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Sultans Of Swing

by

Dire Straits



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is about guys who go to a club after work, listen to music and have a good time. They are there for the music, and not for the image presented by the band. The song was a marked change from the waning Disco style and the nascent Punk movement. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Group leader Mark Knopfler got the idea for song this from watching a lousy club band perform. As the story goes, Knopfler was in Ipswich on a rainy night. He ducked into a bar where a mediocre band was closing out the night to an audience that was maybe four or five drunks unaware of their surroundings. The hapless band ended their set with the lead singer announcing, with no apparent irony, "Goodnight and thank you. We are the sultans of swing." Knopfler got a lot of songwriting ideas from observing everyday people, something that got harder to do when he became famous. (thanks, S.D. - Denver, CO)
This was Dire Straits' first single. It was one of 5 songs on a demo tape they used to get their record deal. The tape got played on London radio and started a bidding war for the band.
Despite the title, the song is not played with a swing rhythm. (thanks, Mark - West Bountiful, UT)
We did our best to learn more about this, but we could neither confirm nor disprove this entry. If you know more about it, send us a note:
There is a CD which contains 24 tracks which were from a production company which recorded various artists between 1989-1995. One of the tracks was by an artist only identified as "B. Wilson." There was an asterisk after his name and on the CD it says that this was from a live show performed at The Warehouse which was in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before Wilson plays his song he says the following:
"I do this thing I cowrote about, I guess, it's been about 12 years ago I wrote the lyrics and a friend of mine used to work a lot of sessions for my old producer, Bob Johnston, and worked a session with this fellow from England by the name of Mark Knopfler. Has his own group over there called Dire Straits. He had this little melody. It sounded like "Walk, Don't Run." And he had this little story concerning a band that nobody wanted to listen to. Only a few people show up to hear. So we got together one night after the session and tossed these lyrics around on a napkin and I guess I wound up writing most of the lyrics to the tune. made enough money to buy a new Blazer that year I remember, so... didn't do too bad. It goes like this..."
Then he starts playing an acoustic guitar, strumming Spanish style and sings Sultans of Swing. The lyrics are pretty close to what Mark Knopfler recorded but are slightly different. (thanks, JJ - Bloomington, IN)
Regarding the line, "The band was playing Dixie double four time," Dixie double is a style popularized by Django Reinhradt (and Les Paul in his early years) where the guitar goes quite fast and plays bass as well, all together.
Knopfler has said that he is sick of this song because he had to play it thousands of times.
The "Guitar George" and "Harry" who are mentioned in the lyrics are George Young and Harry Vander, who were guitarists in the band The Easybeats. George Young is Angus Young's older brother and Harry and George helped get AC/DC recorded.
Dire Straits played a nearly 10 minute version with lots of saxophone at Live Aid in 1985. This performance is available on the Live Aid DVD.
Their 1998 Greatest Hits compilation Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits was named after this song.
System Of A Down sometimes covers this at concerts.
According to Rolling Stone magazine in their "100 Greatest Guitar Songs" issue, Mark Knopfler wrote the song on acoustic guitar, then switched to a Fender Stratocaster. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 5)
Alan Freed played trombone in his band named Sultans of Swing. He is credited with coining the term "Rock and Roll" on his radio show in Cleveland in the early '50s. It is ironic that the lyrics, "They don't give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it ain't what they call rock and roll" references the type of band Alan Freed led. (thanks, Samuel - Russell, PA)
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Comments (75):

"It's Trad, Dad," a British pop film (featuring Helen Shapiro) from the early 60's that I saw on TCM recently, immediately reminded me of "Sultans" with its mix of pop and trad jazz performances. Was Mark Knopfler writing about the remnants of a declining scene? I'm texting this in, so I won't go into the details.
- Howard, Levittown, PA
Seemed like Mark Knopfler got a lot of his inspiration from mundane everyday situations as with this song and also, Money for nothing and Calling Elvis.
- Kieran, Brisbane, Australia
While the song was faded for unknown reasons, it actually has an "extended" ending, totaling a 6 minute rendition.
- Jack, Burlington, NJ
The setting is a jazz pub in Greenwich London.
Meantime, and south of the river are the clues.
Before they hit the big time , they shared a council flat in Deptford , which is about a mile from Greenwich park .The pub is either the Mitre in Greenwich , or the Prince of Orange in Rotherhithe
The story goes that close to where they lived in Farrer House on the Crossfield council estate. "Love over gold" was scrawled on a wall. The rest is history.
John is Bang on the money with this-although MK has never publicly said what pub the band were supposedly playing in another pub is the Gloucester Arms by the gates at Greenwich park that had live Jazz bands on a Friday night - Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze was often to be found in there listening to the local amateur talent.
- mick , london, United Kingdom
I wish i could do that.
- eddie, billericay, United Kingdom
i don't think he is dissing the band at all-he is sympathetic to them and probably was in a similar band situation once-every musician was. A nice slice of English weekend party life told by an expert storyteller; so much imagery in the lyrics as well as the music-his Dylanesque vocal makes it even more fantastic. Very unique lead playing. Dennis G., USA.
- dennis, swansea, IL
i think it is a positive song-he sings "you feel alright when you hear that music ring". I think he sympathizes with the "band" more than the audience, the latter of whom he makes disparaging remarks. I'm sure he was in a similar band situation once-every musician was. The music is too good to be a slam at a bad band, and he is too good a musician to put other bands down that are at least out there trying to do their thing.
- dennis, swansea, IL
Just love to sing to this song.. It's so easy to follow:D
- Budoshi, Sandnessj√łen, Norway
Don't know if I believe him, but there's a video, actually, an audio, of this Bill Wilson who credits himself as a cowriter on youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36kKAppMSH0

If you prefer to search by yourself, or it's not allowed to put a link in the comments, you can search as 'Sultans of Swing - 1991 Bill Wilson's Rendition'
- Vinicius, Taubaté, Brazil
This is one of the songs that inspired me to learn how to play guitar. The day I was able to play along to the CD was a very happy day.
- Gus, Fort Smith, AR
Astonished to see so many comments from people across the world, who haven't listened to the lyrics or have no UK geography. This song is not about a club, its about a pub. Possibly but not definitely the Half Moon in Herne Hill, south London which had a big reputation for jass in the 70s - I used to go there. It's very definitely "way on down south, London town" - and the park "It's raining in" would be Brockwell Park just next door. A lot of the Knopflers' songs have strong south London overtones, including "SIngle Handed Sailor" which refers to the Cutty Sark clipper in Greenwich, and the Gypsy Moth which used to be moored next to it.
- peter, london, United Kingdom
This song is timeless - An awesome guitar riff combined with an awesome guitar solo attributed to an awesome performer and composer. An inspiration to me forever - amen.
- Slik, Land of Awesomeness, Australia
totally a masterpiece!!!!!!!!!!
- Joaquin, San Francisco, CA
i Also Thought He Sounded Like Dylani also think that he wud do a good version of house of the rising sun
- Sean Doone, Belfast, Ireland
The setting is a jazz pub in Greenwich London.
Meantime, and south of the river are the clues.
Before they hit the big time , they shared a council flat in Deptford , which is about a mile from Greenwich park .The pub is either the Mitre in Greenwich , or the Prince of Orange in Rotherhithe
The story goes that close to where they lived in Farrer House on the Crossfield council estate ."Love over gold" was scrawled on a wall.The rest is history.
- John, London, United Kingdom
I always thought that the lyrics and vocals sounded a bit like Bob Dylan. I love this song.
- Ian, Paddock Lake, WI
I forgot to mention, I recently heard a version of this song where instead of "platform soles" Knopfler says "best King's Road". Kings road is I believe a well-known street in London with some high-end shops.

Of further interest is that when Knopfler says "Kings Ro.." he strums the gutar loud at that exact point where the 'O' leaves off, and you can't really tell for sure if he's saying "Row" or "Road". I think this is intentional - "King's Row" is an old movie (starring Ronald Reagan) that depicted the lives of several youths growing up in an idyllic town.
- Norman, Oxnard, CA
Hello, I noticed someone below seemed to say that Chet Atkins did not use a pick. I saw him in a YouTube video with Knopler however, and he was using one ..it is the 2-song "medley" where they play "Imagine" and some other song. The show a close-up of Atkins' hand.

Btw I prefer Lady Writer over Sultans..it too has fantastic guitar work.

--The Analyzer
- Norman, Oxnard, CA
Mark Knopfler is great ! This song is a Masterpiece !
- Arnold, Nashville, TN
1st verse: As the story goes, Mark was out rainy night. Meanwhile a band was "blowing dixie" somewhere.

2nd verse: He step into the bar which is almost empty, just to hear a mediocre band playing somewhere "downsouth London town".

3rd verse: "Guitar George" should be George Borowski or perhaps George Young. He play his rythm stuff just the way it should be and nothing more than that at an old guitar.

4th verse: Harry in this case, doesn't really care if people think they're good. He just want to play their stuff at Friday nights and don't become famous at all.

5th verse: A crowd of youngsters "fooling around in the corner" and they don't think that any trumpet-playing band can be rock n' roll.

6th verse: The story says that the band end up with "Thank you good night! We are the Sultans of swing!".
- Max, Stockholm, Sweden
"The band was playing Dixie double four time,"

Blowing - screwing it up
Blowing - playing something quiet very loudly...
- James, Midlands, United Kingdom
"The band was playing Dixie double four time,"

It's a metaphor guys - In the song it's actually "A band is blowing dixie double four time" In literal terms it means playing something slow really fast. Mark layers this over his observation of the band to say "whatever the're playing - they're getting it really wrong!"
- James, Midlands, United Kingdom
"Regarding the line, "The band was playing Dixie double four time," Dixie double is a style popularized by Django Reinhradt (and Les Paul in his early years) where the guitar goes quite fast and plays bass as well, all together."

Duh, Dixieland Jazz is an upbeat style of jazz, and "double-four time" is Mark's genius literary way of saying 4/4 time, the most common time signature. So they are playing Dixieland jazz in 4/4 (four-four), not whatever rubbish you said, yours doesn't even make sense if you read the lyrics your way.
- JD, Australia, Australia
you are crazy rob its not on making movies its on their first album called dire straits
- stuart, .
The only resemblance between this song and Bulbs by Van Morrison is they both do bluesy fingerpicking, and the beat is somewhat similar. There's a bunch of styles and songs in the 70s that bear no more or less resemblance to Sultans, and could all be said to have influenced Sultans, I think you've got Van Morrison on the brain to be honest, Kevin from Ireland.
- Liquid Len, Ottawa, Canada
Guitar George was George Borowski who died recently (2005 I think). Session musician in London. Don't know who "Harry" is though. MK's voice is perfect for what he sings.
- Bob, Manchester, England

If it's the George Borowski i think you're talking about (from the Manchester erea), he certainly is not dead :)! I got the opportunity to jam with him @ the Bradford international market (august '06). He is a great musician and he really inspired me, and helped become a better songwriter. I had no idea he was the "guitar george" from "The Sultans of Swing". Cool to know!
- Jens, Westkapelle, Belgium
Guitar George was George Borowski who died recently (2005 I think). Session musician in London. Don't know who "Harry" is though. MK's voice is perfect for what he sings.
- Bob, Manchester, England
The "B. Wilson" mentioned below is Bill Wilson, a singer-songwriter from Bloomington, IN. He was signed to Columbia Records for a while, releasing 'Ever Changing Minstrel' in 1973. He had 3 other independent albums during his career, but never really hit the bigtime, despite his songwriting prowess. He passed away from a heart attack in 1993, at age 46.
- brock, waco, TX
Can someone tell me if Sultans of Swing was on Making Movies album? It's not listed, but I swear I had that on disc as a kid...and that was the ONLY album I owned.

Am I crazy?
- Rob, Raleigh, NC
It's funny listening to so many people wax poetic about both Sultans of Swing and Knopfler. There's no doubt he's a fine player but he's also a magpie or to put it more politely, he was only VERY HEAVILY influenced by a Van Morrison song when choosing his guitar playing style for SOS. Take a listen to Bulbs on Morrison's 1973 album Veedon Fleece. Mr Knopfler wasn't hit by a rush of brilliant inspiration, more like, 'ehh, I like the sound of that Morrison song, I wonder will anyone notice if I lift it'. As Morrison wrote in one of his songs, 'Copycats ripped off my songs, copycats ripped of my words, copycats ripped off my melodies'... well I'm sure he was tempted to include the line, 'Copycats ripped off my guitar fills'.
- Kevin, Dublin, Ireland
Great song.

Dire Straits and Eric Clapton performed a craking 10-minute long version of this at Concert for Mandella in 1988.

Just search on YouTube for "Sultans of Swing Clapton" (no quotes) and you'll find it.
- Mark, Dundee, Scotland
Knopfler rules.
- vincent, newington, CT
Whenever I listen to this, I can imagine myself sitting in a smoke-filled bar, where local musicians gather to perform. I can easily see the "young boys in the corner" who "don't give a damn about a trumpet-playing band." I picture it being a short story about a single band called "The Sultans of Swing" performing in a "battle of the bands"-like contest.
- Patrick, Tallapoosa, GA
Everything about this song works. I love it from the very first drum hit to the fade out where the hook gets revisited.

The tempo is brisk but unhurried. And the guitar--- well it's brilliant.

David Knopler and John Illsley play their parts in a cool work-make like manner, while Mark Knopler bounces his guitar lines off Pick Withers' drums for maximum effect.

I understand that Mark wrote this tune after seeing an unappreciated swing band at a club. he said they played "Creole Love Song" at his request.

After the sng was a hit, Mark heard a band butcher this song at a Holiday Inn, and took them aside later and showed them the proper chords.
- Paul, Marysville, WA
awesome song...knopfler rules...telegraph road and brothers in arms has great solos too
- Spencer, McBride, Canada
Knopfler is a fantastic player with great chops and a brilliant observer of human nature. His writing craft is above and beyond many of his comtemporaries. I have witnessed only four performances dating from the early eighties to the last tour, Shangra la.

In Connecticut there is a comapny,, Kaman ovations, an old friend of mine was working there reparing guitars when Dire Straits stopped by to check the place out. He said,, "They were swinging off the rails,, having a great time,, kids really enjoying themself".. Another friend met Knopfler at a house party in Hartford maybe 25 years ago,, Very polite, quiet,, taking it all in,, observing the people.. A hobby which as turned into a profession.
My coworker played darts with Knopfler and Issley in a pub in Nothingham.. "Nothing special says Ian", just played and drank some beers.

His lyrics are thought provoking with a great deal of imagery. A writer who observes from a distance,, takes out a small pad or paper and jots down the events of his environment. A year or so later you may find yourself as a character in one of his songs...

Europeans always have had a fascination with the cowboy and indian movies, Gary Cooper etc.. "Once upon a time in the west" Knopfler again, (as in Telegraph Row), vividly describes life as it was back in the colonial days. "Mother mary the children you have slaughtered, some of you mothers outa lock up your daughters".. A brillant reference to the view of abortion as it was back then.

Gambling, much to be said about knopflers songs and how gambling is always in there somewhere. Even on the new CE cover, "All the Roadrunning" his duet album with Emmy Lou Harris,, there is a shot of a casino on it. (One armed bandit fever).

Knopfler likes the risk taker, the working man who may have a few coins left at the end of the day and may slide those coins down the slot machine in the hopes of winning the jackpot.. Or as least making his money back,, if he loses, oh well,, back to work the next day and try it again.
Music was never like this before him and will never be the same after him.
- vincent, newington, CT
THE pinnacle of solo work! Not to brag, but I CAN play this solo completely..it took many hours of determined practice, but I learned it.
From what I understand, this "solo" was actually the compiliation of several tracks. After recording many runs from start to end, Mr. Knopfler disected each solo, taking exerpts from each he felt good with. Ivan (from Turkey), the ending IS done with the first 3 fingers, and is nothing more than a reverse Banjo finger roll. The few times I have been priveleged enough to play it with a group has been an incredible experience!!!
- Scott, Chattanooga, TN
Oops. I meant David Gilmour sorry. Anyway they're both great guitarists.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Cool Solo! I think I can hear the David Gillmore influences.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
I always thought the lyric of "Guitar George, he knows all the chords, but he's strictly rhythm,he doesn't want to make it cry or sing" was kind of a reference to George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps (even though that weeping guitar solo was played by Eric Clapton).
- Steve, Fenton, MO
i love rocking out to this song. its mad!
- Dee, khancoban, Australia
Simply wonderful... I like the rhythm of the song and obviously the great solo. Knopfler kicks ass!
- Alberto, Carpi, Italy
this somg is great especially on the live album alchemi its my favorite along with telegraph road
- elie, the u.k, England
The live versions of this song are very different and much longer (which Knopfler loves to do whenever the chance comes ie: on "Alchemy" and at "Live Aid"). I think the best performance of this song is either on "Live at the BBC" or "Live Aid".

Knopfler is the best guitarist to ever set foot on this earth. I went to see him on March 12th, 2005. Bloody hell, he is THE BEST!!
By the way, Knopfler has never used a pick, for all those people who have commented about this above. He finger picks, and when he recorded "sultans" he finger picked as well. It's part of his tradition and trademark. He only used a pick on "Expresso Love" and "Twisting by the Pool".
Damo, Melbourne
- Damian, Melbourne, Australia
you people are wrong, the rythmn paterns ARE in fact swung, just very lightly
- Brian, Corpus Christi, TX
It's good guitar, but I think Knopfler's best guitar work is found in the last three minutes of Telegragh Road.

I too prefer the live versions of this song.
- James, Westchester, England
Awesome, awesome guitar solo.
- Aylin, Montreal, Canada
the ending solo has some taste of classical influence in some of thoes chord progressions.
- Bill, Moriches, NY
Great solo, up there with 'Kid Charlegmane', 'Stairway', 'Freebird', etc
- Bill, Moriches, NY
Knopfler has sited David Gilmour of pink floyd as an inspiration. some of his solo licks could be taken as complete rip offs, althought his solos are different in a sense.
- Bill, Moriches, NY
This gets my vote for the best ever Guitar Solo ever written by Mark Knopfler.
- Ryan, Lincoln, England
I can play the first solo. The second one is too hard!
- Jo-C, Lima, Peru
You're right the solo is amazing, did knofler play a tele? because it sure has that tele twang sound.
- Steve, Raynham, MA
Great solo!!!
- GreatWall, Nanjing, China
the ending solo was just out of the world,even a layman would find it awesome,i cant imagine how he played it so fast yet so rythamic and more over without a pic,salute the "sultans of swing"
- arun, hyderabad, India
I love this song, i just played the bass to it the other night in a club in Idaho, the chord progression is crazy, only a band like Dire Straits goes from an A to a Bb, I mean, cmon 145? lol, yeah right, anyway, Dire Straits kicks ass, as well as this song
- Nick, Hartline, WA
This I have to say is on of the best guitar Solos I have heard close to Jimmy page's wonders and freebird by lynard skynard. Too bad Knopfler can't sing, if you have heard him live it sounds almost as terrible as listening to most modern day singers. But I can't complain this song was wonderfully written and one of my personal favorite songs
- Ben, Perth, Canada
definitely one of the best solos ever recorded... but try freebird by lynyrd skynyrd--nothing can compare to that solo
- Dan, city, CA
Omg Ivan, i do the same thing :O i find picks difficult. He has played it with Eric Clapton live which sounds amazing.
- David, wrtwrtywrty, Australia
You got it right there Bart! Spot on! This guy is a genius, long live Knopfler!
- Daryl, Stoke, England
All the Chords in Sultans of Swing are Dm, C, Bb, A, A7, F and C :). This certainly is neither rock 'n' roll or swing. It's Dire Straits! :), which is why I love it.
Indeed dthe band described certainly isn't seen as lousy (he can play the honky tonk like anything), but it doesn't refer to Knopfler's own band either.
I don't see why it would be so amazing to do the solo without pick. Naturally the solo is amazing. But the end part is easier playing it with the three-fingered technique Knopfler always uses. The well-known fast part at the end of the studio version is done using only two: the thumb and the index finger. Tabbing his solos is a lot easier when you know his style. Quite unique!

But what about brothers in arms? That's a magic number as well. Because of course there are faster guitarists than Mark, but here he shows he's a melodic genious. Or think of the sax theme in 'Your latest Trick' which I personally also love!
- Bart, Enschede, Netherlands
Definitely one of the best guitar solos...
I also played it (even the last part I could never play exactly like he), Knopfler almost never use any pick, this unique kind of guitar sound can be done only with fingers. But it's a kind of special picking, It was not to easy to learn it, especially because my fingers are shorter. He used his first 3 fingers to pick while the other 2 fixed on the pickboard or the bridge.
- Ivan, Telki, Hungary
Amazing.......
- Sarah, Missoula, MT
acctually the song was inspired by Knopfler and the band's long clubbing career in England. The Song doesnt make it soung like the band is bad it makes them sound good it is just that the drunk punks "dressed in thier best brown baggies and platform souls" didnt think it was rock.
- Andres, Santa Rosa, CA
Brooks and Dunn used the guitar riff from the chorus and outro of this song (Sultans of Swing) for their Only in America. To my knowledge this has never been brought up and I don't know if permission was used.
- Mike, Clinton, MA
I'm still not tired of this song. Maybe it's cuz my name is George and I play guitar. But I don't know ALL the chords!
- Geo, Eugene, OR
AWESOME song, love it, the guitar solo is amazing
- julia, london, England
Trey Anestasio from Phish covered this when he went solo, it was an amazing version i saw it live, He added trumpets as kind of joke ("don't give a damb about no trumpet playin band") They played the whole solo on brass it was amazing, and of course they busted out some guitar solo's too, i would love to have a recording of this.
- Nick, Shelton, CT
Knopfler doesn't use a pick b/c chet atkins didn't. The logic is that your fingers are more versatile than a pick. Anyhow, if you want to hear something amazing, check out knopfler and atkins playing together. It was the great one's twilight years, but he could still do things nobody else ever could do or will do.

Nat, "Sultans of Swing" might have the best guitar solo ever played or recorded, but it's not the studio version. The live version on their Alchemy album can battle it out w/ the many bootlegged versions for the absolute best. (I'll take the one I heard, from a benefit concert, I belive, featuring Eric Clapton.)
- Marvin, East Brady, PA
Just simply breathtaking. One of the best guitar solos ever played or recorded. The End is to DIE FOR.
- Brian, Toronto, Canada
I have a few live videos of Knopfler playing , he doesn't use a pick.
- Prat, ooga, Other
And it is rumored that Knopfler was not using a guitar pick when it was recorded! Amazing!
- Chris, Hull, MA
Great song, guitar work in it is AMAZING. It's un-real how he can play that fast, like on the final solo....Un real.
- Brian, Paoli, IN
Damn, if my job were to play this song in front of millions of people eight hours a day, 5 days a week I would consider myself the luckiest person alive.
- Marvin, East Brady, PA
best guitar solo ever been played or recorded
- nat, istanbul, United States
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