An obsession with Sultans of swing
Hello everyone, Anand Shankar here! I hope you read and enjoyed my previous blog “Anand Shankar and the sitar”. I recently came across a youtube video my son was watching on Dire Straits and it brought back some nice memories. So here I am to touch upon “An obsession with Sultans of Swing” and I hope you like it.
Before I move ahead, let me briefly introduce you to this song, just in case you never heard it before (quite unlikely though). It was written and composed by Mark Knopfler, the lead singer and legendary lead guitarist of the UK based band Dire Straits. It was released in the year 1978 and soon reached the “top 10” of European, US and UK music charts.
How Mark Knopfler came up with this song is very interesting. On a particular day in South London, Mark happened to hear some music from a nearby pub, being played by a local band. He felt that it was easily one of the worst bands playing music in London at that time as it was so horrendous. Wondering which band it was, he entered the literally deserted pub to hear the words “we are the Sultans of swing”. He could barely contain his amusement.
With the Fender Stratocaster
Mark Knopfler wrote lyrics of this song after he heard the band who actually called themselves “The Sultans of Swing”. He initially played it on an acoustic guitar, the recording of which he keeps and the world hasn’t heard for all these years. Later he played it on a “Fender Stratocaster” guitar of 1961 vintage with an open chord tuning (I will explain this in a later blog) which changed the feel of the song entirely.
The first radio broadcast
The song was first played on the radio by an influential DJ Charlie Gillett. Mark and his bass guitarist friend, John Illsley never thought this song would actually make it so big. After a day’s work and giving their song to the radio DJ, they got busy moving furniture for a friend, while radio listeners all around London were spellbound by the genius of his guitaring.
It so happens that they don’t even remember whose furniture they were moving. This is just to give you an idea of how both these great guys went about doing trivial things when their music was unfolding and making such a massive impact on its listeners.
This is much like what happens to most of us, where we unmindfully go past really important moments in life without realizing their true value. It is only sometime later in life that it finally dawns on us as to how big those small insignificant things actually were.
The interesting lyrics are here for those of you who are lyrics people
You get a shiver in the dark
It’s raining in the park
South of the river
You stop and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie
Double four time
You feel alright
When you hear the music ring
Well, now you step inside
But you don’t see too many faces
Coming in out of the rain to hear the Jazz go down
Competition in other places
Ah, but the horns, they blowin’ that sound
Way on down south
Way on down south, London town
Check out guitar George
He knows all the chords
Mind, it’s strictly rhythm
He doesn’t want to make it cry or sing
Left-handed old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing
And Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene
He’s got a daytime job – He’s doing alright
He can play the Honky Tonk like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans
With the Sultans of Swing
And a crowd of young boys
They’re fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies
And their platform soles
They don’t give a damn
About any trumpet playing band
It ain’t what they call Rock and Roll
And the Sultans
Yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole
And then the man
He steps right up to the microphone
And says at last
Just as the time bell rings
“Goodnight, now it’s time to go home”
Then he makes it fast
With one more thing
“We are the Sultans –We are the Sultans of Swing”
If you have skipped reading the lyrics, I urge you to go back up and read it. It will get you the right perspective. The lyrics above are a copy and paste job done well (by me of course, with some experience in scientific writing) and I can’t vouch for its accuracy.
Nevertheless, we all know this song is actually not about its lyrics. It is more about guitaring. I wouldn’t be able to do justice and describe in words the brilliance of Mark Knopfler’s work and I strongly recommend that you listen to this song.
I’m sure the song hit the top of the AFMC charts soon after its release and it certainly remains there today. It did inspire students to learn guitaring. It was for many “An obsession with Sultans of Swing” after all.
During socials, the song would invariably transform a number of people into amazing guitar players. One could see them with their imaginary guitars (known by various names) passionately playing it on the dance floor.
The “Sultans of Swing” has been played by AFMC beat groups on stage. It made real icons out of those who dared to pick it up. I’m sure you can relate to at least one guitarist in college who nearly mastered this song. The experience is so close to my heart and I feel it is indeed “An obsession with Sultans of Swing”.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. Moreover, I invite you to share and subscribe so that you can get personal updates about new blogs featuring here. I’m also planning a blog on Mark Knopfler’s guitars soon, so do stay tuned.
Happy music to you!