A.Song.A.Day – Money For Nothing

money-for-nothingThe 1980s marked a shift in a generation of music from the classic rock of 70s to the pop music that would rule the charts for the coming decades. If there is one song that would iconize this shift I would say it is the 1985 single by Dire Straits called Money for Nothing. Although the music of the song is as good as any other Dire Straits song, its success was driven by the pop elements in it as well.

Let’s begin with the music. If there is one thing unique about Dire Straits, it is that none of their songs have been covered by anybody and the factor that makes them so difficult to imitate is the unique style of Mark Knopfler. Knopfler rarely uses a plectrum while playing the guitar. He has a unique style of plucking the guitar that most people find impossible to copy. He has given a detailed insight into his playing style in a French interview that you may find here. He has given a good insight about his playing style for a rock documentary called ‘The seven ages of rock’.

The song begins with the line “I want my MTV” that was sung by Sting (who was in Montserrat where the song was being recorded and was casually invited to add some background vocals). Then the keyboards and drums enter and at 1:37 one of the most memorable guitar riffs begins. At a run-length of 8:26 the song does an amazing job of keeping one engaged throughout.

The lyrics of the song are about a layman who works as a delivery man in a hardware store.  He sees the life of rock-stars on MTV and sees that everything comes much easier to them while the delivery man works so hard and gets nothing in return. Knopfler wrote the song while overhearing a delivery man setting up his kitchen and the language of the lyrics depicts this fact quite well. In some parts the language was so crude that it created a controversy over being sexist, racist and homophobic. Interestingly the writing credits of the song are given to both Sting and Knopfler. Sting, however, has said that he has only written the line “I want my MTV”.

Usually, we avoid writing about videos of songs in this section but the video of this song was so significant in the history of music that you just cannot ignore it. This was the first song featured on MTV in Europe when it aired in 1987. Also, it was amongst the first songs to use computer generated animations. The video went on to win the MTV video of the year award in 1986 (no surprises there!). What makes this video unique is that it is one of the first videos of a good rock song which actually had a video. All rock songs before this would usually only have concert videos (Because MTV started in US in 1981 and there was no place to air music videos before that). Knopfler was not very enthusiastic about making a video for the song as he believed it destroys the purity of the writers and performers. The producers somehow coaxed him into making this video. And after this, Dire Straits has given some of the most fantastic music videos ever (my favourites being Brothers in Arms and Walk of Life).

This song marks the beginning of the MTV generation. The 90s marked the coming of teen pop music and boy bands. Purists contend that this was a degradation of good music. Although good music still continued to be produced, how good MTV truly was for music will always remain a question.

The original Money for Nothing video

Dire Straits performing Money For Nothing live

An insight into Mark Knopfler’s technique

I totally agree with you that the success of the song was to a large extent driven by the pop elements. However, it is one of the best songs till date and will continue to be so. Thanks!

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