History of a song: “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits

“Money for Nothing”: a raw and grating title

The melodic rock sophistication of Dire Straits may make you forget it, but “Money for Nothing” is first and foremost a text song. Written in the first person, it immerses us in the shoes of an employee of an electrical appliance store in the process of setting up with a colleague the equipment for sale when it falls, in front of the televisions displayed in the shelves, on the clips aired by MTV. The narrator then launches into a long diatribe against the rockstars of the time, lazy people unable to do a real job, who are content to earn “money doing nothing”. Aligning the platitudes that we can sometimes hear about artists in general, the lyrics of “Money for Nothing” are willingly raw or even vulgar under the sharp pen of the leader of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler. The inspiration of the title does not come from far away because, as the singer and guitarist confided in 2000, this experience really happened to him in a New York store in the 80s. That day, Knopfler had asked the employee to lend him a pen to write down some of his expressions, which he eventually integrated into the lyrics of the song!

Sting, a guest of honor

“Money for Nothing” took shape in late 1984, when Dire Straits flew to the Caribbean island of Montserrat, where they recorded what would become their most famous album, “Brothers in Arms”. There, the group crosses paths with a certain Sting, then on vacation on the island. Inspired by the meeting, Knopfler then remembers commercials that Sting had shot for The Police for the MTV channel with the slogan “I Want my MTV”. He then decides to invite Sting in the studio to, in addition to providing some backing vocals for the song, have him re-record the phrase “I Want my MTV” on the melody of one of Police’s great hits, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”. This passage will become the opening of “Money for Nothing” and will give rise to a small legal dispute which will push the group, under pressure from Sting’s representatives, to credit the latter as co-author of the song.

“Money for Nothing”, a pioneering global hit for Dire Straits

Besides the shortened radio versions, there were two versions of “Money for Nothing” when “Brothers in Arms” hit stores on May 13, 1985. The first was the 33 rpm version for the vinyl medium, lasting seven minutes and four seconds. The second lasts for its eight minutes twenty-two seconds and accompanies the CD version of the album, a format still in its infancy since its launch barely three years earlier. “Brothers in Arms” will become the first real planetary success of an album in CD format, becoming the first record to exceed one million sales in this format. Proof of the pioneering character of Dire Straits, the clip of “Money for Nothing” has also remained famous for being one of the first to have integrated computer-generated images. “Money for Nothing” climbed to the top of the charts in England and the United States. Consecrated by the Grammy Award for best rock performance at the 1986 Grammy Awards, it allows the album to be one of the greatest successes of the decade and even of history with more than 30 million albums sold!

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History of a song: “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits

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