Friday, May 19, 1978

Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” released

Sultans of Swing

Dire Straits

Writer(s): Mark Knopfler (see lyrics here)

Released: May 19, 1978

Peak: 4 US, 5 CB, 11 HR, 2 RR, 46 AC, 1 CL, 8 UK, 26 CN, 6 AU, 2 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.6 UK, 0.78 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 270.7 video, 797.56 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Dire Straits were initially regarded as a new wave band. They landed in this company having come up through the London pub scene with a vaguely gloomy name.” TC They were, “in fact, the perfect representation of the ‘80s – an era of post-modernism. They played long songs that appeared to have flights of improvisation but were tightly scripted. They lyrics had a Dylanesque obscurity but lacked poetry or much meaning.” TC

They did, however, “have their moments. The first of them is ‘Sultans of Swing,’” TC a song which “was a marked change from the waning disco style and the nascent punk movement.” SF “The thing here is the hook that [Mark] Knopfler lays down with fluid and inventive guitar runs while the rhythm section maintains a gentle funk undertow. Knopfler’s voice is etherieal and laid back.” TC

In Dire Straits’ debut single, Knopfler paints a story of protagonist caught up in the music at a jazz club. The band has no pretenses of making it big; “they’re here because they live for this.” PW Critic Paul Williams says “Sultans of Swing” isn’t just “one of the truly great song-poems that is overtly about the love of music…This is a song about values.” PW “Music is our meeting place…What else, apart from sex, is so constistently intimate?” PW

Knopfler got the idea from the song when he ducked into a bar on a rainy night in Ipswich. A band was performing to “maybe four or five drunks” and ended their set “announcing, with no apparent irony, ‘Goodnight and thank you. We are the sultans of swing.’” As Knopfler said, “there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren’t.” SF


  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Pages 327-8.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia
  • PW Paul Williams (1993). Rock and Roll: The Best 100 Singles. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. Pages 186-7.

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First posted 7/14/2022; last updated 7/31/2022.

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