Home Geek LifeCulture Bandbox Unboxed Vol. 5 – Dire Straits

Bandbox Unboxed Vol. 5 – Dire Straits

by Patrick Phillips
Bandbox Dire Straits Cover

Prepare your turntable to receive some heavy rotation bangers vinyl fans, ’cause there’s a new, deep dive record box in town, and you’re gonna want to get your mitts on the band-themed short stack of wax they’re delivering every month. It’s called Bandbox, and it’s unlike any other vinyl subscription service out there.

Groove Is In The Bandbox

What’s the big deal, you ask? To begin with, the wax warriors behind Bandbox are delivering not just one album to your doorstep every month, but two! And not to overstate the obvious, but the only thing better than getting one new record in the mail every month, is getting twice that number. With Bandbox focusing their packages on a single artist/group every month (Neil Young, Weezer, Ride, and St. Vincent have already been featured), you can be certain they’ll be digging deep into the archives to send some truly unsung sonic treasures your way.

To keep things interesting, Bandbox is throwing a hitch into their album selection process. That means the first of the mystery discs subscribers receive will be a staple album from said artist’s slate of releases. The second mystery disc is where the deep dive aspect kicks in, with Bandbox pledging to pick an overlooked gem from the artist’s back catalogue. And that gem may or may not be the same album for every subscriber.

If that bold choice isn’t quite enticing enough, you should know that Bandbox is also stuffing every box with a lavishly animated, track-by-track listening companion for the featured album – not to mention a stylish fanzine tracking the artist’s career and releases. And all that can be yours for the super reasonable price of just $49 a month. And did I mention that your membership will come with full access to the just-launched Bandstocks store – which happens to feature a bevy of killer records from artists across all genres at bargain basement prices? ‘Cause it does.

Before we get too far into this month’s box, those of you wary of letting a group of complete strangers “surprise” you with artist/album selections every month should know that Team Bandbox has already setup an exchange program which allows you to swap out records you don’t want for ones you do, so long as they’re available in the Bandbox archives. Hell, they’ll even let you integrate your Discogs account to ensure you never receive something you already have in your collection, thus limiting the need to make those swaps.

If you’re really, really wary of surprises, Team Bandbox will even let you tap out of the coming month’s artist and choose from their back catalogue of albums. If that’s still not good enough, you can even “pause” your subscription at any time you like. It’s unlikely you’ll want to “pause” anything once you’ve signed up and experienced Bandbox for yourself. And for that relatively modest sum, you try to just chill out, have a little adventure, and get down with whatever vibes Bandbox is bringing.

Let The Great World Spin

I’m gonna go ahead and assume that you know who Dire Straits are. Mostly because if you’ve listened to the radio at some point in the past 30 to 40 years, you’ve invariably heard a track or two or ten of theirs, with “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing” pretty much being the poster-children for the term “classic rock radio staples.” But also because the band has sold untold millions of records since their inception back in 1977, and  became the poster boys for bloated corporate rock after a string of easy to digest hits in the 1980s.

Just in case you’ve been off grid, or have just never listened to the radio, or generally loathe classic rock, I’ll tell you that Dire Straits’ rep as pseudo rock sellouts isn’t entirely earned. In fact, it’s probably a bit unfair. After all, one can hardly blame a band for hitting on something that audiences clearly really, really wanted back in the late ’70s. Band founder Mark Knopfler certainly did that when he put together a blues-based rock outfit together in the UK circa 1977. Whether knowingly or not, the band that would come to be known as Dire Straits and served as a sly counterpoint to the punk and new wave sounds that were shaking things up across the U.K. at the time. Amid that chaos, Knopfler certainly couldn’t have known that his fledgeling rock outfit would soon find itself on the fast track to legit rock stardom.

That’s just what happened when Knopfler brought his unmistakable voice and deceptively laid back guitar sound to the masses with Dire Straits’ 1978 self-titled debut. Wild success would follow the band for the better part of the next two decades, and lead to one of the more divisive legacies in rock history. One that unfairly knocks a band for being incredibly successful, even as it continues to adore said band’s legacy for crafting deceptively simple, often infectious rock anthems that have continued to endure decades after their release. Whether you loved ’em or hated ’em over the years, get ready to give it up for the one, the only Dire Straits.

Given their general status as legit rock & roll legends, I’m betting you’ve got a least a cursory awareness of Dire Straits and the band’s output through ’70s and ’80s. If that’s the case, then you know their 1980 release Making Movies – which happens to be the featured Bandbox selection for November.

There’s a track list up at the top of the back cover for those of you who might need one.

You’ll also want to take note of the info on this hype sticker. If you pay attention to vinyl reissues that have been rolling out for the past decade plus, then you know that Bernie Grundman is one of the all-time greats in the game. You probably know that Pallas-Germany is sort of the gold standard for pressing plants as well. All of which means this reissue of Making Movies is basically the best you can find.

Making Movies (1980)

Over the course of their 18 year run, Dire Straits released only six albums. Every single one of them became a platinum seller in the their own country, with each also charting top five in the U.K. Those album’s each had a similar run in countries all over the world. But if there’s a single Dire Straits record that really does deserve the centerpiece treatment, it’s Making Movies. Released in 1980, the album found Knopfler and band at the absolute height of creative power and artistic ambition, utilizing both to deliver a stunning collection of densely layered blues-based rockers that boldly encapsulates what their sound could be. Making Movies also remains the most complete album the band ever produced, even slotting in at #52 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Albums of the Eighties” list.

As such, there really isn’t much I can say about Making Movies that hasn’t already been said. But I can tell you that the album’s ranking on that “Best of the Eighties” list is no fluke. Point of fact, the first four songs on the album – “Tunnel of Love,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Skateaway,” and “Expresso Love” – make for one of the all-time great side A’s in the history of music. If not for a slightly underwhelming side B (save for “Hand in Hand”), I’d wager Making Movies would’ve ranked much higher on that Rolling Stone list. As it is, Making Movies is – start to finish – easily the best album Dire Straits ever recorded. And if you’re not aware of its cinematic, groove-inducing charms, now’s the time to get on board.

Now, let’s have a butcher’s look at this month’s deep dive selection, Dire Straits’ less celebrated Making Movies followup Love Over Gold.

Be sure to check out the hype sticker for Love Over Gold too, ’cause it’s another killer cut from our boy Bernie Grundman and the lads at Pallas-Germany. Which again makes this pressing a cut above the rest. Even more so with names like Bob Ludwig and Chris Bellman involved.

Love Over Gold (1982)

I probably should’ve mentioned this before now, but whether you dig what Dire Straits brings to the rock realm or not, you have to appreciate the fact that Mark Knopfler has always been a first-rate guitarist with a singular sound. That guitar was often front and center throughout Dire Straits’ first three releases, but it was never quite as overtly meandering as it was on Making Movies‘ adventurous followup Love Over Gold.

I’ll admit up front that Love Over Gold is an album I’d never actually listened to before. That’s largely because I’ve long been of the opinion that the biggest problem with Dire Straits as a band is that, well, they never really changed their sound all that much. For the record, I’m happy to stand by the too-broad logic that if you’ve heard one Dire Straits album, you’ve sort of heard them all. Love Over Gold certainly isn’t going to change any minds on that front, but as an album, it’s the one that comes closest to being that something different in the Dire Straits oeuvre.

That has a lot to do with Knopfler’s indulgence in operatic composition throughout. That pseudo proggy tactic often puts piano, synth, and string arrangements at the forefront of the action, leaving Konpfler’s guitar to run rampant in the airy spaces between. The result is an album as ambitious as anything any band was doing in the early ’80s, even though it’s also one that teeters ever on the verge of shamelessly self-indulgent excess. Luckily, it never fully crosses over into that dreaded realm, with Knopfler reigning things in just before he plunges over the musical precipice. And yes, there are moments of unbridled reverie throughout Love Over Gold. But as a whole, Love Over Gold is an album that feels like it’s actually choosing gold and excess instead of love and passion. Even still, Love Over Gold‘s sprawling opener “Telegraph Road” remains a Dire Straits song for the ages.

A Cardboard Box For Sharing Music

Bandbox is chiefly concerned with living up to that, “cardboard box for sharing music” definition, not to mention their rep as the deep dive record club. With two full length albums inside, it absolutely lives up to both concepts. What’s so cool about Bandbox is that the founders fully understand that part of “sharing” music also means sharing discourse. The two magazines included in every month’s box are all about sharing thoughts and insights not just into the songs that form the selected albums, but the artists who recorded them.

Though they’ve only been around for a little over a month, the Bandbox crew have continued to put together killer content with their zines, and this month provides another wave of whip-smart insight for Dire Straits fans. First up, a wonderfully insightful, track by track breakdown of Making Movies via the “Fan Talks” zine, which includes another jaw-dropping round of album-themed artwork from Bandbox’s in-house illustrator Cou Feis.

Just FYI – if you dig what you’re seeing in the pages of November’s Fan Talks, you can track down You Fei via Instagram or Facebook to find out more about her art.

While the “Fan Talks” zine continues to capture the vibe of musical discourse with a close friend, it also serves as a pitch-perfect primer for the deep dive artist breakdown you’ll find in each month’s “Band Dox.” As always the Dire Straits “Band Dox” features some truly stellar photography of the band in their heyday. This month’s also features insights from former band members Pick Withers (drums) and John Illsey (bass).

Now, who’s ready to get a look at that wax already? Me too. First up is Making Movies, who’s no nonsense cover art sort of betrays the intricacy of the jams within.

If you’re the sort who likes to sing along to their fave Knopfler tune (and I know there are lots of you who do), you’ll be happy to know that Making Movies comes with a printed insert with a full lyrics breakdown. There’s also a few more photos of the band at work included.

As for the wax inside, it’s 180g of glossy black beauty with a slick, old school Warner Bros. label.

Love Over Gold has a bit more going on with its cover art, and easily captures the more prog vibe of the album over all.

No insert for Love Over Gold, but don’t worry, lyrics and liner notes are printed on the inner sleeve this go round.

For those who like to take their jams on the road with them, there’s also a sweet, sweet download card in there.

What about the wax? Like Dire Straits’ Making Movies, it’s a hefty, 180g of glossy black gold.

Battle of the Bandbox

Look, there’s two new records in every single Bandbox. While it’s truly marvelous that the B-box team is doubling down on the wax every month, subscribers are certain to find themselves in the unique position of choosing a favorite between the pair. Given the “icons of classic rock” status that generally accompanies Dire Straits, it’s another close call, mostly because I’d never given Love Over Gold a proper listen, and was admittedly surprised at its quality. But with all due respect to the meandering, not-quite-bloated beauty that is Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold, it really just not in the same league with Making Movies.

Truth be told, Making Movies would’ve taken this battle purely because “Tunnel of Love” is one of the great album openers of the era, and the album as a whole remains the one true masterpiece in the band’s hit or miss canon. Anyway, let’s have a hearty round of applause for November’s “Battle of the Bandbox” champ, Dire Straits’ 1980 classic, Making Movies!

It’s the Bandbox You Want, And The Bandbox You Need

Look, the so-called “vinyl boom” is not gonna fade away anytime soon. If you’re one of the many who have found themselves giddily wrapped up in the madness, you already aware there are a million and one different options for getting your hands on some sweet, sweet wax. While I’d always encourage you to shop first at your local record store, I also understand that subscription vinyl clubs are an excellent way to help fill in/round out your growing collection.

If you’re looking to round out that collection a little sooner than later, a vinyl club that’s down to send you two worthy records every month is a pretty good way to go. With Bandbox delivering high-quality pressings of albums by popular artists, they’re giving you a chance to both grow your collection with killer popular discs and discover deep dive treats you might’ve overlooked. That savvy mix of quality and variety should make it easy for diehard vinyl fans and newbs alike to board the Bandbox bandwagon. Make sure you get on board today!

A huge THANKS to the folks at Bandbox for sponsoring this subscription. If you like what you’ve seen here, you can head over to the official Bandbox website and sign up to have a sexy new Bandbox delivered to your own front door every single month. Here’s hoping Team Bandbox is setting to box up some sweet holiday treats for December!

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