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Mark Knopfler Song Inspirations

Mark Knopfler is an “inspired” composer. A former journalist, his keen observations of other people have led to some of his biggest hits with Dire Straits. “Sultans of Swing” was based on a small (and not very good) pub band that he saw in Deptford, south London, in the mid-1970s. “Money for Nothing” was actually written in a shop. from New York while eavesdropping on two delivery men complaining about the pop stars they saw on exposed televisions. Knopfler borrowed a pen and paper from an employee and literally sat in a model kitchen at the store and copied the jokes he heard.

Many of his songs are written in first-person narrative form, although he is not actually a “private dancer” (made famous by Tina Turner) or a detective (Love Over Gold’s “Private Investigations”) or a war criminal. (“The Man is too strong” by Brothers in Arms). In a 1985 Rolling Stone article, Knopfler wondered, “In fact, I still have doubts about whether it’s a good idea to write songs that aren’t in the first person, to play other characters.

In the 1990s, Knopfler began to find more and more song ideas from stories and characters that he read about in books and articles and found fascinating. “Heavy Fuel” from Dire Straits ‘latest album On Every Street is loosely based on the main character in Martin Amis’ novel Money. The title track of his second solo album, Sailing to Philadelphia, is a duet of tracks from Thomas Pynchon’s long and highly peculiar story of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon of Mason-Dixon line fame. Although several real-life people were the center of Knopfler’s attention on the 2005 album Shangri-La (Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and the late skiffle player Lonnie Donegan, for example), two songs in particular they were based on books. Ray Kroc’s biography inspired “Boom Like That,” and many of the lyrics to the song about the founder of fast food chain McDonald’s are taken directly from Kroc’s own words. “Song for Sonny Liston” was directly inspired by Nick Tosches’ book The Devil and Sonny Liston.

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