If there’s one certainty upon the release of the inductees list for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame each year, it’s that you’re always going to hear some serious belly aching over who got in and who didn’t. And this year, the roar about Dire Straits finally getting in after 15 years of eligibility has — at least among the so-called tastemaker set — been the loudest.
The first shot fired came from the great Tim Sommer, who in his opinion piece for RealClearLife openly wondered why groups he perceived to be mediocre wind up in the Rock Hall, saving his most poisonous darts for the Dire boys.
“There is truly no rational world where Dire Straits (who are a likable band in some ways, no doubt) deserve an honor that, say, the New York Dolls, Judas Priest, or Motörhead has been deprived of,” proclaims Sommer. “No one ever fled the suburbs and moved to the City because of Dire Straits. No one ever felt better after being mocked by a bully because of Dire Straits. No one ever saw Dire Straits on TV and thought, ‘My god, I am not alone.’ No one ever wrote ‘Dire Straits’ on the back of their notebook and made that one friend who saved their life.”
Meanwhile, the recent news that neither the band’s guitar-slinging frontman Mark Knopfler nor his multi-instrumentalist brother David Knopfler would be attending this weekend’s festivities in Cleveland was met with a collective shrug across the Internet. As it stands at press time, we will see only three of the band’s members — keyboardist Alan Clark, original bass guitarist John Illsley and Guy Fletcher, who played keys and guitar on 1985’s Brothers In Arms and their 1991 swan song On Every Street — in attendance on Saturday night while word of who will induct them and whether a performance will transpire remains up in the air.
“Most of the world owned a copy of Brothers in Arms by the late ’80s,” surmised longtime AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his piece on the Rock Hall nominees list for Pitchfork last October. “But are Dire Straits the kind of band who inspires devotion in 2017?”
But here’s the thing. Those who say that Dire Straits don’t deserve to go into the Rock Hall because they failed to make a significant impact on the evolution of rock, consider this thought: Of all the English bands to have emerged from 1977, no other group outside of The Clash was more custom-made for induction than Dire Straits, if only for the fact they were a guitar-heavy combo who strung together elements of jazz, blues and country in a way that preserved the original recipe for rock n’ roll in a time of turbulent transition for the genre with the rise of punk, prog, heavy metal and new wave. Like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers here in America, they seemed both out of time and right in line with the neon glow of the Jimmy Carter years. But Dire Straits sounded like nothing else out there in the late ’70s, harboring a sense of conventionalism that made fans out of Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton while exhibiting a sense of quirk that landed them a tour with Talking Heads in 1978.
And while Sommer has a point about nobody moving to New York City high on inspiration from Dire Straits, appreciating the dual guitar complexities of such CBGBs luminaries as Television and Richard Hell & The Voidoids is not too far off the mark from the six-string duels that went down between Knopfler and Illsley. But the music of Dire Straits spoke more to the suburbs than the city folk, the smoothness of their distinctive blend of classic and modern rock going down like a hot coffee on that morning commute. Plus, there’s the unlikely influence Dire Straits has played on the current breed of indie rock musicians these last ten years or so, the kids who were babies or in pre-school when the band was all over MTV with the innovative video for their otherwise obtusely homophobic hit single “Money For Nothing.” The most obvious, of course, being Philly’s The War On Drugs, whose 2017 LP A Better Understanding was championed in the press upon its release particularly for the band’s ability to modify what Dire Straits were doing in the ’80s with Love Over Gold and Brothers in Arms into its own modern adaptation of heartland rock.
You can also hear the heavy influence of those MTV-era Dire Straits in the feel of the latest LP from Nashville’s Los Colognes, entitled The Wave, especially “Unspoken” with its “Expresso Love”-style shuffle. Meanwhile, their Music City colleague — guitar hero William Tyler — transposes the Les Paul shimmer of Brothers opener “So Far Away” in the context of American primitive guitar on “The Great Unwind,” a highlight from his 2016 LP Modern Country. And there’s no denying the Knopfler-isms of “On the Loose,” perhaps the strongest single off Niall Horan’s thoroughly impressive and organic solo debut Flicker. As for Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to the 1983 Scottish dramedy Local Hero, one could logically argue that some of the DNA for ambient/post-rock exists deep within its atmospheric undertones.
So yes, we can sit here and argue about why one may perceive Dire Straits to be boring or not innovative enough. But when you look through the long lens of history, the way by which they preserved the spirit of pure working-class guitar rock in England and abroad amid the rising tide of punk and new wave proves they very much deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We can only hope that the Brothers Knopfler will pull a move similar to what The Undertaker did this past Sunday at Wrestlemania 34 and surprise us all with a mini-reunion to go along with their well-earned induction.