Dire Straits – Money For Nothing 

(George Kelly Edit)

“It was pretty mind-blowing, because I didn’t expect anything. I just finished the record and moved on, thinking it would be a fairly successful Dire Straits record because they had a huge fan base. But it turned out to be something else,” 

Neil Dorfsman – co-producer and engineer on Brothers in Arms.

Recorded on the Caribbean island of Montserrat at AIR studios, an offshoot of Beatles’ producer Sir George Martin’s independent recording company, the sound on Money for Nothing was what Dorfsman calls “just one of those happy accidents”.

Lead guitarist Mark Knopfler was using his Gibson Les Paul through a Laney amplifier, aiming to reference the sound of bearded, Texan rock trio ZZ Top.  As engineer Neil Dorfsman was setting up the mics, Knopfler’s guitar tech Ron Eve got on the talkback from the control room and told him not to touch anything because it sounded amazing as it was. 

“One mic was pointing down at the floor, another was not quite on the speaker, another was somewhere else,” Dorfsman recalls, “and it wasn’t how I would want to set things up — it was probably just left from the night before, when I’d been preparing things for the next day and had not really finished the setup.”

Dorfsman left the mics as they were and so that famous sound was born. What was heard in the studio was exactly what ended up on the record, according to Dorfsman, and there was no additional processing on the tune during the mix. He had drawn extensive pictures and a little map of how everything was set up at AIR studios, but when they tried to recreate the sound in New York he claims “it sounded like a cleaner, karaoke version of the same thing.”

The record’s stratospheric success was bolstered by another happy coincidence.

Having already recorded in Montserrat with The Police, Sting – partial to a spot of windsurfing – was visiting the island on vacation. When he came to the studio for supper one night, the band played him Money for Nothing to which he replied, “You’ve done it this time, you bastards”.


Knopfler suggested that Sting add something to the song since he was so impressed by it. And so, lifting the tune from his earlier track “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, Sting’s plaintive calls of “I Want my MTV” came to be.

“It was one of those things”, Dorfman remembers, “where Sting just sort of did it in three passes, I comped the thing, and then I walked around thinking ‘There’s something amazing about this.’ It was done in about an hour.”

Knopfler’s lyrics were written in an appliances store in New York. At the back of the store was a wall of TV’s that were all tuned to MTV. In front of those TVs stood a man in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt. Arms heavy with delivery boxes, he stared at the TVs where Knopfler overheard him bemusedly ask things like, “what are those, Hawaiian noises?…that ain’t workin”, commenting on an era of musicians who had reached fame and wealth from doing what he considered easy work.


At a time when most popular music was recorded on analogue equipment, Brothers in Arms was one of the first albums recorded on a Sony 24-track digital tape machine. Dorfsman recalls that the decision to switch over came from Knopfler’s “interest in technology as a means of improving his music. He was always willing to spend on high-quality equipment.” Released in May 1985, the record was met with lukewarm reviews but it had hit a Zeitgeist jackpot, arriving at the dawn of the compact disc, for which the album’s production was tailor-made. It became the first album to sell one million copies in the CD format and to outsell its LP version. One employee at the American Record Label Rykodisc remembers that in 1985 his label was “fighting to get our CDs manufactured because the entire worldwide manufacturing capacity was overwhelmed by demand for a single rock title” – that of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms
Play Video

Moreover, MTV was just about to launch in the UK and chose the animated promo for Money for Nothing as the first video to be aired on the channel.

Because of the track’s constant referencing of the new TV station, and the video’s futuristic digital animation – MTV championed Money for Nothing relentlessly….it certainly helped!

Presumably the irony was lost on no one. The record became the 8th best selling UK album of all time, remaining in the UK charts for a whopping 4 years, and spent nine weeks at No.1 in the US, propelling Knopfler and his band to 80s chart royalty alongside the likes of Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna.

Isaac Ferry

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