latter song, especially, is a real overlooked gem that deserves to be better known, compacting all the drama, unease and political insight that made Dire Straits the special band they were for their short six album burst of creativity (its also, thank goodness, the direction Mark Knopfler has gone to with his solo albums, a quieter barer more intense sound where the lyrics are as key as the music and riffs). In fact had the band gone on to release a sixth single from the album, this might have been the biggest seller of them all. In fact, side two’s half-concept about military might and regret and guilt is an awesome piece of extended songwriting, an even better soundtrack to the unnecessarily troubled decade of ‘Star Wars’, Thatcher the milk snatcher and the Falklands invasion than the poppier, more immediate songs. They were overlooked at the time, surrounded by noisier recordings out to grab the audience’s attention, but these four songs are the real sound of the decade, in the same way that ‘Peppers’ is best known for the drama of ‘A Day In The Life’ and the whimsy of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ and the technicolour of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, even though anyone with half an ear will recognise George Harrison’s warning fable of ‘Within You Without You’ as the ‘real’ soundtrack of 1967. To last, an album needs to be more than the sum of its parts – it needs to offer something no other album can (after all, any self-respecting Dire Straits hits collection contains majority of this album’s five singles too; incidentally can you believe the audacity of Vertigo calling one of their compilations ‘Money For Nothing’?) The reason ‘Brothers In Arms’ stays on your CD player after the singles have been and gone by track six is the power of the songwriting of the second side, where brash shouting and character playing are replaced by honesty, sincerity and emotion. There is one other important element to consider when discussing this album. Given that just five years before this album’s release Knopfler was a failed music journalist and a fed-up history teacher, his musical dreams seemingly washed up by the age of 29, the fact that he was now scoring number one singles and albums regularly should have made this the best period in his life – heck in anyone’s life. But even before this album’s mega status Knopfler was already showing signs of strain and pressure, overwhelmed by the growing fanbase Dire Straits was accumlating by 1983. Unlike the other big sellers of the 1980s (Prince, Madonna), Dire Straits built their star image not from confidence, arrogance or an ability to own a stage (it’s a sad fact that the Dire Straits concerts out on video are much less interesting than listening to their records) but from ears that naturally picked up on what people in the street were feeling, reflecting the mood of at least the Western world back on the record buying public. Despite the good times Knopfler was experiencing, comparatively late in life, years later he was to call this period one of the ‘worst’ times for him personally, with so much to live up to and remark again and again how pleased he was that fame came to him at an older, wiser age because without that grounding early on he’d have gone monkeynuts from the sheer scale of it all (a ‘luxury’ bands like The Small Faces and artists like Cat Stevens and Lulu never had – not that it probably felt like a ‘luxury’ to the penniless journalist-come-teacher struggling to make ends meet in his 20s). One fact that not many people know – because Knopfler managed to keep his private life as private as any talked about rock star can be – is that Mark was newly married in this period. This was in fact his second marriage, to Lourdes Salomone in November 1983 – about the time ‘Love Over Gold’ came out - and you’d then logically expect ‘Brothers In Arms’ to be a happy album about love, marriage, union and finally finding your soulmate. In actual fact, it isn’t at all: the images of love on this album sound more like a man screaming to get out of than falling in love. The path from one relationship is never simple and never clean cut, no matter what sites like this one have to portray, so could it be - despite the dating of this album and the happy vibes that should surround it - that Knopfler is still pining here for the loss of his childhood sweetheart Kathy White. As an extremely general rule, most AAA band members who marry pre-fame are still married decades on (their love clearly not being based on love of someone’s money or status but their character), but another reason Knopfler seems to have hated the pressure and fame that came with this album was that, barely a couple of years earlier, it added to his break-up. Here love is a changing, moving, un-embraceable mystery, with both ‘Your Latest Trick’ and the more sarcastic lyrics on ‘One World’ the nastiest and most sniping we’ll ever hear Knopfler be and adds to the feeling around this album that stardom is a bad thing to have. Knopfler’s still writing about this now, such as the song ‘The Car Was The One’ on his 2010 album ‘Get Lucky’: the teenage Knopfler yearns to be like the loved showman who drives race cars at a local track but when all is said and done and Knopfler too has that amount of attention and fame he realises that it wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted: it was the car. This would also fit with the theme of being ‘disconnected’ in someway across the album, with even the songs about relationships that aren’t about marriage and love sounding fragile and built on guilt and shame rather than the brotherly love the title implies. Indeed, the reason ‘Money For Nothing’ was such a huge single was that, as well as a catchy riff and a booming ear-catching drum break, it successfully summed up what a fractious, divided era the 1980s was, with the MTV generation replacing their parents’ 1960s demand for sound warmth and subtlety with visual images and cold static digital noise. In fact ‘Brothers In Arms’ is a clever title for an album that’s all about togetherness and the search for breaking the lonely isolation of life. The title track refers to army veterans returning from some giant shared experience they’ll never have again and the bond this creates, but for the first 45 minutes of this record it could easily be the fit for that splintered MTV generation spoofed in ‘Money For Nothing’, the spurned lover of ‘Your Latest Trick’, the kind soul reaching out with words of comfort on ‘Why Worry?’ or the suddenly guilt-laden dictator of ‘This Man’s Too Strong’, realising that without support or help from others he is nothing. I might be reading too much into Knopfler’s lyrics here but the way I see it all of these songs are about fame in some way and the way it isolates the person at the centre of it from the ‘ordinary’ people they used to hang around with and the way it changes the way everyone around you views you. If so then its a particular irony that an album about isolation and the need for connections between people became one of the biggest sellers of all time, further distancing Mark from those around him (after all, if you were hungry for this level of fame you wouldn’t then immediately cancel Dire Straits to record with some little-known friends as The Notting Hillbillies as Mark did in 1988 or put the band on ice for eight years until ‘On Every Street’). The way I see it the brotherliness and tradition-respecting of the 1990s were an immediate response to the ‘me’ decade of the 1980s, with Dire Straits learning the lesson before most and reaching out into the darkness, trying to make a connection. The fact that the best selling album of the decade contains all the answers needed as well as asking the questions is, in retrospect, extraordinary, with ‘side two’ of this album the solution to the problems posed by ‘side one’. It fits well, this title, for a suite of songs about working out what it means to exist and be alive – although I still wish ‘Love Over Gold’ had been saved for this record as its a title that fits even more perfectly, making a million selling record about the importance of not losing sight of what’s important. Not that you can’t enjoy this album on a lower, simpler level either. One of the reasons some albums go on to become big sellers is that they appeal to lots of people on lots of different layers at once: ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ being perhaps the best example, with enough guitar and drum solos to keep rockers happy but enough of a half-theme of the pressures of life and some pretty deep lyrics for a rock album in 1973 to keep regular Floyd fans pleased. ‘Brothers In Arms’ is probably pulled off the shelf by most people for the hit singles ‘So Far Away’ ‘Walk Of Life’ and ‘Money For Nothing’. For me, none of these songs represent as perfect or certainly as original a piece of pop songwriting as any of the band’s previous run of form (the swinging ‘Sultans Of Swing’, the sad romance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the pulsating sad-happy drive of ‘Tunnel Of Love’, the mystery and power of ‘Private Investigations’ – OK perhaps not the abominable ‘Twisting By The Pool’...), but the reason these songs in particular took off is because they’re so similar to what been around already, but simply updated to a new more 1980s sound. Anyone could have recorded these songs, which don’t particular sound like other Dire Straits records (there’s hardly any guitar on any of them for starters). In fact there’s very little guitar on this album at all, considering that it’s the one with the famous cover of Knopfler’s prize National Guitar from 1936 (the same brand Paul Simon references on the title track of his breatkthrough 1980s album ‘Graceland’). Traditionally Dire Straits songs are built on riffs, ones that grow in intensity and passion as the narrators lose themselves in something (the music in ‘Sultans Of Swing’, love in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, heck even skating in ‘Skateaway’!) Very few of the songs from ‘Brothers In Arms’ are – only ‘Walk Of Life’ has a really hummable riff and that’s played on a synthesiser! Freed of his guitar, Knopfler spends more time and effort on his vocals than normal, turning in some of his best performance on songs like the spine-tingling title track and ‘Why Worry’ (though you have to turn the CD up pretty loud to hear it properly; again another sign of how timid a performer Knopfler is compared to the decade’s other big sellers). The rest of the band sound more ‘together’ here than normal too, with keyboardist Alan Clark the reliable second-in-command he had been on ‘Love Over Gold’ (that’s his work you can hear on the credits of the Most Haunted TV series!) and getting more time than Knopfler’s guitar and bassist John Illsey given more space to work with than normal (his unexpected outburst on the middle of ‘Why Worry’ shows what a fine guitar player he can be when Knopfler isn’t dominating the sound). Amazingly, though, its jazz session drummer Omar Hakim who shines the most on this album: brought in at the last minute to replace Terry Williams (who himself had replaced long term drummer Pick Withers barely months before) and made to play his parts to the most basic of backing tracks, his recording was done and dusted within a fortnight, long before most of these songs would have taken shape – and yet he’s right on the money every time, giving the band a looseness and wildness they could have done with a lot sooner (although funnily enough the wildest and loosest passage – the outburst of solo drumming in the break of ‘Money For Nothing’ is William’s only work to make the finished album; on this evidence alone it’s a real shame the band didn’t use him more, although you do wonder whether he’d have had Pick Withers’ subtlety of sound from their earlier years). One of the other things that helped make the album such a success was its crisp, digital sound. Dire Straits weren’t the first to use digital recording (that was Stephen Stills in 1979, not that those tapes are available even now!) and ironically the technology came along just at the time when analogue recording processes had themselves reached a level of greatness they’d never had before (‘Love Over Gold’ being a case in point if you hear it on vinyl– I defy any listener to hear any real difference between the two if their record is still in a good enough condition to be up to the task!) But there’s no denying the ‘sound’ and ‘texture’ of this album is more important to it than most records, even in the aural fidelity loving 80s. Knopfler always had a keen ear for an arrangement and time and again this album excels: ‘So Far Away’ might be tired 60s pop as a composition but the opening bass vibrato and half synthed harmonies (very 10cc incidentally) is perfect for catching the ear; equally the wild drumming at the heart of ‘Money For Nothing’ is the most electrifying and memorable section of a song that has nowhere to go and no reason for being there; the title track too would be nothing without its eerie opening and supporting sound effects. Digital is still a dirty word in the collecting world and for good reason – some of the late 1980s re-issues of 1960s albums (the Beatles’ for instance) sounded horrid, tinny and flat, far worse than the records of the day and so much the opposite of the warm enveloping sound from that decade that, in Neil Young’s words, it’s the aural equivalent of taking an ice-cold shower instead of a warm bubble bath. But for albums that were designed from the first to fit the medium – as with this album – it can sound marvellous, albeit with some very 80s digital instruments in the mix that date the sound for today’s ears much more than the guitar-bass-and-drums of 1963. It’s hard making an album for the digital market where the best parts are subtle and underplayed, but ‘Brothers In Arms’ second half is even more extraordinary for getting the balance just right, for not overplaying the subtlety or burying the lyric s(and vocals) behind a sea of effects. Considering that this is only the second album Knopfler ever produced on his own (with ‘Love Over Gold’ the first and an equally impressive album production-wise), its a huge success, making the best of what was around at the time (and before younger readers get smug, just wait to hear how dated One Direction and Justin Bieber will sound in 25 years’ time!) Incidentally, the album did come out on vinyl – ‘Brothers In Arms’ wasn’t the world’s first CD-only album as some books and websites will tell you, but it was the first album deliberately written to CD ‘length’ (with several tracks shortened for vinyl). Ironically many of the songs sound better in these shorter edits (Dire Straits songs are traditionally longer than average and more so on this album than most), perhaps showing already the self-indulgence that will come with the 80 minute length albums later on in the decade. So – in essence – it’s easy to see why this album became such a big seller (being perfect for the times, cashing in on the CD age, hit singles galore) without necessarily meaning its a great album. Certainly there is good work on this album, with two maybe three songs as good as anything Mark Knopfler’s ever written and the whole album played by a band at the peak of their powers. But compared to the 100% success rate (for me at least) on ‘Love Over Gold’ this album remains a disappointment, a frustration that in the long term probably cost us fans more than we gained: there’s only one more Dire Straits studio LP after this one and it takes a ridiculous eight years, in which time Mark has seen another relationship crumble, got sick of the music business and the big tours and decided to do something, anything else in order to get the public pressure off his back. (‘People calling us the biggest band in the world...it’s not about the music then, its about the popularity. I needed a rest’ is a very telling quote from the ‘Every Street’ period). Knopfler was never one of those musicians born to handle such sudden success, doing his best work in the shadows when nobody seems to be watching (his excellent last solo album ‘Get Lucky’ being a case in point, released with so little publicity I didn’t know it was out till a month ago) – the fact that he released the perfect album for the years 1985 (recording time) to 1987 (when this album won most of its awards) is in retrospect just an unlucky break. That such a shy, inward-looking soul should end up getting the feelings, fears and frustrations of a whole decade on one album and tour to several million people is one of those strange coincidences that seem to happen round such great musicians who can’t help but communicate what’s in their hearts and souls. It’s fitting that an album about communication breakdown should start with ‘So Far Away’, a 1980s echo of a song that’s been around for generations – and doubtless will for generations to come. It’s tempting to see this song as being about the fallout from Knopfler’s first marriage, especially the lines about being in ‘another town’ sounding like the age-old moan about touring and being away from home but, that said, it may well be the pop connoisseur trying to write his own take on a song about distance that pretty much every writer handles at some point in his career. There are some clever ideas in this song, though, which raise it from the average: the line about ‘being so in love – and being so alone’ just makes the song, as do the lines in the final verse about the distance between the pair being so wide geographically that ‘you’ve been in the sun and I’ve been in the rain’ a clever metaphor for the emotional distance between themselves too. I certainly prefer this song to the other singles taken from this album, as at least this one has a pretty tune and some clever lyrics, even if it doesn’t quite have the originality or uniqueness of the best Dire Straits songs. A surprisingly uptempo song for such a sad subject, the recording is highlighted by a tremendous band performance that has Illsey’s very Motown bass and Clark’s atmospheric keyboards turned up high in the mix, making the most out of a so-so song. By Dire Straits songs this one is rather compact, down to three verses and three repeats of the same chorus (no middle eight or instrumental this time around), but even this one has a curiously extended fade that seems to rattle on for a good 90 seconds after the track has ended (like many a song from this album, the shorter vinyl edit is preferable). ‘Money For Nothing’ is Dire Strait’s best known song, despite being nothing like the rest of their work. A contrast in dynamic tension, this collaboration between Knopfler and Sting (who sings the opening verse) pits a moody slow beginning against the loud brash second half. In fact, its structured very much like Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’ this song, complete with the un-related middle eight bridging the gap between the two distinct sections. By Knopfler’s standards this a rather sarcastic, insincere song, featuring a rare bit of play-acting and inspired by a day he spent trying to buy a TV from an electronic store and listening to the angry shop assistant listing everything wrong with the images from MTV appearing on the giant TV screens. Taking his comments as a metaphor for how the 60s generation was putting down the 80s generation (despite being in turn to badly put down by the 40s generation), it somehow manages to both celebrate and spoof 1980s youth culture. Knopfler was in the perfect position for this kind of balanced view, being a big hit in the music business between 1978 and 87 despite his age actually putting him closer to the stars of the late 60s and early 70s (like we said earlier, ‘Sultans Of Swing’ came out when he was 29, late for a pop star). It makes for a memorable song, especially the drum segue between the two parts and the moody opening chanting ‘I want my MTV’ over and over, but you have to say this song hasn’t worn well with repeated listening, being something of a one-line joke. The chorus also doesn’t fit, relating the details of the narrator’s day job a world away from the stars on MTV and yet not doing enough to make the differences between the two worlds distinct. Like many Dire Straits songs its also a good minute too long, with no less than four repeats of the chorus and an extended guitar solo on the fade which, by Knopfler’s high standards, is both simplistic and dull. Still, that’s listening to it with 21st century ears, now that MTV is itself a generation old and showing videos by the children of the people who were on it when this song was written and has come in for an awful lot more abuse than it did in 1985. Back when this song was written it was amazingly prescient and breaking ground, even if the song doesn’t always use it in the right way. Full marks to Sting for his contribution and ‘re-shaping’ of the song, though – by far the best hour’s work he ever did. ‘Walk Of Life’ is much parodied, with its ‘wa-hooh’ yells from Knopfler and its decidedly retro sound and lyrics. Unlike some musicians on our list Knopfler’s always done his best to stay true to his roots in the rockabilly of the 1950s rather than trying to ‘progress’ from album to album and ‘Walk Of Life’ is probably the one song on this album you could hear coming as long ago as the first album ‘Dire Straits’ in 1978 (if even more simplistic and poppy). A good time song about a hip singer named Johnny (who may or may not be John Lennon), the 1950s were just about far away enough in the mid-80s to be fashionable again, the sound of the teenagers’ garndparents rather than parents’ generation (which is why the 60s were back in fashion in the 90s, hence Oasis, and why we’re now having to suffer the horrors of the 1980s all over again now; its also why so many films were set then in the 1980s – Back To The Future being a famous and Paul McCartney’s ‘Give My regards To Broad Street’ being a less famous example; finally it’s also why The Kinks had their first hit in 13 years with the 1950s-set ‘Come Dancing’ in 1983 despite writing several; similar flop songs for several years prior to this). Sweet and simple, there’s little in this song to dislike – but there’s not much substance to it either and by Dire Straits standards again none of their unique contemporary sound (after all, 10cc had been half-spoofing half-praising the 1950s since 1972 on songs like ‘Donna’ and ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’ – funny how everyone in that decade seems to have been called Johnny!) That said there’s one hint at something darker in the lyric, where the joyous dancing comes ‘after all the violence and the double talk...’, a hint that the setting isn’t as sweet and innocent as it pretends to be in the rest of the song. There’s also something uncomfortable with Knopfler’s vocal, which wanders around the place an awful lot compared to his usual precision and sounds like he’s got a heavy cold. Talking of which it’s Knopfler’s cracked vocal that ruins ‘Your Latest Trick’ for me, a surprisingly bitter put down of a loved one Mark sounds as if he’s doing his best not to be a part of the song at all (had the Dire Straits had more than one vocalist they’d no doubt have sung this on the record), something that really suits the song’s feeling of betrayal – as if the narrator doesn’t want to admit the breakdown of the relationship to himself never mind us. Unfortunately either the cold or a genuine reluctance to commit this song to digital tape means that Knopfler can’t handle the song’s subtleties and his heavy-handedness here robs what could have been a sweet little song of much of its power. It’s almost certainly about the break-up of his first marriage, given how real many of the details are – the narrator so unable to take in the news he instead records all the hustle and bustle of activity around him. There are some classic lines here and there (the garbagemen ‘doing the monster mash’) and the one about how, if the lady wanted out, she should have ‘used one of the keys on my chain’ instead of making her own ‘out of wax’ and abandoning him while he’s in another town (out on the road?) But alas the chorus isn’t one of them, simply cycling through the rather obvious hurt and betrayal that might have been better left hanging in the air as a mystery in the song – indeed with three full repeats its rather rammed down our throats. I’m also not a fan of the moody opening, which is about as 1980s as it gets: long slow and ponderous with saxophone and 80s synths playing to not much effect (why oh why is Knopfler’s great guitar work drenched with echo and buried in the mix?) A frustrating mis-mash of a song that could have worked very well but taken together falls apart. It did surprisingly well in the singles chart, though, despite being the fourth release from the album and despite being one of the least commercial songs on the LP – so what do I know? The side ends on ‘Why Worry’ which is kind of the mirror image of the last song: instead of a bitter betrayal from a distance this is the warmth of a new relationship up close, with the narrator seeking to calm the fears of his loved one. Despite being the last and poorest selling of all the album’s singles, it’s probably the most covered song Knopfler’s ever written (Art Garfunkel does a great version of this song), despite the fact that no one else could have come up with the lovely extended opening which is born for Mark’s crystal clear guitar work. His vocal is up to speed now, too, and the equal of his fine lyrics about turning problems around (another common idea, sure, but well handled here: would that other songs providing comfort had the chorus line ‘there should be laughter after pain, there should be sunshine after rain, so why worry now?’) The one real love song on the album, its moving indeed, the aural equivalent of a blanket a hot water bottle and a box of chocolates, looking for positives in negatives. Interestingly this song is very similar in mood, theme and structure to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – an album very close to ‘Brothers In Arms’ on the list of best-selling albums – suggesting that what a wannabe successful artist should record for their first album is a kind of warm audio hug; both songs are slow and ponderous but with enough going on to keep the excitement – perhaps more importantly both songs are closely rooted to gospel, although here the music is dominated not by an organ or piano but by Alan Clark’s subtle synthesiser work. Alas two things prevent this from becoming the highlight of the album: the mix of this song is awful; its much quieter than the songs either side of it (despite neither being particularly noisy) with Knopfler’s vocal, which should be the centrepoint of the song, ducked quieter than anything else in the mix; there’s also yet another extended ending which despite giving Knopfler’s guitar a good work out sounds more like a battle than act of comforting and undoes much of the atmosphere built up on the track’s first four minutes. Still, this is a lovely song even with all the ‘mistakes’ and it deserves its place in the pantheon of great AAA ‘covered’ songs. Side two is the real heart of the album, however, opening with the eerie and dramatic ‘Ride Across The River’, a song that sounds like across between ‘Apocalypse Now’ and a Michael Palin travelogue. The backing to this track is fantastic and would have made for a fine backing track in its own right: Clark’s keyboards are the perfect soundscape for the exotic and bizarre, sounding like cannibals playing percussion, and the call and answering between Knopfler’s sterling guitar work and a Mariachi trumpet band shouldn’t work but somehow does. It’s the lyrics, though, that excel, with the narrator a soldier searching for something - ostensibly the prey he’s been hired to shoot but as the jungle setting turns to night (with the sound effect of some crickets in the second half of the song) it becomes more about a search for the self. In short, its what Joseph Conrad was supposedly writing about in ‘Heart Of darkness’, his racist book about exploring Africa, but there the metaphor and images got mangled so badly the reader got lost – here the comparison is made explicit, that the ‘heart of darkness’ is inside the hired assassin who had gave no thought to his victims until he risked becoming a victim himself. The song then widens out in the last verse for some of the political sniping that made ‘Love Over Gold’ so memorable, with Knopfler coming up with the classic line ‘Nothing going to stop them as the day follows night – right becomes wrong and the left become the right’. The assassin in the song is then revealed as the band of revolutionaries out to overthrow the old regime – only to add another even more corrupted one in its wake. There are far too many good things about this recording to list for you, but here’s a few: just as the song is beginning to get boring near the end it suddenly jumps a key and the tension goes up another notch (the kind of thing the album’s other songs desperately need in the interests of variety and power), the extended finale using every exotic instrument in the band’s toybox and Knopfler’s screaming vibrato guitar part, sounding magnificent and crystal clear in this setting of hidden ambushes and human deception and lies. Despite being one of the longest songs on the album, it isn’t anywhere near long enough, keeping the audience’s interest to the very end. A real album highlight and one of the best Dire Straits songs of all. Even better is ‘The Man’s Too Strong’, a track which picks up with the last piece’s transformation from pride and stoicism to guilt and fear, with the breakdown of a former dictator facing ruin in the eyes. Dire Straits rarely played with dynamics before ‘Money For Nothing’ but here’s another, even finer example: Knopfler sings the verses to the accompaniment of his acoustic guitar in a typically understated way before his guilt and anguish spills over for a ‘WHAM WHAM ba-ba-bam’ wordless chorus that pulls the rug out from under his eyes and conveys perfectly the idea of rebels at his door. Knopfler sums up his latest character’s life story in a series of excellent stanzas, each one filling us in on his character and why such a nasty character deserves a shot at redemption. ‘I have legalised robbery – called it belief, I run with the money – I have a head like a thief’ – similar in style to the fall of Mr Flash in Ray Davies’ great Preservation rock opera on ‘Flash’s Confession’, this is a long list of nasty attributes that far from making him big, strong and powerful make him seem like just another small weak human gone wrong. It’s all here: the beginnings as a ‘drummer boy’ dazed by the majesty and the splendour of the old rulers, the jealously of the power of the old guard, the overthrow, the ‘re-writing of history’, the isolation behind walls that kept the ruler further away from the people he vowed to represent and the final betrayal by those he thought loved him. In other words a little power goes a long way – and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Some commentators claim this song is about Stalin – that could well be, given Knopfler’s love of history (he taught the subject for a time) but for the record I reckon this song is about then prime minister Margaret Thatcher; Knopfler was born to socialist parents and as fans have already heard on the sterling ‘Telegraph Road’ hated the idea of one person having so much power over others. What Thatcher was up to in the 1980s (basically killing the industries and the working classes) beggars belief and the more I read about what was really going on the more horrified I get; there at the time, with some slight power to speak out against it, Knopfler may well have been inspired to put Thatcher into song. The ending of this recording is sheer class, Clark’s held sinister synthesiser note and Knopfler’s final flurry of notes on the acoustic summing up the aftermath of battle. A frankly brilliant song, the highlight of the entire album and possibly of the band’s career as well. Thankfully Knopfler’s headed towards this acoustic song’s soft-hardness and his political lyrics ever more on his solo albums but never quite with the power to match this superb recording. After two such strong songs ‘One World’ sounds like a let-down, but out of context its stilla fine second-division number. Half serious, half sarcastic, this is an update on the old Dire Straits humour of ‘Millionaire Blues’ and ‘Badges, Stickers and T-Shirts’, B-sides that like this song moan their socks off and then laugh at the rich, comforted narrator for daring to have problems. It’s a clever way out of a songwriter putting into words what their most likely to write about (frustration) but with enough humour to laugh at the self (as most people would kill to have problems like these). ‘Can’t get no sleeves for my records’ is a hilarious beginning – especially given that this is an album that effectively killed off vinyl records – but the song does get deeper by verse two, seemingly another about the end of Knopfler’s first marriage with lines like ‘Can’t find the reason for your actions – I don’t much like the reasoning you use’. The song then pulls out again for a view of the problem as one suffered the world over; basically why can’t we all just get along? (The TV has nothing ‘but the same old news’ generation after generation, full of fighting, overthrown Governments and natural disasters). The best part of the song, though, is a rare middle eight that slows down to take a look behind the narrator’s ‘mask’, with Knopfler telling us direct that ‘most writers write because of vanity’ , believing that their work can be of use or interest to some one else before saying that actually it’s what keeps him sane – and reaching out in the darkness to see if someone shares the sanity as yours is what keeps him going. It’s a fine moment in a fine song, where Knopfler’s supposedly jokey narrator lets his guard down and admits as to why he’s re-writing this song about little frustrations for the third time. The backing is much more traditional than what we’ve had on this album before, with the guitar bass and drums turned up high and the keyboards down a notch, although its not a patch on the group performances that graced ‘Dire Straits’ and ‘Makin’ Movies’. Still, a third straight success story in a row – and the third song not to have been released as a single. The title track of ‘Brothers In Arms’ is, rightly, regarded as one of Knopfler’s greatest masterpieces. In his own words its been sung at funerals and at weddings – something that’s puzzled him greatly given what a sad song it is, encompassing death and ghosts. There’s something uplifting about this song tool, though, with the dead narrator so close to his comrades in battle that he simply won’t let go, there at the scene of their biggest battles and watching on again proudly as they return ‘to their valleys and their farms’. The narrator himself cannot move on, he’s trapped to live out each battle over and over again without the ability to move on – yet strangely he’s not upset by it, more proud of his activity as part of a ‘brotherhood’. So far this quite a worryingly pro-war song, then, sadly closer in harmony with the pointless jingoism of the Falklands War (where men were lost for a few square feet filled with sheep), but Knopfler’s a better writer than that and another classy middle eight just makes the song, asking why – when our planet is all we know that exists in the universe – we’re so content to stay divided, fighting over differences instead of enjoying shared similarities. In short, if we all had the brotherhood of men at war, then there would be no war – and that the ‘Brothers In Arms’, though they may be fighting on different sides – are really all human beings together. We’ve moaned about the mixes and recordings elsewhere on this album, but not here: the band pull together magnificently, with an excellent atmospheric intro that might well be Alan Clark’s best work for the band before Knopfler’s guitarwork is atmospherically eased into the silence. Knopfler’s vocal too relates how close this song is to his heart, even though it originally started as a song about his Scottish heritage (though brought up in Newcastle he was born in Edinburgh) and does sound very much like a Scottish air (complete with ‘mist covered mountains’). An elegiac tribute to how precious our world is and why it should never ever be put under the strain it was in the 1980s (the decade with the most wars ever I think I read somewhere, and that’s without the cold war raging hotter than ever) this song is just one of many ‘warning’ songs that made it big in the 1980s. Unlike ‘Live Aid’ and ‘Two Tribes’, though, this song is much more than just novelty and rightly deserves its reputation as one of Dire Straits’ best. Overall, then, a so-so first side which everyone knows is joined by a majestic second side that deserves to be much better known. Not a bad hit rate for a supposedly well regarded album that’s so firmly rooted to the time period in which it was released (as we’ve seen on this site I rate ‘Sgt Peppers’ as the worst Beatles album and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ as the worst Simon and Garfunkel album). The call to sing the record’s better known but lesser songs in concert must have cheesed Knopfler off no end and probably led to his current lower profile, where he can play what he wants without too much fuss from his loyal fanbase. I hope, though, that Knopfler doesn’t forget the heights he reached on this album’s real peak moments on both this album’s second side and the whole of ‘Love Over Gold’ and that we may yet see the best from this most empathetic and subtle of writers. We did not desert you, your brothers in arms, your fanbase.
What difference does a name make? Arguably not much if you’re already a collector of a certain group, for whom the names on the album sleeves just become part of the furniture (All that fuss about The Beatles having such a strange name in 1962 and 63 had gone by 1964). But if you’re new to a group and keeping an eye out for one you might like then the name is probably the thing that will catch your eye first. Hence this weeks’ top five, extended to a top 28, dedicated to why each of our AAA bands got their names (we’re going to ignore those who used their real names as that’s just boring – though look out for a couple of pseudonyms that made the list). Now as I well know after writing 260 odd reviews and newsletters nothing about any of these bands are ever simple and there’s some dispute about some of these stories, What difference does a name make? Arguably not much if you’re already a collector of a certain group, for whom the names on the album sleeves just become part of the furniture (All that fuss about The Beatles having such a strange name in 1962 and 63 had gone by 1964). But if you’re new to a group and keeping an eye out for one you might like then the name is probably the thing that will catch your eye first. Hence this weeks’ top five, extended to a top 28, dedicated to why each of our AAA bands got their names (we’re going to ignore those who used their real names as that’s just boring – though look out for a couple of pseudonyms that made the list). Now as I well know after writing 260 odd reviews and newsletters nothing about any of these bands are ever simple and there’s some dispute about some of these stories, especially our 60s bands who often had their names ‘talked up’ during interviews for a bit of publicity. So where applicable we’ll list all the possible alternatives and invite you to select the one you agree with most. We’ll also be taking a look at some of the former names used by each band – and suggesting whether or not the switch was a good idea...
THE BEACH BOYS For at least a year the group soon to be known as The Beach Boys were officially known as The Pendletones, after the type of stripy surfers shirts you can see them wearing in just about every personal appearance between 1961 and 64. Some sites will tell you that the band were forced to drop the name after the company tut-tutted and talked about pressing charges, but actually its extremely unlikely anyone would have heard of them by the time of their name change in 1961. The truth is likely more prosaic: the band’s first song ‘Surfin’ was released with a limited pressing after the band were one of many to play ‘live’ in the offices of Mite Horgan’s ‘Studio Masters’, the local recording booth in Hollywood. Another group attending that day genuinely were called ‘The Beach Boys’ and the secretary, knowing nothing about either band, simply got the names wrong and switched them round. Horrified by the forced name change, the Wilsons and Mike Love talked seriously about cancelling the project and starting again – but to their surprise the record was a big local hit and the band began to get a following under their ‘new’ name so kept it. How lucky that other group was called something so suitable and not ‘The Landlocked Ladies of Love’ or something daft, otherwise their story might have turned out quite differently. Certainly ‘The Beach Boys’ has a longer shelf life as a name than being named after a shirt, although frankly even that name undersells what a pioneering, eclectic band they were to become.
THE BEATLES (AND SOLO) Legend has it that Lennon came up with the name ‘The Silver Beetles’ in honour of Buddy Holly’s band ‘The Crickets’ but that then-bassist Stuart Sutcliffe went one better and in what would become a typical Beatles pun-on-words added the ‘a’ to add the twist on ‘beat’ music (Holly, who came up with the name ‘crickets’ as a pun on them being the most musical insects, would doubtless have been amused). Other sources have quoted the fact that Marlon Brando rebel rocker film ‘The Wild Ones’ has a female motorbike gang called ‘The Beetles’ – but this seems less likely to me, as the Beatles weren’t big on motorbikes or on films and as tough Liverpudlian lads are unlikely to have named themselves after anything so girly (even a motorcycle gang!) The story did do the rounds at the time though – hence, most likely, why The Searchers took their name. Officially, of course, Lennon’s story was that the name was given to him ‘by a man on a flaming pie who said ‘you are Beatles with an ‘A’ and we were’. First appearing in editions of Merseybeat, the local music magazine of Merseyside long before any outsiders heard of the band, the fact that Lennon spent so long talking about the band name shows how much fuss there was about this ‘unusual’ moniker back then. The band were formerly known as The Quarrymen after Lennon (and Sutcliffe’s) high school, but was understandably changed when the band left. As for solo Beatle bands, The Plastic Ono Band was deliberately conceived by Lennon after a work of Yokos where an audience was asked to listen to a band that weren’t there – the noises of the exhibition and what was going on inside their heads was ‘the band’. This idea suited Lennon who hated the idea of having to form another ‘Beatles’ and be tied up in another band for years, as it meant he could leave the line-up as flexible as he liked. Years later in 1980 Paul McCartney quoted his made-up band as ‘The Plastic Macs’ in a video for ‘Coming Up’ in honour of his former bandmate (Lennon was so impressed with the song it brought him out of retirement!) ‘Wings’ was conceived by McCartney in the very unglamorous surroundings of a London maternity hospital in 1972, where his wife Linda was having slight difficulties in the birth of the family’s third child Stella (born by Caesarean). Pacing the floor of the canteen and trying to take his mind of his current situation, Paul says the word ‘Wings’ suddenly floated into his head and he liked the image as being both ‘heavenly’ and ‘uplifting’. Legend has it Stella was born at the instant the name came to him. ‘The Travelling Wilburys’ were named after a throwaway joke between George Harrison and Jeff Lynne during the recording of the fomer’s ‘Cloud Nine’ album in 1987. Whenever something went wrong with the recording the other said ‘don’t worry, we’ll bury it’, George’s Goonish humour turning the phrase into ‘will burys’, a mysterious gremlin type race who loved making mischief in mixing desks. When the Wilburys got together the following year and were looking for a name George suggested ‘Trembling Wilburys’ as a joke. Lynne then changed the first word to the definitive ‘Travelling Wilburys’. The five then cooked up some shaggy dog stories for the sleeve of their first record, recounting the ‘journey’ of the ‘perambulating wilburys’ and their evolution to the present and the fact that each of the musicians were given their own names, all children of the esteemed Charles Truscott Wilbury Senior.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN This band was named by chief songwriter Stuart Murdoch after a children’s book and TV series made in France that should more properly be called ‘Belle et Sebastiane’. The theme of the show was basically a French version of Lassie, with Sebastian a young boy saved from difficult circumstances by his faithful canine companion. There’s no direct link between the band and the TV show but they did all have to write off to the estate of authoress Cecile Aubry for permission to use the name. Incidentally various links to the TV show do crop up on several B+S songs, particularly in their early days, such as the title of ‘Dog On Wheels’ ‘I Love My Dog/Car’ and the last episode of the series, where the faithful Belle is put down for attacking another boy (who was in turn attacking her master) is very similar to the last few albums B+S have released, about betrayal guilt and love. As far as I know the band never had another name.
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD Dick Clark famously introduced the band to the American public by saying they were named ‘because they own the Whole of ‘Buffalo’ and half of ‘Springfield’. Actually the band were named after an American steamroller company – no I’m not making this up! – who happened to have a vehicle with ‘BS’ plates positioned right outside the band’s window. Famously the band – who knew each other independently years before – met up in a traffic jam where Stephen Stills and Richie Furay spotted a hearse in the queue going the other way and knew it must belong to their eccentric friend Neil Young. There might well have been a steamroller in the queue somewhere too!
THE BYRDS The Byrds all had a ridiculous lot of names before manager Jim Dickson finally came up with the one that stuck. As a trio McGuinn Crosby and Clark were known as the ‘jetset’ (after McGuinn’s mania for planes) and later became known as ‘The Beefeaters’ (as after The Beatles anything with a British name sold by the bucketload). At least one of these names is a bad idea – I’ll leave you to decide which one! As for ‘The Byrds’ the name came about because of the band’s desire to have a name connected with ‘flight’ in some way and the mis-spelling came about partly because ‘birds’ were English slang for ‘girls’ and in honour of the mis-spelt ‘A’ in Beatles. Incidentally there was a band called ‘The Birds’ from London, who’d started a good 6 months before The Byrds used their name their first time – former Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood was in the line-up – and some people say that the mis-spelling came about because the latter band sued. That’s not actually true – neither band had heard of the other until ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ was riding high in the charts.
CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG Well, one entry where the name is obvious you’d think. Actually CSN had several names in the pipeline, including most famously the ‘Frozen Noses’ (a drugs reference it won’t surprise you to hear), mainly because it was so deeply unusual to have a name like this rather than a group ‘label’ in 1969 (although Peter Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel got there first). The reason for the name was that after the ‘pressure’ from being in bands previously (respectively The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies) all three wanted a much ‘freer’ arrangement where they weren’t in danger of wearing the same shirts and speaking unitedly in press conferences. For a time, though, they weren’t sure what to call themselves and were set to be ‘Nash, Stills and Crosby’ before working out that ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ trips better off the tongue.
DIRE STRAITS I love this story, though some have cast doubts on whether it’s true or not. Knopfler brothers Mark and David both went to a private boarding school in Newcastle and, by most reports, were less than enamoured by their schooling. One day their headmaster called them both into his office and said that if they didn’t change their ways they would be in ‘dire straits’ in adulthood (ie in difficulties). Not wanting to prove him wrong they named their band ‘Dire Straits’ in his honour. Other reports have the band coming up with the name during a boozy late night discussing names with, among others, Simon Cowe – the guitarist in fellow Geordie band Lindisfarne. Perhaps both stories are true, a suggestion prompting the memory of the name for Mark.
GRATEFUL DEAD Again there have been some doubts about the true story of how the Dead got their name, but one things for certain: the band were all set to be The Warlocks for years before their first record. However Jerry Garcia heard in late 1966 that another band had beaten them to it and reluctantly told the band they had to change it. While there have been bands called the ‘Warlocks’ since (notably in LA in 1999) there’s been no record of one around in the mid 60s, so Garcia might have got it wrong. Legend has it that the band opened the dictionary at two random places to get two random names. However, it seems more likely to me that, as historians of folk literature, the band already knew that a ‘Grateful Dead’ was a Medieval form of poem whereby a person does a good deed for a dying man and gets helped by him from the afterlife (basically where the Western idea of karma comes from). It’s certainly a name that suits the band, however weird it sounds at first, and is a lot more suitable than the band’s first moniker, ‘Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions’ (yes the band that pioneered psychedelic were a jug band in their first incarnation!)
THE HOLLIES The founding members of The Hollies will disagree to their dying day about who thought of the idea first and where exactly they were, but what is known is that somewhere around Christmas 1962 the band played a gig at a site with holly festooned on every wall. The band had actually gone without a name for some time, the band having been merged from two separate bands doing the rounds on the Manchester beat scene (‘The Dolphins’ and ‘The Fentones’) and needed one in a hurry when the site manager (whichever one it was) said he had to introduce them as something. The name was accepted because, like contemporaries The Beatles, it was a play on words on band idol ‘Buddy Holly’ (though the fab four had gone for aping his backing band The Crickets). And which one of them said the name first? Well it can’t be Hicks or Elliott as they weren’t in the band back then. Clarke, Nash and original bassist Eric Haydock have all claimed to have come up with the masterstroke – and for all we know original drummer Don Rathbone might have said it too. THE
HUMAN LEAGUE The band that started out as a duo called ‘The Dead Daughters’ and were best known for their spiky treatment of the Dr Who theme tune had come a long way by the time of their first record. A longer lasting name was ‘The Future’, which was only dropped by the band because they’d already gone round all the record companies they could think of asking for an audition and figured a new name might make them think they hadn’t been rejected by them already! Avid science fiction fans, the band came up with the ‘Human League’ name from the very technical and complex game ‘Starforce: Alpha Centauri’. In the game the ‘Human League’ are an Earth colony trying to escape the pull of the planet’s empire and open new frontiers, a rather fitting name for the band. Incidentally when founding members Ware and Marsh left the band in 1980 to form ‘Heaven 17’ they took that name from a futuristic rock group mentioned in both novel and film of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (although technically they should have been called ‘Heavenly 17’).
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE/STARSHIP The official reply to how the band got their name? ‘We took the J from Jefferson, the E from Egg, An F from banana’ etc. The band couldn’t tell the official fan story of where they got the name (inventing daft names for blues singers in a band competition, guitarist Jorma coming up with the accepted winner ‘Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane’) because that sounded daft. And they couldn’t really give the most likely source of their name, which was California slang for an improvised roach clip for marijuana – commonly a match that had been doctored to hold grass too small for the fingers to hold. Chances are the true story was a little of all three. Paul Kantner then named the ‘Starship’ when he was looking for a good collective band name to go with his solo ‘Blows Against The Empire’ project. A concept album about a bunch of hippies stealing a spaceship intended for spreading capitalism across the galaxies and using it to spread instead, it seemed like a natural progression when the band reformed fully in 1974.
JANIS JOPLIN (Big Brother And The Holding Company) Janis’ first band was already inexistence long before she became their lead singer and talking point. The band got the name from George Orwell’s novel 1984 where ‘Big Brother’ was the all-seeing corporation watching out for subversion and rebellion (something the band were full of!; the fact the phrase now most commonly means a godawful reality TV show where people argue with each other for hours is very sad) The ‘Holding Company’ part of the name is more obscure, but was probably a psychedelic joke about how such a disorganised hippie establishment could act like a ‘holding company’ full of stocks and shares and suits.
THE KINKS Ray Davies hated the name ‘The Kinks’, which was forced on him by managers Granville and Collins because they wanted to come up with a name that had a ‘shock’ factor and was short enough to stand out in small print at the bottom of concert posters (Wace says it was a friend of his who invented the name). Ray himself recalls it as something publisher Larry Page said on first seeing the group and that they looked ‘a bit kinky’ with their long hair and leather suits. For years previously the band had played as a drummerless trio of Ray, brother Dave and schoolfriend Pete Quaife under alternating names including ‘The Ravens’ (which is what the band were still called when signed by Pye) and ‘The __ Quartet’, with the name of whichever band member had got the gig filling in the gaps!
LINDISFARNE Like The Hollies, Lindisfarne were two local performers joined together: a folk-rock group called ‘The Brethren’ and a singer-songwriter named Alan Hull. Seeing as the band were all local to Newcastle the band decided to name themselves after the ‘Lindisfarne’ island just off the coast of their home city. No one is quite sure who came up with the name and exactly why, but Lindisfarne has big resonance with locals, being one of the earliest known colonised sites of Great Britain and famous for its monasteries where some of the UK’s earliest Christians came to pray. Personally I think the band should have stuck with their original mid-60s name ‘The Downtown Faction’, which is a classic 1960s invention!
LULU Lulu was born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie which, as her manager Marion Massey put it, was an awfully big name for such a wee girl to have (Lulu was all of 15 when her first single ‘Shout!’ was released). After an exhausting day trying to think of a suitable name, Massey is legendarily meant to have leant back in her chair and declared ‘I don’t know what the hell to call you – but you’re a real lulu of a kid!’ The name then stuck, partly because of Lulu’s resemblance to the title character in the cartoon strip ‘Little Lulu’, published in the Saturday Evening Post, whose ‘Just William’ type escapades were a big hit in the 1930s.
THE MONKEES The name ‘The Monkees’ actually existed even before the four musician-actors had been hired for the TV series. Like most things early Monkees it was coined by creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schenider, two TV executives a good 30 years younger than most of the staff working at Colgems, figured that they wanted their new group to be up to mischief and ‘monkeying around’. The ‘ey’ at the end was altered to ‘ee’ in honour of The Beatles and the mis-spelling of their name. THE
MOODY BLUES The Moodies must have been named after something as psychedelic and hippie as they were, right? Erm, wrong, they were named after a local beer! The original Denny Laine-era of the band were named in 1964 as the ‘M&B Five’ in the vain hope of getting sponsorship from local Birmingham brewery Midland and Butler (whose logo was M&B). The hoped for sponsorship failed to materialise, but the band already had a small following so kept the M and B initials, calling themselves ‘The MBs’ and ‘The MB 5’ for a while. The final name came, not from the Elvis song ‘Moody Blue’ but from the Duke Ellington song ‘Mood Indigo’, the band altering the shade slightly so that they became ‘blue’.
OASIS Noel Gallagher must thank his lucky stars that the band changed their name from ‘The Rain’, even if the band were at first named after a classic Beatles B-side (Noel wasn’t actually in the band during this early period). The final name came from brother Liam, who had ‘borrowed’ one of his brother’s posters from an Inspiral Carpets tour (where Noel was roadie) for his bedroom wall. One of the gigs the band played was the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon, with the word ‘Oasis’ written in giant letters. Incidentally there had already been a previous band called Oasis in the 70s, a shortlived supergroup including Beatles discovery Mary Hopkin as a singer, but the band never got into legal complications or were forced to change their name, unlike some of the bands on this list.
GILBERT O’SULLIVAN Gilbert was actually born Raymond O’Sullivan but didn’t think his first name was very rock and roll (something we’d better not pass on to Ray Davies or Ray Charles!) His first manager Mike Smith (formerly of The Tremeloes) came up with the name, which really is a play on words of the Victorian writing team the hilarious Gilbert and his rather more sombre writing partner Sullivan (I’d love to have got Gilbert’s take on The Coalition!)
PENTANGLE A ‘pentangle’ is a five-sided star that’s meant to have special mystical properties in ancient English witchcraft. The band have said that they used the name because they were a quintet (with each ‘point’ needed to make a ‘whole’, or perhaps suggesting that all five members of this folk supergroup were already ‘stars’) and that the image crept up in a lot of the traditional songs they were singing (especially John Renbourn’s favourite traditional folk song ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, which sadly the band never recorded).
PINK FLOYD As all good music lovers of the 60s and 70s know, Pink Floyd was named by Syd Barrett after his two favourite blue players Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.; Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of either of them – today they’re only remembered because they gave this band their name! What’s more intriguing is some of the names the band played under before this, including the Architectural Abdabs (both Roger Waters and Nick Mason were architectural students at the time), Sigma Six, The Meggadeaths, Leonard’s Lodgers, The Spectrum Five and The Tea Set. This last name was the one the band favoured most but to their horror they met another band called The Tea Set at one of their first professional gigs and were forced to change the name. For a time the band were known as ‘The Pink Floyd Sound’, an interesting twist in that it puts the emphasis on the uniqueness of their music many years before the laser lights shows and flying pigs made them such a visually exciting act.
ROLLING STONES Most people assume the band were named after the famous Dylan song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, but that song came out a fair time after the band’s first single ‘C’mon’. Both artists got the name from the same place however: blues singer Muddy Waters. Brian Jones was a big fan and had to come up with a band name at short notice when placing an advertisement for a gig with the magazine ‘Jazz News’ (a sign of the times – rock was so dead and buried there were no magazines to place their ad with!) He’s meant to have been on the phone staring at his record collection when a Muddy Waters track title named ‘Rollin’ Stone’ caught his eye. The song is based on the old English phrase ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ and is about the importance of moving on and not standing still. Prior to the name the band had just been ‘guests’ of Alexis Korner’s band ‘Blues Incorporated’, playing the occasional set alongside their heroes. Fans have also long assumed that the famous rock magazine Rolling Stone is named after the band – it isn’t, its named after the Dylan song instead!
THE SEARCHERS Merseyside’s second most popular band, the Searchers took a leaf out of what they thought the Beatles had done (naming themselves after the female bikers in ‘The Wild Ones’ film) and named themselves after a John Wayne cowboy film released in 1956. I’ve never actually seen the film (why watch cowboys and indians when you can listen to them in the Buffalo Springfield?) but from what I’ve read of the plot synopsis (aging cowboy heads West to look for his missing niece) it doesn’t seem the most obvious starting point for a rock and roll band. That said, Buddy Holly – who seems to keep cropping up on this list – loved the film and wrote ‘That’ll Be The Day’ after the ofte-spoken catchphrase in the film. As ever with The Searchers there’s something of a dispute about who thought up the name: guitarist Mike Pender claims it was him, second guitarist John McNally claims it was original lead singer Ron Woodbridge; drummer Chris Curtis and original bassist Tony Jackson kept quiet about the matter.
SMALL FACES Despite their often uncontrollable egos, the teenagers who made up the original Small Faces had a great sense of humour too. In mid 60s Mod slang a ‘face’ is a trendsetter, the ‘hip’ kid who sets all the fashion and yet looks cool whatever they’re wearing. The Small Faces longed to be seen on this level and yet their small height (barring original keyboard player Jimmy Winstun) meant they were somewhat overlooked as fashion icons. Some bright spark – probably Steve Marriott although most sources aren’t too sure – put the two words together and hey presto, a self-ridiculing trend-setting band was born! We’ve remarked before about the duality of a band who wanted to be taken seriously whilst writing knock-off novelty songs that sold millions – that schizophrenia is all in the name too (it should have been this band that made ‘Quadrophenia’!) They dropped the ‘Small’ from their name when the band split and they brought Rod Stewart in to replace Marriott: at 6” he was hardly ‘small’ unlike his predecessor!
CAT STEVENS/YUSUF Cat’s changed his name so many times down the years it’s probably a long time since somebody called him by his real name ‘Steven’ (‘Georgiou’ being his real surname). Cat only changed his name for recording purposes, figuring ‘no one in their right mind would ask for a record by somebody with that name’) and figuring that animals were all the rage in the day in both the UK and US. Looking for a good one he remembered a girlfriend who once told him he had eyes ‘like a cat’ and the name stuck. His name change to Yusuf officially occurred in 1977, although it was part and parcel of a slow conversion to Islam that Stevens had been following since the mid 70s (when his brother gave him a copy of the Qu’ran shortly after Stevens nearly died in a freak accident that saw him drifting out to sea). In the Muslim religion Yusuf is the Western equivalent of Joseph, the character in the Qu’ran Stevens identified with most, as well as meaning ‘peace’ (‘Peace Train’ being the song perhaps most identified with the singer).
10CC Erm, err, we feel a bit like Eric Stewart on Multi Coloured Swap Shop right now, asked to reveal the story behind the name and sensibly saying ‘we’ll tell you about it off air’. Let’s just get it over with quickly shall we? Original manager Johnathan King came up with the name, reportedly in a dream, based on the statistic that 9cc was the average power of a male human ejaculation. 10cc, being cheeky, added a 1 to the name. Not the best idea given what King became famous for later in life...Things could have been worse though: before Graham Gouldmann joined the band the trio in 10cc were called ‘Hotlegs’!
THE WHO Perhaps the most suitable band name on this whole list, given the ‘orrible ‘oo’s concern with identity, confusion and self throughout their long career, starting with their very first single ‘I Can’t Explain’ back in 1965 (although to me the band have always sounded like they deserve an exclamation mark at the end!) For a long time, however, the band alternated between that name and the very 60s, very mod-ish ‘The High Numbers’ and even released a single under that moniker which sadly ended up charting in the low numbers (the band sensibly dropped the name because of bad puns like that one!) Prior to that the band were known as the ‘Detours’. Most fans assume it was the band themselves that came up with the name – actually it was Pete Townshend’s art student room mate of the time Richard Barnes who came up with the idea.
NEIL YOUNG (Crazy Horse) Finally, Neil Young is a given – it’s his real name folks – but the naming of Crazy Horse is a bit more interesting. Under Danny Whitten’s tutelage they started out as an a capella doo wop band named ‘Danny And The Memories’ before getting into rock and roll and turning into ‘The Rockets’. It was Neil’s idea to re-christen the band Crazy Horse, an Indian name that made sense given Young’s preoccupation with all things Indian (during the Springfield years he played ‘Indian’ to Stills’ ‘cowboy’). A native American war leader who longed for peace, it’s the perfect name for Neil to come up with, even if the name doesn’t necessarily suit the band themselves, who really are more of a stubborn but beautiful kick-ass mule. Wow aren’t names important! And that’s that until we see you for yet another issue of, erm, what’s that thingy called? Erm, anyway, whatever it is we’ll see you then!