Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Walk Of Life"? Should've Called It Brothers In Legs Then

Man, did Brothers In Arms sell a lot of copies. For a while there it was probably out-selling toilet paper. Stand back in awe: it stayed at #1 in the US for nine weeks, #1 in the UK for 10 weeks, and #1 in Australia for 34 weeks. The little chart at the bottom of the album's Wikipedia page lists 18 countries where the album hit #1 (shame on you, Italy and Norway), and this chart still leaves out other countries where it topped the charts, including Denmark, Spain, and Yugoslavia. And to think: if only Yugoslavia had splintered up by 1985, Brothers In Arms might have gone to #1 in even more countries.

Now is the time to admit that, when I was 15, I added to this pile. I figured any album that was so commercially successful must also have been great. The same logic had led to the purchase of Frampton Comes Alive! about a month prior, but I suppose I hadn't learned my lesson. Hey, I wanted the long version of "Money For Nothing," I vaguely remembered "Walk Of Life" from '80s radio ... it felt like the right move. I brought the cassette home, popped it in the player, and sat on the bed, intensely scanning the lyric booklet as the album played, trying to grasp the hidden significance of every garbled phrase. For a year or so, it seemed to me that the album merited this sort of close attention. Then I realized one day that perhaps it did not.

In preparation for writing this blog post, I have ended up listening to Brothers In Arms for the first time in about, say, ten years. Maybe if I'd initially heard it the way I hear most albums now - by putting it on casually in the background, only paying closer attention if the album draws me in - I would feel like listening to it now and then, but instead, hearing it again, I cringe a little, knowing that I spent so much time analyzing something that didn't quite deserve that level of analysis. In hindsight, I feel like the lyrics manage to be occasionally interesting without being as deep as I assumed they were when I was 15 - which, given that some of the other artists I loved when I was 15 were artists like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Elton John, is not an experience I'm particularly used to having. I have very few teenage musical regrets!

While not a "gimmick" album, Brothers In Arms was one of the first to really be promoted as a whole "compact disc experience." From Wikipedia:
Brothers in Arms was the first album to sell one million copies in the CD format and to outsell its LP version. A Rykodisc employee would subsequently write, "[In 1985 we] were fighting to get our CDs manufactured because the entire worldwide manufacturing capacity was overwhelmed by demand for a single rock title (Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms)."
"Muffy, would you buy me some caviar, a diamond necklace, and that new Dire Straits compact disc?" "Yes, Buffy, certainly my dahling."

Most of the songs are looooooooong, with long intros and even longer outros. They're almost gratuitously long, as if Knopfler just wanted to take advantage of the extra CD capacity. And thus began a trend, my friends, a terrible, terrible trend. Apparently, on the LP version, several of the songs were shortened by a minute or so, and I can see how that version might actually be preferable. Mainly, upon revisiting the thing, the album strikes me as, oh, you know, dated. Sitting around the console in Monserrat, I'm sure they all thought it sounded "state of the art," but everything's way too processed and filtered. It sounds like the Miami Vice episode that's playing in your nightmares. "The Man's Too Strong" still strikes me as kind of cool: more industrialized, almost like "Welcome To The Machine." The other songs need to drink some caffeine before they doze off completely.

That said, I still like "Walk Of Life." For starters, it's only four minutes long. Second, it doesn't sound like a synthesizer that's taking a massive dump on my ears. It's an actual, you know, pop song. The album's co-producer didn't even want it on the album, thinking it was at odds with the other material. And the thing is, he was right - but for the wrong reason! Thankfully, he was outvoted by the band.

Keyboards! Keyboards! Step right up and get your keyboards! You want a graceful, churchy one? We've got one right at the start here, to lull you in. You want a cheesy, roller rinky one? Oh boy, have we got the keyboard riff of your wet dreams! Pair it up with some well-timed acoustic guitar strums and eight teasing pounds on the bass drum, and you are off to the races my friend. Even Mark Knopfler's iffy attempt to roam out of his five note range at the end ("Hmm, you do the walk of ligh-high-hife") can't derail this sucker.

Not only did "Walk of Life" reach #7 in the US and #2 in the UK, but it even received region-specific videos. The British video featured the requisite concert footage spliced with shots of a subway busker giving it all he's got. Perhaps that one was deemed a bit too "British," because with the American video, they certainly didn't make that mistake.

It's time for ... Sports Bloopers! How much do you think it cost to get the rights to all this stuff? Well, considering the giant pile of money the album made, I'm sure they were able to afford it. Favorite YouTube comments:
Studies have shown that it is impossible to listen to this song and not smile.

This song I've found can make almost anyone dance. This huge guy on the road crew directing traffic, He was about 6'5 and 300 pounds, I pulled up with this song cranked and he went to getting down. Then on I-85 in Atlanta, Traffic completely stopped from a wreck, Again I had this song cranked, a pickup truck beside me had a bed with about 4 mexicans on it and they all started dancing.

My Dad always tells the story of the time he went to Italy. He stayed in this tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere, and when he told the Innkeeper he was American, he said: "You Americano, you like the Rock and Roll!" and put this record on
Finally, there is the Walk of Life Project. The Walk of Life Project poses one simple hypothesis: "'Walk of Life' by Dire Straits is the perfect song to end any movie." From an article on Slate published back in March 2016:
It can take a long time for humanity to figure out the best use for a new technology. Hedy Lamarr imagined the radio-frequency–hopping technology she invented would be used for torpedoes, not cell phones. The Internet was around for 30 years before it changed the world forever. And now, 120 years after their first public exhibition, Peter Salomone has perfected motion pictures. As is so often the case, the secret turned out to be Dire Straits.
Like you or I, Mr. Salomone must have been sitting at his computer farting around one day when a bolt of goofy inspiration struck. But unlike you or I, he had the drive, the vision, the know-how to truly go through with his hare-brained scheme.

See the endings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars the way they were truly meant to be seen. This gag isn't just running; it's practically galloping.

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