On July 22, 1978, Dire Straits had a UK chart position to show for their early efforts, albeit just barely. In the case of Dire Straits, the old music industry adage that great things come from humble beginnings was rarely more accurate. During their formative months, the band had to endure numerous low-paying, low-profile gigs and extensive van or public transportation travel to their own shows. On July 22, 1978, they finally had a UK chart position to show for their efforts, albeit just barely.
In February 1978, Dire Straits recorded their self-titled debut album at London’s Basing Street Studios with producer Muff Winwood. It arrived as the band was gaining critical acclaim, opening for Talking Heads, the Climax Blues Band, and Gerry Rafferty on UK dates, and headlining their own shows. The album included the later hit single “Sultans Of Swing,” as well as “Southbound Again” and “Down To The Waterline,” as well as other examples of one of the tightest four-piece live bands. All of this would eventually result in a major hit album, but not initially. “Sultans Of Swing” failed to chart at all in the UK upon its initial release. Only in April, fueled by the success of the reissued single, did the album rebound in the United Kingdom and reach a new high of No. 5. In the summer of 1978, conditions were more difficult.
Dire Straits debuted on the UK singles chart as disco reigned supreme, with Saturday Night Fever in the midst of an incredible 18-week reign at No. 1. From the Rolling Stones and the Moody Blues to Genesis and (Straits’ Vertigo labelmates) Thin Lizzy, both new and old rock titans were popular. Kate Bush was the most popular new British singer-songwriter of the year. Almost Top 40. Even if they were the major new label priorities, a band without visual gimmicks and relying solely on their songs and live reputation was always going to struggle in that environment. The album debuted at No.48 on the Billboard Top 75, between releases by Irish flautist James Galway and American rock titans Van Halen. A week later, it rose to No. 40 before falling back to its starting position. Beginning in early September, the album reached its highest position on the charts, reaching No. 38. But it wasn’t until 1979, with the momentum of a hit single and newfound American success, that Dire Straits truly gained traction in their native country. Once they had done so, there was no going back.
Rolling Stone critic Ken Tucker wrote at the time of the album’s release, “an English quartet led by singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler plays tight, sparse combinations of rock, folk, and country music with a serene spirit and witty irony.” It’s almost as if they are aware that their specialty has nothing to do with what’s happening in the industry at the moment, but don’t care… As a writer, Knopfler composes brief narratives about the banal problems of his peers: “women problems, money problems, and finding one’s place in the world.” In April of that year, Dire Straits reached their eventual top five UK peak, spending eight weeks in the top ten in their home country. The album remained in the lower reaches of the British chart throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, outlasting the group’s active existence.
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