Ashim Sen, Director – Masen Productions, and one of the most respected and accomplished producer-directs of mega, historic events for Television and beyond for more than a decade and a half now, writes a very special series on iconic songs for MediaBrief.com. No, make that, for his son and nieces, but now, also for you through this website 🙂
This is a wonderfully personal and evocative deep dive, and the additional nuggets of info and trivia Ashim shares about the track are typical of his default always-heartfelt setting. And will tell you that his love for music, and for sharing with his loved ones the joys and experiences it gives him, is something that always rides pillion with him on his other passion – super bikes. Enjoy.
Song : Money for nothing
- Album: Brothers in Arms
- Band: Dire Straits
- Vocals: Mark Knopfler
- Guest Singer: Sting
- Released: 24th June 1985
- Grammy 1986 – Best rock performance by duo or group
- MTV music awards 1986 for best video
- Brit Award 1986 for best rock performance by duo or group
The lyrics for “Money for nothing” are actually a conversation of a loader (helper) and the store manager of an electronic shop in New-York. Mark Knopfler (Lead singer, lyricist) who happened to be in an electronic store overheard a conversation of a loader and the store manager. He immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper as he did not want to lose the essence of the local lingo. His past journalistic experience as a junior reporter from Yorkshire Evening Post days must have surely helped him capture it accurately.
The electronic store had a wall of colour TV’s stacked one on top of another in the back of the store (making it into a TV wall) which was tuned to MTV as they used to play back to back music videos those days.
This loader who was looking at the TV was clearly unhappy about these musicians and bands having a good life without any noticeable talent, while he was busy lugging heavy crates for a living.
The conversation was so unique that Mark immediately asked for a pen and stood quietly at a listening distance, jotting the conversation down.
If you remember the lyrics, they start with
“Now look at them yo-yos,
that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free…”
The lyrics also has the loader ridiculing the musicians “And he’s up there, what’s that? Hawaiian noises?
He’s bangin’ on the bongos like a chimpanzee…”
The loader trying to say that these musicians of today (the 80’s, then) lack talent (direct association of their talent to a chimpanzee) but these videos on MTV make them cool and look talented.
They received criticism for the lyrics being demeaning to gays because of the following lines: “See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup,
Yeah buddy, that’s his own real hair,
That little faggot got his own jet airplane,
The little faggot, he’s a millionaire…”
In defence Mark Knopfler always said that he was true to what had actually had transpired during the conversation of the loader and the manager. He was simply singing what he had actually overheard.
The lyrics also have the POV of the loader and his plight:
“Got to install microwave ovens,
Custom kitchen deliveries,
We’ve got to move these refrigerators,
We’ve got to move these colour TVs…”
‘Dire straits’ the band has been a big influence on every 70’s/80’s rock fan. Their song “Sultans of Swing” (1977) from their first album “Dire Straits” was a chart topper and an iconic rock song.
Post the first album they did not taste any top chart success in their other 4 albums. They did have a few notable hits like Romeo & Juliet (1981), Private Investigations (1982), Twisting By The pool (1983) which kept them in the reckoning as a great rock band. The release of “Brothers in arms” changed them from a “Great rock band” to “The Legends of Rock” status.
In the 80s, the global economy was in bad shape, hence purchasing a cassette or a CD meant a big deal. Listeners ideally wanted a band to pack as many hits or great tracks in every album they released. Brothers in Arms was a nine-song album that had multiple hit tracks like ‘So Far Away’, ‘Money For Nothing’, ‘Walk Of Life’, ‘Brothers In Arms’. This qualified it to become the greatest album ever (then). Brothers in arms (single) is also the first CD to be ever released, thanks to its popularity the album CD sales — over 1 million — were huge and thus instrumental in making CDs a popular medium for music listeners. ‘Brothers In Arms’, the title, was coined because of the war with Argentina over the Falkland islands. The track with the same name is actually an anti-war song from a dying soldier’s POV.
The song “Money For Nothing” won the MTV award for the best music video. The music video actually had a great recall value those days of the animated chacter in overalls and baseball cap. The director of the music video, Steve Barron, was an accomplished music video director. His previous videos were “Take On Me” by A-ha and “Billie Jean” by Micheal Jackson, which had created quite a buzz.
Mark was against making music videos but listening to Steve’s idea of animation of the loader and using the band’s images intermittently, he reluctantly agreed. The music company insisted on the music video as it helped in sales and promotion. Those were the days when a good music video could also help in a song’s popularity and records sales.
Sting would visit Montserrat for wind surfing. Dire Straits invited him to the studios to listen to the track. After listening to it, he immediately turned around and said “you have done it this time, you bastards!” Mark promptly replied if he felt that way then he should go on and and add his thing (voice) to their track. Thus Sting penned the iconic chorus and sang it too: “I want my MTV”. This earned him the co-writer tag along with Mark in the song credits
The song was recorded in the AIR studios in Montserrat, in the Caribbean. Mark Knopfler wanted his guitar tone to sound like the ZZ Top guitar tone. Thus, while recording, the Engineer/Producer Neil Dorfsmann used two external Shure mics which accidentally placed in a unique way captured that peculiar guitar tone without any processing (opening riff). Though he could not reproduce the same sound during the re-recording of it.
Sting (accomplished pop singer of the 80s) would visit Montserrat for wind surfing. Dire Straits invited him to the studios to listen to the track. After listening to it, he immediately turned around and said “you have done it this time, you bastards!” Mark promptly replied if he felt that way then he should go on and and add his thing (voice) to their track. Thus Sting penned the iconic chorus and sang it too: “I want my MTV”. This earned him the co-writer tag along with Mark in the song credits. The melody of the chorus follows the melody of the Sting song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”.
In India, by 1986, the Grammy awards were aired on the same day of the awards (technically the next day) deferred by 8/10 hours, telecast after the 10pm English news. By that time, it had become the most awaited annual feature on Doordarshan. Most western music listeners tuned in religiously to the Grammy awards night; I too was one of them. That’s when India got its first major dose of Dire Straits accomplishment as they won the award for “Best rock performance by duo or group”. Thou Indians had witnessed them perform LIVE a year previously (1985) during the ‘Live-Aid’ concert. The Album had just been released worldwide and Sting performed with them during this concert. Most Indians were mesmerised by Queens live performance (some day soon, will write about this). It did not register “Money For Nothing” as a masterpiece as no specific articles were written about the track or Album in any of the music columns.
The 1986 Grammys simply cemented the popularity and the album in India (“Brothers In Arms”) which became the best-selling album of the year.
This song, understandably, was a favourite of MTV as it helped their branding, and they too played a big role in the popularity of the song globally. Thus one would listen to this track atleast a couple of times a days on MTV.
MTV was not present in India in 1986,;it launched a decade after. I always had Mark Knopfler in my top 10 guitarists list. His voice has a lazy, laid-back tonality which always has a very calming effect on me. His riffs are legendary and in India, anyone who can pull those off lands in my books as a good guitarist. I have many many tracks of Dire Straits in my Playlist, though Money For Nothing, Sultans of Swing, So Far Away, Brothers In Arms are extra special for me.
‘Money for Nothing’ features in Billboard’s Top 500 Rock Songs Ever. In 1985, it was the number 1 Billboard track for 3 consecutive weeks in the US.
Their Live aid performance