"Sultans of Swing" was the first single release of the British rock band Dire Straits. Although it was first released in 1978, it was its 1979 re-release that caused it to become a hit in both the UK and USA.
The song was first recorded as a demo at Pathway Studios, North London, in July 1977, and quickly acquired a following after it was put on rotation at Radio London. Its popularity soon reached record executives and Dire Straits were offered a contract with Phonogram Records. The song was then re-recorded in early 1978 at Basing Street Studios for the band's debut albumDire Straits. The record company wanted a less-polished rock sound for the radio, so an alternative version was recorded at Pathway Studios in April 1978 and released as the single in some countries including the United Kingdom and Germany.
The song's lyrics were written by Mark Knopfler on a rainy day in a bar in Ipswich. Their inspiration came from his witnessing a mediocre jazz band playing in the corner of a practically deserted pub. At the end of their performance, the lead singer came up to the microphone and announced that they were the "Sultans of Swing."
The music for "Sultans of Swing" was composed by Mark Knopfler on a National Steel guitar in an open tuning, though Knopfler did not think very highly of it at first. As he remembered, "I thought it was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat which remained my main guitar for many years and was basically the only thing I played on the first album and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place."
The song was originally released in May of 1978, but it did not chart at the time. Following its re-issue in January 1979, the song entered the American music pop chart. Unusually, the success of this single release came more than six months after the relatively unheralded release of the band's debut album in October 1978. BBC Radio was initially unwilling to play the song due to its high lyrical content but after it became a U.S. hit, their line softened. The song reached the top 10 in both the UK and the USA, reaching number 8 on the UK Singles Chart and number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped drive sales of the album, which also became a hit.
It was re-issued again as a single in November 1988, a month after it appeared on the band's greatest hits album Money For Nothing, when it peaked at No. 62. It was also included onSultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits and The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations.
|Belgium Singles Chart||14|
|Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary||26|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||4|
|German Singles Chart||20|
|Ireland Singles Chart||6|
|Italian Singles Chart||12|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||11|
|New Zealand Singles Chart||12|
|South African Chart||3|
|UK Singles Chart||8|
|US Billboard Hot 100||4|
The song is on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. The album version of the song featured a critically acclaimed extended guitar solo, reaching #22 on Guitar World's list of the greatest guitar solos and #32 on Rolling Stone's list of greatest guitar songs. Knopfler improvised and expanded that solo during live performances. The coda of the live recording on the 1984 album Alchemy features one of Knopfler's most notable guitar improvisations. Another memorable live version of the song came as an 11-minute performance at the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert in London when Eric Clapton teamed up with the band to play the song.