In February 1978, Dire Straits entered the recording studio to lay down a tune that took them into the Top 10 of both the U.K. Singles chart and the Billboard Hot 100 for the first of many times. That said, it wasn’t the first time they’d recorded the tune in question.
Penned by Dire Straits’ frontman and guitarist Mark Knopfler, “Sultans of Swing” was a song that, despite having written it himself, didn’t really do much for its songwriter until he found the right instrument to play it on. He composed it using a National Steel guitar in open tuning, which was all fine and well, but as Knopfler told Guitar World, the song “just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat. The new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.”
The first attempt at laying down “Sultans of Swing” was done for Dire Straits’ five-song demo tape, recorded at Pathway Studios. With some assistance from BBC Radio London DJ Charlie Gillette, the song made its way into regular rotation, after which the band secured a record contract with Phonogram Records.
After doing so, however, the label had Knopfler and company re-record the song under the production of Muff Winwood. Despite this, the song didn’t actually chart in the U.K. upon its initial release. It wasn’t until the song entered the Billboard Hot 100, more than six months after the band’s self-titled debut album was released, that it began get more airplay.
In the end, “Sultans of Swing” hit No. 8 in the U.K. and No. 4 in the U.S. and has since found its way into more than a few all-time-best lists, including Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time, Guitar World’s Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Not too shabby for a re-recording.