Monday 8 January 2018

Byrds Essay: Why This Band Were Made For Turn! Turn! Turning!/Updates

You can buy the 'Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Byrds - All The Things' Now By Clicking

The Byrds weren't like other bands. Most groups of the 1960s didn't have a career trajectory or a flight-path exactly, but it's fair to say that they at least knew vaguely the direction they wanted to take off in - forward, in roughly the same genre, but possibly into deeper territory and exploring new mind-altering side-steps along the way. By and large most 1960s bands progressed and evolved and while the place they ended up in (say 'Abbey Road') might not have been immediately apparent to where they started (say 'Love Me Do') the stepping stones along the way meant that this journey actually made a lot of sense when viewed as a whole. It's not so much that an ending resting place was inevitable so much as that it made perfect sense as a straight line from A to B and possibly Z as well. The Byrds, however, tore up their flight-map almost as soon as they could and they spent their career navigating a series of u-turns which meant that every time their audience thought they got a handle on what The Byrds were and what their signature sound was, it changed - not just a little bit, but often completely and frequently overnight, without warning.
At first who The Byrds were and what they were meant to be was obvious. They came right in the middle between The Beatles and Bob Dylan, somewhere between electric folkies and acoustic rockers. Everybody knew it and talked about it as 'The Byrds sound'. Except The Byrds themselves never intended this to be their sound - they weren't that keen on Dylan and were largely reluctant devotees of his work; by the sound of their pre-fame demos they were already developing their own style which had a lot to do with folk but very little to do with the protest or surrealism that was Bob's stock-in-trade. It didn't help that the one person around the band who wanted them to sound like this - manager Jim Dickson - was soon persona non grata within the band after 'playing favourites'. So when The Byrds got the chance to play around with their own style more they took it and moved as far away from that beginning sound as they could, blasting out in five different directions at once as their personalities allowed. Now The Byrds never got 'rid' of Dylan - indeed there are a total of seventeen Dylan covers on the band's album (more on the solo albums), which means Bob wrote more songs for the band than any original member outside his champion Roger McGuinn. But even these show development from folk to country to all-out rock by the end. What The Byrds did with those covers and most of their other songs was very different to the hybrid folk-rock of their early years and they abandoned their initial sound completely after their first year together, leaving the band's audience puzzled and their commercial status in free-fall. Of all the 1960s bands none changed their sound quite this much so readily - the closest artist doing this at the time, ironically enough, was Dylan himself.
What The Byrds did best however was hold onto that idea of being in the 'middle' of something. Several songs in the Byrds' back pages try this trick, finding a hybrid somewhere between folk and pop, rock and bluegrass, country and psychedelia, jazz and rock and homedown folk and universal epics. People often talk about The Byrds as a 'traditional' act, whether it be folk rock or country, but actually there's nothing traditional about what The Byrds do, fitting styles together like Lego and coming up with combinations few other bands ever discovered - and certainly not as often. Take a song like [82] 'Space Odyssey' - it's a sea shanty, as traditional sounding as any song can be and McGuinn is a folk traditionalist who instantly understands the roar of the waves and the motion of the melody lines. Only this traditional song happens to be set in space and sounds that way with the recording techniques used too, without ever sacrificing the characteristic jaunty gig of a nineteenth century sailor . Or have a listen to [79] 'Change Is Now' which is one of 1968's most psychedelic of battlecries about the idea of fluidity that seems to be bending and breaking minds - that then pauses for a middle eight that couldn't be more country if it was sitting on a horse holding a banjo and shouting 'yee-ha!' Or then there's [63] 'Renaissance Fair' with its bunch of blissed out Medieval hippies from the middle ages. Or [123] 'Jesus Is Just Alright', which takes the most anachronistic un-hip set of lyrics the band could find about Christianity and make them sound as contemporary as they ever sound with a so-1969 funk strut setting (usually The Byrds sound either that little bit before or after their time - only with [13] 'Tambourine Man' do they ever capture their zeitgeist perfectly and that wasn't really their idea but their manager's). The band clearly know this too: just check out the sleeve to 'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' where the band are dressed as cowboys underneath their space-age suits which they then proceed to strip off, swapping their spaceships for horses. Or, indeed, the similar cover on 'Untitled' where the band shot on the front is a mirror image of the band on the back - but looking at two such very contrasting images. Turn turn turn indeed - the band's  first real style of their own choosing was in retrospect a highly apt song choice for a band who Byrds never stopped turning or chasing their own tails.
If anyone remembers The Whazzles (the Disney franchise that combined unlikely parts of two very different creatures together) than that's what The Byrds were, always doomed to look forward and back all at the same time. They're a hybrid band who don't just go forward or back but somehow exist in at least two space-time continuums at once. The Byrds' philosophy always seemed to be that our best way of learning about ourselves wasn't just to embrace the future (and McGuinn's love of space-age technology) but to embrace the past (and the traditions of country music) at least as often. That sounds terrible: what do psychedelic pioneers know about bluegrass? And what do country bumpkins know about LSD? But somehow, for the most part, The Byrds made it work. It's as if the band argue that every space-age planet must have a homespun love of country they can call their own or that every travel eight miles high into space has to return to the barn eventually. Learning is learning, whatever source you learn from  - be it [85] 'The Christian Life', the drugs of [73] 'Artificial Energy', Gene Clarks' exploration of romantic relationships or even on [46] when you are lost in a new dimension: everything is a source of curiosity and awe to The Byrds. The only thing these disparate songs have in common is a need to know how the world works. It's a dichotomy that only really fails once, on 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo', when for all the band's reputation for 'inventing' country-rock they actually turn into country musicians whole-hog thanks to Gram Parsons, after a career of doing country-rock (on [37] 'Satisfied Mind' among other early songs) as well as everything else-rock.
It sounds as if the band that recorded the forward-thrusting 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' and the traditional retro 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' have absolutely nothing in common with each other - and in many ways they don't. The Byrds were surely one of the least stable bands in history, buffeted in the wind by whatever musicians happen to be in the band at any one time and none of their line-ups secure enough to last more than four albums at a time without flying off. Roger McGuinn aside, every line-up of The Byrds appeared fragile and merely people passing through whatever the band members themselves thought, which in itself feels a little like information gathering from as many different sources and viewpoints as possible (its true to say McGuinn never 'replaced' a band member with anyone similar and the only thing in common with the bassists, drummers and rhythm guitarists in the group were often the instruments they played and nothing else). Birds of a feather may flock together, but for The Byrds hardly ever. Hard as the band tried to gel and coalesce (and as well as they succeeded at different times in their history, such as 1965 and 1970), something always drove them apart - and often that something was the grandest AAA version of what you might call 'musical differences'. The band felt a call for the country here, possessed a psychedelic streak here, had a love of rock and roll there and never quite forgot their folk beginnings, their pop-loving fanbase or their rock and roll rebellious side. We've recently written about The Buffalo Springfield, Byrds protégés who were at least eleven bands in one and unwilling to trap themselves in by doing any one thing. That band, however, only lasted for not-quite-three albums that all did different things; The Byrds lasted for twelve very different sounding records of which only the first and second and tenth and eleventh sounded anything like each other. Perhaps that's why The Byrds sing war standard [31][ 'We'll Meet Again' with such delicious irony - for their parental generation life was a fixed path, laid out through repetition and only interrupted by bombing raids and wars. For The Byrds' generation they're never going to go back to the same place twice, not with a whole universe of things new and old to explore. There's no continuity in The Byrds' career, just crazy-paving as the band pick out a random flight-path across the sky.
Which is no bad thing. All too often you hear bands of old, especially from the first half of the 1960s, and their best work always appears at the beginning of a compilation album, before blander and safer re-treads suck all the joy out of what was once so sparkly new and minty fresh. From the second single onwards bands are desperate to repeat themselves, to release something as close to their establishing hit as they possibly can, with a series of diminishing returns (it speaks volumes that the only time The Byrds did this, with [28] 'All I Really Wanna Do' on the back of [13] 'Mr Tambourine Man', it flopped badly and the band never tried it again). If you follow The Byrds releases in order though (or read this book from first page to last) then what strikes you is that you never know what's coming next. It could be a Dylan cover. It could be a serious protest song about Hiroshima victims ([51]). It could be a silly song about spacemen ([48]). It could be a traditional song about a horse [138] 'Chestnut Mare'). It could be a vision of the future involving alien visitations ([62] 'CTA-102'). The next song on an album could be a heartfelt love song ([150] 'Kathleen's Song'), a cynical diatribe against commercialism ([60] 'So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?') or a filler instrumental ([173] 'Bristol Steamboat Convention Blues'). The Byrds don't come in three dimensions, but in five, with time (you never know what century, past present or future, a song is coming from next) and space (the setting of many a song) presumably the other two. One of the most hated of all Byrds songs is [180] 'Born To Rock and Roll' perhaps because The Byrds' fanbase instinctively realised that out of all the1960s bands connected to rock and roll The Byrds weren't this was a band that clearly wasn't - unlike most of their peers this was a band born to rock, pop, folk, country, jazz, blues, psychedelia and roll, often all at once. Limiting the band to just one genre is like limiting yourself to one flavour for the rest of your life when you have a band that can sound like any food combination you ever dreamed of and these moments when The Byrds pick one style and stick to it are easily their worst. Sure some of the combinations don't work and others give you stomach ache (1970s folk-1950s rockabilly hybrid [156] 'Tunnel Of Love' isn't one of their better ideas), but this is a band to be celebrated for possessing one of the widest palettes in the business. Sure, other bands walked further in one direction in their expedition to chart unexplored territories in the name of popular music, but The Byrds never stepped in the same place twice (well, not after that second single anyway) and arguably covered more ground that way.
It's fitting, then, that this band who so loved randomness and changed direction with the wind ended with a reunion album that at least tried to take the band back to where they started, albeit making use of everything the five original Byrds had learnt in the meantime. The Byrds' work as a group should have ended not with the Neil Young covers of their reunion album (or indeed the Bonnie Tyler covers of the box set) but with Gene Clark's [182] 'Full Circle', the song chosen to start that reunion album instead. Here both life and the band's career are cyclical, circles to go round and round after years of living life in a zig-zag. It's the only band original that played up to what was The Byrds' biggest career statement and if only the band had put it at the end of that album it would have been perfect. Out of the rest of the band's career only [77] 'Wasn't Born To Follow' chuckles at the idea that you can take a Chestnut Mare to water and also make your listeners think. Not born to follow - the band sure got that right - no other band had such fun exploring or combining, dreaming of the future while looking back constantly over their shoulders.
The Byrds' story represents quite a flight. Sometimes soaring, sometimes crashing, sometimes down to Earth, sometimes Eight Miles High, theirs is a catalogue full of more peaks and troughs than perhaps any other band in this book series. But inconsistency is merely the downside of an exploratory nature and a drive of curiosity that means the band have to explore every large part of the great untapped wilderness. Ironically the band that once had a hit with [83] 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' was the band that most refused to sit still.

"The 60s: The Byrds"
(Import,  September 2014)
Mr Tambourine Man/All I Really Want To Do/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Turn! Turn! Turn!/Eight Miles High/So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?/My Back Pages/Lady Friend/Goin' Back/The Ballad Of Easy Rider
"I ain't looking to compete with you, beat or cheat or mistreat you"
Yet another Byrds compilation, done on the cheap and with a playing time of not quite half an hour - stingy in the CD age. There's a quite ugly cover of the band on the front where they look more like The Addams Family than the 1960s' coolest American band and packaging that would have looked out of date in the 1980s, but at least the track selection offers a good overview for newcomers who are only interested in the 'proper' hits. Well those and [118] 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider', which seems a strange inclusion at the end. It probably took the compilers about ten minutes to throw together, but there are worse compilations out there and especially given that this CD set is, to date, the cheapest official Byrds CD on the market and therefore a useful stepping stone for fans who don't want to buy pricey best-ofs to sample one or two tracks they might not know. To be honest though the album re-issues don't cost much more than this and a purchase of 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' or 'Untitled' still offers much better value for money.

Gene Clark "The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982"
(Sierra, December 2016)
The Way I Am/I'd Feel Better/That Girl/A Worried Heart/If There's No Love/Back Street Mirror/Don't Let It Fall Through/Back To The Earth Again/The Lighthouse/The Awakening Within/Sweet Adrienne/Walking Through This Lifetime/The Sparrow/Only Yesterday's Gone/She Darked The Sun/Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms/She Don't Care About Time/Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky?/Bars Have Made A Prisoner Out Of Me/One Hundred Years From Now/The Letter/Still Feeling Blue/No Memories Hangin' Around/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better
"A smoke-filled room full of inclinations"
Well, this was an unexpected festive treat - so unexpected I assumed I'd written the last page for this book until this release around Christmas 2016! The rehabilitation of all things Gene Clark in the 21st century continued with another fine set of unreleased (and mostly unbootlegged!) recordings taken from seven key moments in the life of the 'Tambourine Man'. In truth little of what's here lives up to the best of what Gene offered during his lifetime, again, but then that's rarity sets for you - what's more surprising is how much of this two-disc set is more than worthy of release and approaches a few miles high, if not always as much as eight. The set starts with a quintet of songs from 1964 taped alongside the 'Preflyte' ones with Jim Dickson producing. Was Gene being groomed to be a solo star the way that Crosby had been? Well, maybe, but Clark sounds even more uncomfortable here than he did surrounded by harmonies and other musicians, straining in a crooning voice throughout and these simple pieces don't rank anywhere near his songs for The Byrds the same year. 'That Girl' is rather nice though, a Scott Walker-ish piece about wondering why a loved one 'went away and left me alone' despite the very obvious connection between them. Obviously this song sets the tone for all of Gene's songs to come! The next pair of songs date from 1967, the year after Gene had left the Byrd and feature him collaborating with band friend Hugh Masekela for a joint project that sadly never happened. The actor David Hemmings picked Gene's song 'Back Street Mirror' for release as a single, which is how most fans know it but Gene's original demo is better (obviously) and as Dylanesque as he ever got; 'my mind pasted to the window with exaggerations' indeed. I prefer the rocky 'Don't Let It Fall Through', though, which takes what Gene always did (wordy intellectual emotional rock) and stuck a rock and roll beat and horns to it - the results are certainly different as Gene comes to terms with the end of yet another relationship in feistier form than normal.
Next up are seven unheard acoustic songs intended for a record that never got made somewhere between the Doug Dillard pair in 1968 and 1969 and 'White Light' in 1971. 'Back To The Earth Again' is one of the set's highlights, a beautiful and (for Gene) simple ballad about having got your hopes back up and prepared yourself for perfection when something goes wrong and you're back nursing your wounds again. 'The Lighthouse' - taped forty-five years before the Crosby album of the same name but by coincidence released the exact same year - is another great song about surviving storms and features a terrific vocal Gene would have struggled to beat in a 'proper' studio. 'The Awakening Within' uses meteorological metaphors to good effect, 'Sweet Adrienne' has Gene purring like Gordon Lightfoot on a love song much more 'normal' than usual, 'The Sparrow' is a Stephen Stills-style song equating a bird with a bird as it were as a lover becomes a symbol of countryside domesticity and 'Only Yesterday's Gone' is a pretty nostalgic number with more of a Beatley lilt than anything since The Beefeaters days. The other highlight though is surely the moody 'Walking Through This Lifetime' where Gene ponders many philosophical thoughts including whether 'freedom' is 'reality' or only a figment of his idealistic imagination. Hearing a song this good after so many years without him is a real treat.
Next comes the only song previously released 'She Darked The Sun', although it's not the version that appeared on the first Dillard and Clark album but a re-recording made with The Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969 during the five minutes or so Gene was in the group. It's rougher and rawer and rockier and clearly not as good and arguably the weakest thing on the set and was right to be replaced on record with the more impressive [4] 'Here Tonight'. After that comes a quartet of songs from an abandoned album from 1972, started in between 'White Light' and 'No Other' and while not up to either album it's still an impressive piece of work. Terry Melcher, first Byrds producer, taped these songs without quite knowing what to do with them and later took the unusual decision to make it an album for his own voice, replacing Gene's guide vocals for the final record released as simply 'Terry Melcher' in 1974. Fans had long wondered if Clark's vocals existed and they do, but don't get too excited as they're clearly guide vocals and Gene sounds even more lost in the production melee than Melcher did. The re-make of [42] 'She Don't Care About Time' as a slow country weepie is a worthy idea though and Gene's cover of Earl Scruggs' 'Don't Let This Road Look Rough and Rocky' is sublime, more heartmelting even than the similar slow ballads on 'Two Sides To Every Story'.
The final five songs all date from 1982, a period when Gene was struggling financially, creatively and healthily. Gene wasn't alone but the token songwriter and occasional singer for a new country-rock group named 'Nyteflyte' (with Michael Clarke and - briefly - Chris Hillman in the line-up) - though the name was suitably Byrdish the results were more like boiled-over Flying Burrito Brothers, being easily the weakest section of this set. However the band shines on an oddball mournful re-make of [25] 'Feel A Whole Lot Better'. This set also marks the first time Gene ever recorded a song by his Byrd 'successor' Gram Parsons, a mark of respect soon after his tragic death from one country-folk-rock star to another  - something that happens twice over on this compilation! There's an (oddly) more country and less rock country cover of [90] 'One Hundred Years From Now', which sounds much more like The Byrds than the final recording ever did and the 'GP solo song 'Still Feeling Blue' which wouldn't be my choice (Gene would have sounded great on 'She' or 'Brass Buttons') but does its job just fine.
Overall this set is an excellent reminder of just what a talent Gene Clark had and how frustrating it is that he had so little chance to do anything with it in his lifetime. While little here matches up to the very best of his solo work, much of it is good and a majority of it revealing as Gene shines whether singing solo to his own guitar or fronting (uncomfortably) a middle of the road country band. Heard together these different snapshots of Gene's life sound like various cul-de-sacs that might have been and any one of them could easily have led to big things, although there are no other 'No Others' here. Treat it as Gene's solo equivalent of 'Preflyte' though and you won't go wrong - no mean feat given that Clark had already seen the release of one odds and ends set ('Roadmaster') in his lifetime already and still had this many great things in the vaults left over!

A Now Complete Link Of Byrd Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Mr Tambourine Man' (1965)
‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (1965)

'(5D) Fifth Dimension' (1966)

'Younger Than Yesterday' (1967)

'The Nototious Byrd Brothers' (1968)

'Sweethearts Of The Rodeo' (1968)

'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' (1969)

‘The Ballad Of Easy Rider’ (1969)

'Untitled' (1970)
'Byrdmaniax' (1971)
'The Byrds' (1973)

Surviving TV Appearances
Unreleased Songs
Non-Album Songs (1964-1990)
A Guide To Pre-Fame Byrds Recordings
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One (1964-1972)
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two (1973-1977)

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Three (1978-1991)
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Four (1992-2013)
Essay: Why This Band Were Made For Turn! Turn! Turn!ing
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

AAA Extra: Mark Knopfler's Guest Appearances

You can buy 'Solid Rock - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of...Dire Straits' by clicking here!

The general view of Mark Knopfler in the wider world is that in many ways he's a 'lazy' creative, with increasingly lengthy gaps between Dire Straits albums that even his prolific solo years haven't prevented. However Mark spent an awful lot longer in the recording studios than many fans realise, becoming in demand as a producer and as a guest guitarist for a number of musicians known and unknown who either befriended him or asked for his help by name. It was also a useful 'procrastinating' device in the long gap between 'Brothers In Arms' and 'On Every Street' when Mark couldn't face trying to top his fame all over again. Mark started at the top too with his first guest appearance coming by request from none other than Bob Dylan when Mark was all of a year into his stardom. Since then he worked regularly with other artists all the way through the Dire Straits years to the mid-1990s. Sometimes you can't hear him, hidden behind a wall of production noise and other times Knopfler is so recognisable it's like a mini Dire Straits record (and let's face it, there aren't that many of them!) So to save you searching here's as complete a list as we could manage - no doubt we've missed a few odd appearances on some obscure album somewhere, so if you know something we've missed then why not write in?!
1) Slow Train Coming (Plays Guitar on Entire Album, Bob Dylan, 1979)
Mark was thrilled when he got a call from one of his idols asking him to add his distinctive guitarwork to a new album of retro 1950s songs he had coming out and even Knopfler's nerves didn't get in the way of him thinking 'I could do that!' Mark was thrilled when he discovered that Bob was in his born-again Christian phase and wanted to record a set of religious material that he didn't feel suited to at all. 9and nor did Jewish producer Jerry Wexler!) Bob for his part had been an early fan of the [2] 'Sultans Of Swing' single and wanted a similar feel, even travelling incognito to see a Dire Straits show at the Roxy club during the band's first American tour. Needing a drummer for the sessions, Mark nominated Pick Withers to join them too. The result is one of those albums that only a Dylan fan could love, but you can tell it's Mark's playing once you know, most famously on the acerbic 'Gotta Serve Somebody', parodied with much glee by a housebound John Lennon in 1979. The highlight though is the reggae-ish single 'Man Gave Names To All The Animals', the one song where Dylan almost hits the 'right' key!
2) Time Out Of Mind (Plays Guitar, Steely Dan, 'Gaucho', 1980)
Mark sounds much more at home on the rockabilly grooves of Steely Dan's seventh record, the jazz-rock fusion band's 'guest star' album which features another forty-odd big star names to go alongside Knopfler. Mark is better used than most though and almost turns this fantasy song about chasing dragons into an earthy rootsy Dire Straits song thanks to his Chet Atkins style guitar bursts.
3) King's Call (Plays Guitar, Phil Lynott, 'Solo In Soho', 1980)
Mark's less obvious on this song by the Think Lizzy vocalist, at least until a typical solo some two minutes into the song, but there is a very 1950s groove to this 'Notting Hillbillies' style groove and the similar style big wide open drums so common to period Sire Straits recordings. The lyrics are a little bit like [2] 'Sultans Of Swing' too, Lynott getting drunk to the sound of his hero's songs 'always true in the darkest of nights'. This song for Elvis may well have inspired the similar [46] 'Calling Elvis' with its haunting refrain that, day or night, 'you can always hear the King call'. Sadly Lynott himself will be dead in six years, his battle with heroin leading to septicaemia at the age of just thirty-six. Funnily enough, while Lynott's career is almost over by this point and Knopfler's is just beginning they are contemporaries born a mere eight days apart in August 1949 (Mark being the older).
4) Ode To Liberty (Plays Guitar, 'The Phil Lynott Album', 1982)
The pair's second and last collaboration sounds much more like you might expect, with Mark's finger-picking all over this breezy ballad with synth strings which sounds not unlike the songs he'll be writing himself by the time of the 'On Every Street' record. There's a hint of the just-released [22] 'Romeo and Juliet' around his playing on this song too, which would have been a nice track had Phil sung it rather than spoken it. 'This is no Shakespearian speech' indeed!
5) Love Over and Over (Plays Guitar, Anna and Kate McGarrigle, 'Love Over and Over', 1982)
For those who don't know Kate and Anna are the mum and aunt to Rufus Wainwright, although I've always reckoned his younger sister Martha to be the real talent in the family. They're both toddlers at this point in the folk singers' career who turn in one of their poppiest, simplest numbers here with a boogie-woogie bass riff and a honky tonk piano. Mark sounds a bit in the way on guitar, trying to fit his 1980s-1950s hybrid sound into what's a very 1960s track but you can certainly recognise his playing here.
6) Cleaning Windows and Aryan Mist (Plays Guitar, Van Morrison, 'Beautiful Vision', 1982)
Now this is an interesting one. Van Morrison came to fame in rock group 'Them' before carving out a niche as one of the early 1970s sensitive singer-songwriters. Mark Knopfler, by this point in his career, is best known for pure 'solid rock' and is only slowly beginning to develop his storytelling credentials. The two new friends getting together seemed to have a big impact on both of their future styles though with 'Beautiful Vision' the long lost Grandaddy of Mark's 'Golden Heart' LP from 1996 and many of the other solo albums to come. It's a Celtic music record for the most part, built on tin whistles and flageolets and though the two songs Mark plays on have a good-time rock groove you could easily see these songs as later Knopfler originals. Unusually Mark plays as rhythm guitarist on both tracks, with the bubbly poverty-stricken window-cleaning narrator of the first song the better of the two.
7) Infidels (Produced Entire Album, Bob Dylan, 1983)
Clearly a glutton for punishment, Knopfler returned to the studio to produce another Dylan LP after the songwriter reached out to him for help with the 'new-fangled equipment' he was trying to work with. Used to drilling the disciplined Dire Straits boys through multiple rehearsals, Mark found keeping up with Dylan challenging to say the least but had fun playing on a hand-made acoustic Greco guitar he was leant for the sessions from a local rental shop to get the 'feel' Bob wanted. Looking around for a keyboardist, Mark nominated his own player Alan Clark whose stylistic touches can be heard all over this varied set more than his own guitarwork. The slow-burning ballad 'Sweetheart Like You' was my favourite song from the album, a [22] 'Romeo and Juliet' style ballad but made for the piano with Mark's flamenco style flitting through the song. The album itself went under numerous re-mixes that changed the essence of what Mark was trying to do and he took his name off the album as a result.
8) Blanket Roll Blues (Plays Guitar, Scott Walker, 'The Climate Of The Hunter', 1983)
Mark does pick them doesn't he? His next moody rule-breaking songwriter was Scott Engel, formerly of The Walker Brothers, who was busy making his first LP after quite a long break (one so long you could even have slotted two Dire Straits albums in there!) and his first to be, well, not that normal. Mark is right at home on the song's Edith Piaf/Jacque Brel acoustic vibe though and this is one of his better and certainly more audible contributions on this list, Mark picking away at a song like he's in a Parisian nightclub. A lucky thing it wasn't Scott's next album 'Tilt' or Mark's contribution would have been slapping chunks of meat!
9) She Means Nothing To Me (Plays Guitar, 'Phil Everly', 1983)
Mark was an obvious choice for the one-half of the Everly Brothers' attempt to make a contemporary album that still retained elements of his favoured 1950s style. Phil sounds great, fellow guest Cliff Richard sounds awful and Mark? He's stuck to a boom-chicka-boom rhythm part somewhere down the bottom of a busy mix. Like many of the Everly's solo stuff you long for them to have cut this song together as it's crying out for harmonies!
10) Knife (Produced Entire Album, Aztec Camera, 1984)
One of the prettier albums Mark ever worked on, his personal touches are all over this 1980s prog rock album by one of the decade's finest bands. There's a lot of 'space' here on this record, which is unusual for Mark but can be heard on parts of 'Brothers In Arms' to come. The highlight is surely the pretty nine-minute title track which is less intense than [28] 'Telegraph Road' but is similarly epic and is structured in a similar way. The album is a 'big' one for Dire Straits fans as Mark found himself producing alongside session musician Guy Fletcher for the first time - the pair get on so well he'll be in Dire Straits himself in a couple of years.
11) Cosmic Square Dance (Plays Guitar, Chet Atkins, 'Stay Tuned', 1985)
The genesis for the Atkins-Knopfler duets album 'Neck and Neck' is this sweet little instrumental, taped for a popular EP that did rather well in the wake of 'Brothers In Arms'. Mark always loved Chet's style and never sounded better playing it here alongside the great man himself, darting around in the left-hand channel (with a very 1980sish Dire Straits sound) while Atkins dances in the right (with a very 1950s style). The pair sound great together on one of this article's must-have moments for any Knopfler fan.
12) Overnight Sensation  (Played Guitar and Produced 'Break Every Rule' Tina Turner, 1986)
This song too is one of the most 'important' in this list, given that it's a rare case of a Knopfler song written for an outside artist. Mark and Tina sound natural bedfellows here, with the raunchier side of Mark's writing and a reprise of his [30] 'Industrial Disease' riff a good match for Tina's larger-than-life personality. The postmodern lyrics refer to Mark's problems 'trying to make a song fit that never was mine', before turning into a song about never being denied and overcoming stage fright. This was something both Mark and Tina shared to some extent along with their delayed entry to fame which came later in life than it did for most (the title, surely, is ironic!) and suggests Mark have had a good ol' natter with Tina before sitting down to write (or perhaps re-shape?) this song to something they could both believe in. It's good fun and it would be nice to hear a Knopfler version of this track one day.
13) Miracle (Produced Entire Album, Willy De Ville, 1987)
One of the more obscure entries on this list, Willy De Ville came to sort-of fame with his 1980s pop band 'Mink Deville' and sounds not unlike a huskier, booze-swigging Knopfler. That might be why he approached Mark for help producing his first solo album (mark doesn't sing or play, as far as I can tell). It's a whole different kettle of fish to Dire Straits: noisy and production-heavy and will come as a shock to anyone who ever loved the 'inner space' of a Dire Straits record. It's a sound Mark never really returned to again, although some of his noisier film soundtrack albums headed in that direction.
14) Save The Last Dance For Me (Plays Guitar, Ben E King, 'Save The Last Dance For Me', 1987)
Ben E King prepared to celebrate his 50th birthday by re-recording some old favourites with some new friends. Once again Mark's retro sound came in useful on this very 1980s re-tread of one of this 'Stand By Me' writer's favourite songs and Mark turns in a nice stately performance, a notch slower and more disciplined than the bouncy dancing going on all around him.
15) Death Is Not The End (Produced 'Down In The Groove' Bob Dylan, 1988)
Mark's final Bob Dylan collaboration is easily the pair's best, a sad slow stark and sombre song about meeting your maker that's not unlike the recordings Johnny Cash was making by the end with producer Rick Rubin. It's a great song from a ghastly LP, with Mark and Bob's twin guitars really setting the scene, much more fitting than the other religious songs from the last album with the upbeat thought that, however lonely you are in life, you will have companions galore in death.
16) Land Of Dreams (Produced Entire Album and Plays Guitar, Randy Newman, 1988)
mark doesn't seem an obvious choive for one of Randy's most autobiographical albums, all about his upbringing in upstate New York. That must have been very different to Mark's Tyneside upbringing and yet the two have a sympathetic bond here, with producer Knopfler effectively turning this into a Dire Straits album but with the piano more upfront and the guitar lower down. Mark does play occasionally, such as on the album highlight, the self-hating 'I've-never-known-love-song 'I Want You To Hurt Like I Do'. To think, almost Randy's next career move was writing songs for the 'Toy Story' franchise?!?
17) Did I Make You Up? and The Shouting Stage (Plays Guitar, Joan Armatrading, 'The Shouting Stage', 1988)
Perhaps my favourite song from the whole list, Joan and Mark sound great together, her giving him soul and passion and him giving her discipline and focus. Mark's guitar sounds superb, dancing from note to note as he entwines himself round Joan's voice and nicely complementing her lyrics of shock at finding someone to love after decades of loneliness on the delightful 'Did I Make You Up?' and playing some bluesy [45] 'Brothers In Arms' style guitar on the title track break-up song. Though Mark keeps quiet and doesn't sing my instincts tell me their voices would go together well too, dark and husky as they both are - perhaps even more than Emmylou's on the one duet record Mark did make.
18) Foreign Affair (Plays Guitar On Entire Album, Tina Turner, 1989)
With their last collaboration being quite a hit Mark was lured back to play on the whole of Tina's next album this time around. Not that you'd know it, however, as Mark's contributions can only occasionally be heard beneath a bank of synthesisers and noisy drums. 'Look Me In The Heart' is the place where you can hear Mark best, although he's playing in quite a different style to usual, more choppy and less fluid than usual.
19) [1] Water Of Love (Plays Guitar and Sings, The Judds, 'River Of Time', 1989)
This country music sister duo were The Corrs of their day (and rather more talented too dare I say it!) Mark was so pleased with their demo when they asked to sing one of his earliest Dire Straits songs that he dropped in to play the characteristic steel guitar part as well as his own usual style. The result is one of the best Dire Straits covers out there, the song sped up ever so slightly and spaced out so that it sounds like a much more hopeful song than the 'marriage just broken up' way Mark sang his original. The result shows what the first Dire Straits record might have sounded like had it been done more in the production style of the later band albums - fabulous, in a word! Highly recommended, as is much of the LP actually. Note the lyric change to 'Once I had a man, but now he gone' for obvious reasons!
20) No Money At All (Plays Guitar, Brendan Croker, 'The 5 O'Clock Shadows', 1989)
Before the pair founded The Notting Hillbillies together, Mark got together with Brendan Croker to play some characteristic guitar flourishes to one of the latter's better songs. This is a sad song about poverty, albeit performed like an upbeat pop song, that would have fitted in well on 'Love Over Gold', Mark's most politically minded LP. It's a lot better than anything that made the Hillbillies record, performed with real passion and drive and Mark gets to join in with a terrific riff!
21) [38] Money For Nothing-Beverly Hillbillies (Vocal and Guitar, Weird Al Yankovic, 'UHF: The Original Motion Picture and Other Stuff', 1990)
One day there's going to be a 'Weird Al's Album Archives' even more surreal than this site! Till then there's a few of the comedian-singer's records featuring guest appearances by various AAA members including Mark Knopfler. The pair have fun desecrating a Dire Straits classic with the familiar noisy drum-battle opening (re-recorded) giving way to a new variation on Mark's familiar guitar part. The result is close enough to convince most casual fans maybe, but when the vocals come in it becomes a song about a guy called Jed eating food in Beverly Hills?!? Money for nothing perhaps, like many a parody, but all done in good fun.
22) Wonderful Land (Plays Guitar and Sings, Hank Marvin, 'Heartbeat', 1993)
Hank Marvin had a problem when trying to shepherd guitarists onto his Shadows soundalike solo album. They had to have distinctive styles that wouldn't clash with his while the album was all instrumental. Mark Knopfler was an obvious choice, then, humming on the right hand channel alongside Hank's characteristically shuddery guitar on the left. Only a very 1980s production (yes even in 1993!) gets in the way of this simple toe-tapper.
23) The Lily Of The West (Played Guitar and Sings, The Chieftans, 'The Long Black Veil', 1995)
A million miles away from the signature Dire Straits sound, but somewhere within the same postal code as the more Celtic solo albums to come, this is (along with the Cal soundtrack maybe) the world's first evidence of where Mark's musical heart really lay beneath all that stadium-arena rock. Mark sounds great singing his way through this traditional Irish folk song about his lovely girlfriend Molly, envied by all the other boys.
24) All Over Again (Sings and Plays Guitar, 'BB King and Friends' 1995)
Mark had fun guesting with all his heroes. BB King was another guitarist he had long admired and you can hear a lot of similarities with the signature Knopfler sound. That similarity is more noticeable than ever when the pair got together for one of the highlights of BB King's all-star set, grooving away in the left-hand channel. It's unusual to hear Mark play a 'real' blues (as opposed to the parody [33] 'Badges Posters Stickers T-Shirts') and on this evidence he should play them more often, as he has a real feel for the genre without going over the top. By contrast BB is having perhaps too much of a good time on his vocal here!
25) Nobody's Here Anymore (Plays Guitar, John Fogerty, 'Déjà Vu All Over Again', 2004)
Once again, Mark's guitar style goes well alongside the swampy blues of the former Credence Clearwater Revival lynchpin, but that growly voice is more of a struggle against his fluid guitar tones. Mark's double-tracked guitar part, which plays more or less throughout, is the closest he's yet come to returning to the one for [2] 'Sultans Of Swing', albeit slower and for a whole song as accompaniment rather than purely as a solo. As for the lyrics, this is a song about how all the greats have died off - which seems a bit rich given how many Mark still had in his address book by 2004! Proof that Mark could still play in his old style when he wanted to.
26) Not One Bad Thought (Plays Guitar, Tony Joe White, 'Uncovered', 2006)
Do you remember the early 1970s band Brook Brenton? Yeah, only hazily here too - their big hit was 'Polk Salad Annie' if that helps? Anyway Tony Joe is a good friend of Mark's whom he met when they were both working on the Tina Turner album Foreign Affair' in 1989. It seems odd, then, that the guitarists had never crossed paths before this and a shame given how well Knopfler's finger-picking goes alongside White's straight-line fuzz groove. The opening guitar peals are glorious - it's just a shame when the vocals kick in to be honest...
27) The Sailor's Revenge (Produced Entire Album, Bap Kennedy, 2012)
Finally, Mark's most recent collaboration is with Van Morrison's occasional writing partner (born Martin Christopher Kennedy) who was also in the band The Energy Orchard at the same time as launching his own career. 'The Sailor's Revenge' is Kennedy's sixth solo LP and not one of his best, a little one dimensional and folkie throughout. You can hear lots of pretty Knopfler touches along the way though and ther title track has the laidback grandeur of [45] 'Brothers In Arms' about it.