Dire Straits' 10 greatest songs, ranked

7 July 2023, 15:14 | Updated: 10 January 2024, 12:47

Led by Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits became one of the best-selling guitar bands of the 1980s.
Led by Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits became one of the best-selling guitar bands of the 1980s. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

Dire Straits are one of the most successful guitar bands of all time.

Led by their guitar-slinging, headband-wearing, Bob Dylan-sounding frontman Mark Knopfler, the band went from London's pubs to global arenas in an impressively short space of time.

From their earlier clean, country rock-inspired tone to the synth-driven pop rock of their 1985 mega album Brothers In Arms, they wrote instantly recognisable songs which were heavily rotated on rock radio throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.

Knopfler's musicianship - alongside John Illsley who was the only other permanent member throughout - pushed Dire Straits to the very top, even nabbing a spot of the legendary Live Aid.

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, if selling over 100 million albums worldwide didn't prove their credentials.

After Dire Straits disbanded in 1988, they didn't quite reach those heady heights again when they reunited from 1990 to 1995 - bar a commercially lucrative world tour - though they're rightly considered as one of the best guitar bands of the era.

That said, here's the ten very best Dire Straits tracks, ranked from top to bottom:

  1. 'Tunnel Of Love'

    Dire Straits - Tunnel Of Love (Official Music Video)

    This meandering, eight-minute track featured on Dire Straits' 1980 album Making Movies.

    Even though it was pre-MTV, the music video for 'Tunnel Of Love' was somewhat lavish for the era as they released all of the videos from the cinematic album on to VHS.

    Knopfler said the song was influenced by his childhood, reminiscing about his time spent at the fairground in Whitley Bay as a boy.

    It was arguably the fairground which inspired him to become a musician, as it was the first place he heard rock 'n' roll music.

  2. 'Calling Elvis'

    Dire Straits - Calling Elvis (Official Music Video)

    'Calling Elvis' was the band's comeback song - it was the first single since they'd released since disbanded three years before.

    Written by Knopfler, he had the idea after his brother David tried to call him when he left his phone off the hook, in which he remarked that he was harder to get hold of than Elvis Presley.

    Thunderbirds creator and puppetry mastermind Gerry Anderson directed the music video.

    The song was a relative hit across Europe but failed to make waves in the US and the UK.

  3. 'Brothers In Arms'

    Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms (Official Music Video)

    The title track from Dire Straits' globally best-selling 1985 album Brothers In Arms was the most sombre, but poignant song on the record.

    The Falklands War happened as Knopfler was writing the album, and he was inspired by something his dad said who commented the Brits and Argentines were "brothers in arms," meaning they had similar ideologies despite having to go to war.

    Talking about the song in a later interview, Knopfler said: "We've got just one world but we live in different ones. It's just stupid, it really is. We're just foolish to take part in anybody's war."

  4. 'Private Investigations'

    Dire Straits - Private Investigations (Official Music Video)

    'Private Investigations' has a cinematic backstory, and was written with Raymond Chandler's fictional detective Philip Marlowe in mind.

    The novels - and later films and tv series - portray the underbelly of the American dream, which fascinated Knopfler.

    The song was arguably the most solemn and moody they'd released to date, and the sprawling seven-minute track is definitely one of their most atmospheric years later.

  5. 'So Far Away'

    Dire Straits - So Far Away (Official Music Video)

    The first single released from Brothers In Arms, 'So Far Away' reached the top 20 in the UK charts and was the band's final single to reach the top 100 in the US.

    Written from the perspective of someone living a nomadic lifestyle because of their work, it's about how that fractures their relationships with their loved ones.

    Though Mark Knopfler later insisted it wasn't autobiographical.

    "It was about conducting a relationship over a telephone, which is a joke," Knopfler explained.

    "It can't really be done over a long period of time, because you both get exhausted with it. That was the basic idea."

  6. 'Southbound Again'

    Dire Straits - Southbound Again

    It's impossible not to hum the title of the shuffling country rock jig whenever boarding any of London's southbound underground trains.

    Although the song - which featured on Dire Straits' 1978 debut album - was inspired by Knopfler's trips down to London from his home in Newcastle.

    The lyrics detail someone heading to England's capital to make a success of themselves, but ending up broke and hopeless.

    Released as a B-side to their debut single 'Sultans Of Swing' it featured his trademark guitar playing, making use of the Fender Stratocaster's clean tone.

  7. 'Walk Of Life'

    Dire Straits - Walk Of Life (Official Music Video)

    The synth line to 'Walk Of Life' is a thing of sheer legend, and has made the track a perennial favourite to this day.

    It's chipper, upbeat feel took the song to number two in the UK charts and number seven in the US.

    Knopfler wrote the track as a tribute to London's industrious buskers, who would play 50s staples like 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' and 'What'd I Say' which he name drops in the song's lyrics.

    He later regretted the "woo-hoo's" in the song however, later expressing: "I heard it on the radio the other day and thought, Oh my God! What was I doing that for?"

  8. 'Money For Nothing'

    Dire Straits - Money For Nothing (Official Music Video)

    Arguably Dire Straits' most recognised song - it was certainly their music renowned music video, and highest charting track they'd ever scored in the US.

    'Money For Nothing' was one of the most notable examples of music videos using computer graphics.

    Directly courting MTV which changed the complexion of the music industry during the 1980s, the lyric "I want my MTV" was famously sang by Sting who contributed backing vocals - though he initially didn't want the credit but was convinced by his record label to so he'd receive royalties.

    The song about rock star excess help make Dire Straits one of the most successful bands of the decade.

    'Money For Nothing' stayed at the top of the US charts for three weeks and bagged the band a Grammy Award.

  9. 'Romeo and Juliet'

    Dire Straits - Romeo And Juliet (Official Music Video)

    Undoubtedly Dire Straits' most romantic and sentimental song, it's also one of the most quietly affecting Mark Knopfler ever penned.

    The Shakespearian imagery about a couple who want to be together but can't was a nod to his doomed romance with musician Holly Vincent.

    Knopfler lifted the lyric "yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him," from an interview in which Vincent said: "What happened was that I had a scene with Mark Knopfler and it got to the point where he couldn't handle it and we split up."

    Featuring on their lauded 1980 album Making Movies, 'Romeo and Juliet' was a top ten hit in the UK and remains one of their most beloved tracks still.

  10. 'Sultans Of Swing'

    Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing (Official Music Video)

    It's hard to look past 'Sultans Of Swing' as Dire Straits' greatest ever song which is why we haven't.

    The country rock groove, and Knopfler's Dylan-esque drawl (not to mention the finger busting guitar solo) established the band as a unique prospect with their debut single.

    Hitting the top ten in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, despite being their first song of note.

    Its inspiration came from when Knopfler saw a dreadful band in lousy pub on a rainy night in Ipswich.

    "When the guys said 'Thank you very much, We are the Sultans of Swing,' there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren't, laughed Knopfler. "You know they were rather tired little blokes in pullovers."

    Though its beginnings were somewhat modest, 'Sultans Of Swing' is undoubtedly Dire Straits at their creative zenith.