Dire Straits were a British rock band formed in London in 1977 by Mark Knopfler (lead vocals and lead guitar), David Knopfler (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), John Illsley (bass guitar and backing vocals), and Pick Withers (drums and percussion). The band became one of the world’s most commercially successful, with worldwide records sales of over 100 million.
Their first hit single, “Sultans of Swing”, from their self-titled debut album, reached the top ten in the UK and US charts in 1978. They released a number of hit singles in the 1980s, such as “Private Investigations” (1983), “Money for Nothing” (1985), and “Walk of Life” (1985). Their most commercially successful album, Brothers in Arms (1985), has sold over 30 million copies, and was the first album to sell a million copies on the then-new compact disc (CD) format. Dire Straits’ sound drew from a variety of musical influences, including jazz, folk, and country, though mainly from the blues-rock of J. J. Cale. Despite the prominence of punk rock during the band’s early years, their stripped-down sound contrasted with punk, demonstrating a more “rootsy” influence that emerged from pub rock. Many of Dire Straits’ compositions were melancholic.
According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Albums, Dire Straits have spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart, ranking fifth all-time. Their career spanned 15 years. They split in 1988, reformed in 1991, and disbanded again in 1995 after Mark Knopfler launched his solo career full-time. There were several changes in personnel over both periods, with Mark Knopfler and Illsley as the only members who remained throughout the band’s career. Dire Straits won four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards—winning Best British Group twice, two MTV Video Music Awards, and various other music awards. The band will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.