Brothers in Arms is the fifth studio album by Dire Straits, released in 1985. It became a massive million seller thanks to the title track, "Walk of Life", "Your Latest Trick" and the song "Money for Nothing", which was noted for its criticism of MTV. It's one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and was one of the first albums by a major act to be released on CD concurrently with the LP release (barring indie titles, most CD releases early in the format's life were of albums that had already been out for at least a couple years).
In fact, its CD release is notable as the album was specifically designed to take advantage of the format's strengths compared to the then-well-established gramophone record: not only was every song recorded digitally, but the fact that the majority of the tracks were Epic Rocking meant that it was impossible to fit the full album onto a single record. Indeed, up until 2006, all vinyl releases of Brothers in Arms cut a few minutes off of most of the songs (this only changed when Vertigo Records realized they could just release the uncut version as a double LP, but at the time of its original release, double albums were considered commercially unviable in the wake of the relative underperformance of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk compared to Rumours).
This gimmick paid off quite well for Dire Straits, with the album becoming the first to sell more copies on CD than on vinyl, making it one of two major killer apps for the CD format (the other being a reissue of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon). It helps that the album came out just as CD players were dropping dramatically in price since their introduction three years earlier, becoming affordable for the average rock fan. Beyond that, the album was a gargantuan commercial success overall, topping the charts in the UK, the US, Australia, Austria, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, and going on to become the best-selling album of 1985 in the UK and Australia. The album would also be certified diamond in Canada & France and platinum in a hell of a lot of other places a hell of a lot of times: twenty-four-fold in New Zealand, seventeen-fold in Australia, fourteen-fold in the UK, nine-fold in the US, six-fold in Switzerland, five-fold in Denmark, four-fold in Austria, three-fold in Spain, two-fold in Finland, and one-fold in Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, and Switzerland. It also went gold in Argentina, Poland, and Sweden.
Regarding the musical content itself, the album is both a New Sound Album and a Revisiting the Roots approach, returning to the band's roots rock sound following the Progressive Rock-oriented Love Over Gold, while simultaneously continuing that album's musical experimentation and incorporation of synthesizers for atmospheric effect (albeit oriented in a far more commercially accessible direction). As with Talking Heads' Little Creatures released the same year, the album would herald a trend toward "rootsy" musical textures in popular music during the second half of the 1980s, embodied by the resonator guitar on the cover. Combined with the continued presence of Epic Rocking, the end result is a sonic middle ground between the nostalgic minimalism of the band's first three albums and the musical innovation of Love Over Gold.
- "So Far Away" (5:12)*
- "Money for Nothing" (8:26)*
- "Walk of Life" (4:12)
- "Your Latest Trick" (6:33)*
- "Why Worry" (8:31)*
- "Ride Across the River" (6:58)
- "The Man's Too Strong" (4:40)
- "One World" (3:40)
- "Brothers in Arms" (6:59)
- Alan Clark - keyboard
- Guy Fletcher - synthesizer, vocals
- John Illsley - bass, vocals
- Mark Knopfler - lead vocals, guitar
- Omar Hakim - drums
- Terry Williams - drums
"Here come Johnny, gonna tell ya the story, hand me down my walking tropes":
- Absentee Musician: Terry Williams for most of the album, replaced by Omar Hakim.
- Alliterative Title: "Why Worry"
- Animated Music Video
- "Money for Nothing," notably for being the very first music video to feature fully computer-animated characters (created by the team that would eventually become Mainframe Entertainment and create ReBoot and Beast Wars) and also featuring bits of rotoscoping over footage of the band. It ended up nabbing the 1985 Grammy for Best Music Video from another classic animated video, a-ha's "Take on Me."
- "Brother In Arms" includes various kinds of animation, including stop-motion, rotoscoping and normal hand-drawn animation.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: "Money for Nothing" criticised MTV, while at the same time having a music video that got a lot of airplay on the channel. In fact, Mark Knopfler doesn't like music videos and only agreed to have one done for the song because MTV themselves insisted.
- Capitalism Is Bad: "Money for Nothing", a criticism of the music industry, especially regarding MTV.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Per word of Mark Knopfler, "Money for Nothing" is sung from the perspective of a conservative retail store clerk commenting on the music videos he sees on MTV, which he doesn't consider "real" work (hence the refrain, "money for nothing and the chicks for free"). He also mocks a singer's effeminate getup via homophobic slurs, sleazily remarks on a woman performer, and makes racist jokes at the expense of a bongo player. Knopfler emphasized that you're meant to see the narrator of the song as a scumbag and that it's a reflection of his own negative opinions on fans of rock music.
- End of an Age: The album's release marked the end of the era of the phonograph (which had already been losing ground to the cassette) as the dominant form of music reproduction and the rise of the CD, with its longer tracks on CD and cassette as well as the use of digital recording. Major labels would give vinyl shorter shrift through the decade until they started to phase out LP releases altogether around the end of the '80s. The album's later double-LP release would herald the end of the CD era and the start of the Vinyl Revival in turn, with the return of the LP as the premier physical music format.
- Epic Rocking: Invoked by the band as a way to promote the CD format. The broad majority of the tracksnote all exceed six minutes; in fact, the abundance of atypically long tracks on Brothers in Arms meant that the only way to release the album in its entirety on the vinyl record format was as a double LP.
- Fighting for a Homeland: The unnamed narrator of "Brothers in Arms":These mist-covered mountains are home now for me / But my home is the lowlands and always will be / Some day you'll return to your valleys and your farms / And you'll no longer burn to be brothers in arms...
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: The narrator of "Money for Nothing" laments that he should have learned to play guitar or drums, the worst physical discomfort being a blister on his finger or thumb and an easy life of not doing real work.
- Lower-Class Lout: The protagonist of "Money for Nothing".I shoulda learned to play the guitarI should learned to play them drumsLook at that mama, she got it stickin' in the cameraMan, we could have someAnd he's up there, what's that? Hawaiian noises?Bangin' on the bongos like a chimpanzee
- Lyrical Dissonance: In "Money for Nothing", the word "faggot" pops up a couple of times, and the narrator makes numerous other racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and just plain ignorant statements. Knopfler has repeatedly explained that the song was inspired by an unambitious dumbass he met in an electronics store who struck him as the epitome of everything that was wrong and reactionary about rock fans, so the song is written from his perspective - many of the lines, in fact, were taken verbatim from things Knopfler heard him say ("that ain't workin'", "the little faggot with the earring and make-up", "we got to install microwave ovens...", and so on).
- Money Song:Money for nothing and your chicks for free
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Money for Nothing" was inspired by the over-night sensation that was MTV. At the time of recording the channel was only four years old, but had already become an international mainstream success dictating the norms for the music industry for years to come.
- Sexophone: "Your Latest Trick".
- Silly Love Songs: "So Far Away", which is basically the narrator missing his girl.
- Special Guest: Sting on "Money for Nothing", singing the falsetto "I want my MTV!" in the melody of his own "Don't Stand So Close to Me". (He got a songwriting credit because of this.)
- Take That: "Money for Nothing" was a less-than-subtle critique of MTV.Now look at them yo-yo's, that's the way you do itYou play the guitar on the MTVThat ain't workin', that's the way you do itMoney for nothing and your chicks for free
- Time Marches On: The "Money for Nothing" music video had some of the earliest CGI animation, which looks extremely primitive today, but it was considered ground-breaking in its original release.
- Title Track: "Brothers in Arms".Someday you'll return to your valleys and your farmsAnd you'll no longer burn to be brothers in arms
- Trope Codifier: This was the first album to be specifically recorded and produced for the CD market - the CD version contained longer versions of several songs than the vinyl version and was the first album to sell more copies on CD than vinyl.
- War Is Hell: At least two songs. "Brothers in Arms" is about the tribulations of ordinary soldiers in combat. "The Man's Too Strong" is an extended My God, What Have I Done? from a war criminal.
- "Ride Across the River" sorta-kinda fits too:I'm a soldier of fortune, I'm a dog of warAnd we don't give a damn who the killing is forIt's the same old story with a different nameDeath or glory, it's the killing game
- "Ride Across the River" sorta-kinda fits too: