Dire Straits: Private Investigations
I always loved this song, and I was never sure why. Perhaps because it's not your average Dire Straits song?
The section I loved from the start was the later guitar solos. It built up too slowly for a teenaged me. The lyrics didn’t interest me, at first. It was the guitar. It was always the guitar with Mark. Money for Nothing, Sultans of Swing. It all started on the guitar for him, and for me. But now, I have changed my tune.
Private Investigations is nearly seven minutes long. It’s what we used to call an album track. It has the time and space to build gently, layer upon layer, and then have a good old guitar blast, and then decay as gently as it walked in. Sometimes, though, an album track takes on a life of its own. This album track reached No. 2 in the UK chart. This is a song without singing, for goodness’ sake!
When you start to look at the lyrics, you understand better why I loved this song, and I love it even more today. The words are spoken, not sung, and the speaker, Mark, is a private eye. This was the teenage years for me, the years of Frederick Forsyth, yes, but also of Poirot and Marple, both on TV and in the books. The books are always more important to me.
This private eye is clearly American, and it was only the Emmylou Harris partnership album that made me sit up and realise just how big a fan of Americana Mark Knopfler is. Once you see it, you realise that his Local Hero type stuff, his more commercial stuff with Dire Straits, was just the day job. This is a man who would have lived in Nashville, had he not been born in Newcastle.
Yes, I know he only went to Newcastle (from Glasgow) at the age of seven, but Glasgow does not alliterate with Nashville.
This is a melancholy song. The detective, as all good American detectives must be, is downbeat, down at heel, lonely and bitter. He deals exclusively with low lives. What have you got, at the end of the day? A bottle of whiskey and a new set of lies. Genius! Not just a glass of whiskey, not just one lie. He’s swimming in both, or drowning. (This is very much whiskey with an E.)
The success of Private Investigations must have been a surprise to all involved, but it is a hallmark of the Dire Straits canon and has more recently become the title of the combined Greatest Hits compilation for both Marks’s solo work and the globetrotting Dire Straits years. Make no mistake, the band loves this song at least as much as I do.