Tag Archives: Dire Straits

Comparison: Telegraph Road and Dry County

I have talked about getting my first album as a present, more-or-less together with my first Walkman. The opening to the album was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Guitars making engine sounds, swirling from one side to the other and back, fading or turning into something different. Kind of a story hinting at the story to come in an instrumental track that I would discover later in the album. Then the piano hits, beautiful but intricate, those fingers might be flying faster than my car. The guitars continue their thing, and it’s still a while before it all calms down and the vocals start.

Meat Loaf’s “Anything For Love”, the first track on Bat Out Of Hell II, was my proper introduction to long songs. I think the Walkman, and that album as it was the only one I had at the time, might not have been my first exposure to listening closely to songs, but it might be close enough, picking out the threads the instruments weaved, examination of background vocals as well as the main ones. And perhaps most of all, my first really close look at song as story.

This post is not about that song. But it kind of sets the background for two songs that I like, that are both pretty long, and both tell stories.

Telegraph Road by Dire Straits clocks in at over 14 minutes. The song starts simply, with just a long, fairly high-pitched sound. Then the music starts, a simple melody that gets more complicated, and played-around, as the song goes on.

The narrative starts simply as well, a guy walking down a lonely path, finding a place to set up a home, then civilisation being built up around him. The independent spirit only lasts a short time: “Then came the churches, then came the schools, then came the lawyers, then came the rules”. As it builds up to present-day, making your own way becomes nigh impossible, the place seems kind of dead-end. A similar sentiment to this quote from another song that I won’t otherwise mention: “The boundaries of this town are closing in just like a noose, the future’s gonna rust if we don’t put it to some use”. Then that wonderful solo, all the way to the end of the track.

Dry County by Bon Jovi is “only” nearly ten minutes long. It starts remarkably similarly, with a chord instead of the one note, and then the tune comes in. The opening lyrics play with associations of hope and despair. Then, “I came here like so many did, to find a better life”. He’d come down the Telegraph Road to the same place, but arrived after the lawyers and rules. All the promise had already drained away from the place.

While Telegraph Road had that throwaway line talking about the churches, Dry County makes more of the religious imagery and wordage: water into wine, a reference to the Eucharist, talk about praying, and about sins. This would fit with the album that Dry County is on: Keep The Faith.

Thematically, structurally, the songs could be twins. Musically, there may be elements in Telegraph Road to place it in its home of 1982. Perhaps something in that distinctive guitar sound. I think Dry County is more easily placed in 1992, from the instrumentation. So perhaps brothers, rather than twins. So it’s fitting that when I listen to one, I usually listen to the other one right next to it.

Reflection On Brothers In Arms By Dire Straits

Today, in a fit of nostalgia, I’m going to talk about an album that is, in a sense, a rarity. That sense would be that there are n bad songs on the album. I mean, one might have one’s favourites, and end up skipping a track or two when one is pressed for time, but equally you could just set the album going and not think about think about hovering over the “next track” button when a certain song comes on. Even some albums I like can have quite a few weak spots.

What is this masterpiece of an album? I hear you ask. Or rather, I don’t, because you saw the title of the post. Cheater.

Welcome to “Brothers In Arms” by Dire Straits.

Lemme tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb.

The album kicks off with “So Far Away“, a wonderful Song Of Longing. “I’m tired of being in love and being all alone.”

Then the classic “Money For Nothing“. I don’t know how many times some of my co-workers and I, several years ago now, would comment “That ain’t working” to each other. In this age of “Not being the ’80s”, it’s easy to want to sing the wrong lyrics. “I want my MP3″ rather than “I want my MTV.”

An aside: In one of the Buffy Season 8 comic books, Harmony, a vampire, gets her own reality show. After commenting about one TV network, saying no-one knows what the letters stand for, she talks about MTV. “No-one knows what that stands for, either, but they do reality shows.” She may be a ditz, but she’s onto something…

“We got to install microwave ovens”. Did they ever take much in the way of installing? “We got to install Microsoft Office” was a good replacement for a time, but I don’t think so many people use it, these days. “Microsoft Windows” would be better, but “Office” replaces “ovens” better than “Windows” does. Oh well, it’s all musical graffiti.

Walk Of Life” is next. Unceasingly upbeat and cheerful, this song is the most Your Mileage May Vary track as it relates to the “no bad song on the album” declaration I made earlier. The song is about a busker singing old songs. “He do the song about the sweet lovin’ woman, he do the song about the knife. He do the walk, he do the walk of life.”

Your Latest Trick” is a nice mellow number, as is “Why Worry“. The sax part in the former is catchy (apparently it is to saxophone departments in music shops, what “Stairway To Heaven” is to the guitar section).

Ride Across The River” starts off wonderfully atmospheric. Verse 1 is told from the perspective of a soldier invested in the cause, and the second verse is from the perspective of a mercenary on the opposing side. The third verse philosophises about the conflict, suggesting that neither side is “the good guys”. And the tune that goes along with it is melancholy, almost resigned to the inevitableness of it all.
This graphic was floating around Facebook today, based on a Reddit thread, of US soldiers reflecting upon their time in Afghanistan. Seems to fit the mood of this, and the next song.

The Man’s Too Strong“. A guilty conscience, and a confession, seemingly before an execution. Do the early choruses of “the man’s too big, the man’s too strong” suggest to you that the guy was a puppet when he was out doing all those naughty things? And now he’s caught, it’s possibly a different The Man?

One World” ultimately seems tangentially related to the two previous tracks, and the one after it. “But they can’t find a way to be one world in harmony”. And the rest of the song seems about various other layers of discontentedness. Instrumentally, there’s a lot going on in this track. I like the little guitar motif around “They say it’s mostly vanity that writes the plays we act”. Medieval, or possibly Renaissance?

The title track, the pièce de résistance, “Brothers In Arms“, rounds out the album. Again, it’s really moody. The guy from whose perspective the song is sung, implies that he is dying, towards the end of the song. Though it seems like he may already be dead. The dichotomy in the first verse between the “mist-covered mountains” and the lowlands, evokes some comparison with “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond” with the “high road” and the “low road”, one interpretation being it’s the dead guy’s soul will “be in Scotland afore ye”. Another song about war, again there’s the implication of futility. An implication I don’t disagree with. We talk about how barbaric our ancestors were, with all the wars through history, but looking around, it seems like such talk is the pot calling the kettle black. You and I may not feel like we’re worse, but the state our leaders, recent and current, have brought our world to, reveal at the very least that humanity hasn’t left barbarity behind.

I’d love to do a big montage of war movies set to this song. “Brothers In Arms” seems like The Perfect Thing to listen to on Remembrance Day (UK, Veterans Day US). Right up there with watching the M*A*S*H finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”. November’s coming up, the video’s in the garage. Maybe I can swing that last part. Haven’t managed to get my video capturing equipment working for a while.

Well, that seems a bummer note to end on, but it seems like a trait of a great song: gets you thinking.

Please comment below: discuss my takes on the songs, tell me how great “Brothers In Arms” was on that season finale of The West Wing, let me know any albums you can think of with no duff songs, let me know what you want me to talk about in future posts.