Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” Lyrics Meaning

Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler derived the name of this track from watching another band perform and referring to themselves as the “sultans of swing”. Knopfler found this utterly amusing due to the band’s shoddy appearance. The setting in which this occurred was an obscure bar in his native United Kingdom. And it is that selfsame account which this song is based on. 

In fact in a way you can call this song a tribute to that unnamed band and pub. For even though there was nothing truly outstanding about the experience, it clearly was a memorable experience in the mind of the singer.

And it was the factors that made such so which are at the center of this classic tune. For instance, one of his clearest memories is that the band was playing in a style similar to jazz, i.e. music from Deep South of the United States. It was also a rainy night, and the pub itself was sparsely populated.  Also the band consists of the likes of its guitar player, “George”, who is depicted as being truly dedicated to his craft. There’s also “Harry”, who doesn’t play for the money but also apparently for the joy he derives from doing so. Then there’s a “crowd of young boys” caught up in their own fun-filled ruckus in a corner of the bar, who aren’t interested in the band at all. And why? According to these rowdy boys, what the band is playing “ain’t what they call Rock and Roll”, i.e. a modern brand of music. Then finally the band concludes their set with the frontman stepping to the mic and proclaiming them as “the Sultans of Swing”.


So we can conclude that on this particular night (in this unimportant bar) everyone found what they were looking for, which was apparently just having a cool time. Indeed based on the first verse, the singer is actually drawn into the venue by the sound of the band. And all of the respective parties mentioned therein appear as if they are content in their various activities, whether it be playing music, listening to it or hanging out with friends.

Lyrics of "Sultans of Swing"

Powerful Demo of “Sultan of Swing”

A demo of “Sultans of Swing” recorded in 1977 blew up before the track was officially released.  In fact that selfsame recording resulted in a bidding war for Dire Straits’ services which ultimately led to them signing with Phonogram Records (i.e. Vertigo Records), one of the co-publishers of the official version of the song.

Release Date of “Sultans of Swing”

The following year Dire Straits re-recorded “Sultans of Swing”. And the track was officially released on 7 October 1978 as part of the band’s first album, which was also entitled “Dire Straits”. It has since been featured on a number of the band’s compilation albums also.

 And by the way, in addition to Vertigo, “Sultans of Swing” was also released through Warner Bros.

Who wrote “Sultans of Swing”?

This classic was composed by none other than the band’s leader, Mark Knopfler. Meanwhile the entire band produced the track along with record producer Muff Winwood.

A Truly Great Song

This song is a classic and as such is featured on a number of distinguished music-ranking lists, perhaps most-notably being placed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.

Chart-wise “Sultans of Swing” performed well in both the US and Dire Strait’s homeland of the UK. It respectively peaked at number 4 and 8 on the Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart.

The track also charted in the top 10 in Australia, Canada, Ireland and South Africa.

Memorable Live Performance of “Sultans of Swing”

In 1988, Dire Straits performed one of the most memorable live versions of “Sultans of Swing”. The band performed this classic live in conjunction with music legend Eric Clapton during the 70th Birthday Tribute for renowned South African leader Nelson Mandela in 1988.

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