Surely, Mark Knopfler and his band must’ve bet on the 1980 Grammys or thrown the Love Over Gold sessions.
Otherwise, how can the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame explain its perennial exclusion of British rockers Dire Straits from its list of nominees? It’s a travesty rivaled only by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s lifetime bans of Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
However, while I must admit that those ball players did compromise the integrity of the National Pastime, Dire Straits’ biggest crime was their 1991 comeback album, On Every Street (And even that had one hell of a title track).
The ingredients are all there for Dire Straits to be enshrined in Cleveland: critical praise, tens of millions of records sold, a period of time (1985) when they were legitimate worldwide superstars, two songs (“Money for Nothing” and “Sultans of Swing”) that anyone with an FM receiver recognizes instantly. If that somehow isn’t enough, the fact that guitarist Knopfler turned in heart-wrenching vocal performances over some of the most innovative licks ever recorded, on tracks like “Tunnel of Love” and “Brothers in Arms,” should make Dire Straits a shoe-in.
The only possible explanation I can muster is that Knopfler, the creative driving force behind the band, was too innovative, too nuanced in his work with Dire Straits. And that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.
The Rock Hall exists to immortalize the most influential artists of the past 75 years or so, but that demarcation should, in theory, only serve to differentiate between the Bruce Springsteens and the John Mellencamps of the world. While both of those heartland rockers could easily win a popularity contest, the watered-down Born to Run-lite that the latter churned out shouldn’t guarantee him a spot.
There is no Mellencamp to Knopfler’s Springsteen, if only because it’s almost impossible to so much as approximate his unique style. The melodious guitar flourishes that Knopfler placed over many of his verses and slow-burn solos like the one that explodes out of thin air in "Brothers in Arms" put him in a class of his own. If any of the guitarists in any of the Dire Straits cover bands that have ever existed could have taken the torch from him, they would have. There’s only so much that mortals are capable of, though.
Knopfler himself took cues from the blues, jazz and folk world to create a sound completely his own. Perhaps the nominating committee would’ve rather he followed the lead and wrote generic, middle-of-the-road anthems?
Having released their self-titled debut in 1978, Dire Straits became eligible for inclusion in the Hall in 2003. Since then, ABBA, Madonna and Darlene Love have all been inducted, with Donna Summer potentially joining them in 2012. Whether or not those artists belong in a museum celebrating pop music is another discussion, but when it comes to one with a fretboard incorporated into its logo, you can’t tell me they have nearly as much business being there as Knopfler and his bandmates. How many people have ever felt compelled to sit through an entire Donna Summer album? Who picked up a guitar because “Dancing Queen” spoke to them?
“Down to the Waterline.” “Sultans of Swing.” “Lions.” “News.” “Where Do You Think You’re Going?” “Single-Handed Sailor.” “Tunnel of Love.” “Skateaway.”
I could go on naming Dire Straits’ best contributions to the guitar rock canon, but I wonder how long it will be until the Rock Hall’s nomination committee begins celebrating the band’s entire catalogue.
Until then, I plan on sounding like a broken record.
Alex Rice is a 22-year-old novice guitarist living in Minneapolis. He counts R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo among his favorite axemen and enjoys going to concerts and watching baseball in his spare time.