Dire Straits – So Far Away
In the history of many 80s groups we saw a turning point: a song, an album that definitively certified the turning point for global success and glory. In other cases, some bands found success with their first song or first album, and then maybe even lost their way, but in many other cases there was an album at some point that had a resounding success, certainly favored by the success of the previous albums, but which still went beyond all the most optimistic sales forecasts.
This happened for example to Duran Duran with Seven and the Ragged Tiger and The Reflex, to Spandau Ballet with the album and the song True, to Simple Minds first with Don’t You (Forget about Me) and then with the album Once Upon a Time and with Alive and Kicking, and it also happened to another great English group, Dire Straits.
It’s April 1985, and it’s been three years since their previous studio album, Love Over Gold. Of course, the group is already very famous. They have only released a live album in the last three years, Alchemy: Dire Straits Live, because they have in fact spent so much time on tour. At that moment, however, Dire Straits are not a very easy group to listen to: their music is not for everyone, very refined and not always following the standards and demands of the international pop market and radios.
When So Far Away was released on April 8, 1985, there was tremendous excitement ahead of the release of their new album, Brothers in Arms, which would be released about a month later. By the way, it was the first Dire Straits song also released in America.
So Far Away was a song between pop, rock and even blues, and talked about the difficulty and impossibility of sustaining a long distance relationship. Keep in mind that we are in the 80s, there is no internet, there is no whatsapp, there are no cell phones and smartphones, there is only the old telephone which is often prohibitively expensive if you call outside your own city. Of course, if one is away from home for a week for work there are no problems, but for someone who had to stay away from home for several months, things could get really complicated. Or, in our view of teenage life, if you met the girl of your life on vacation, and then for eleven months of the year she lived hundreds of miles away, perhaps in another state. That was complicated!
We might think that this song had some autobiographical elements, since Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits had recorded this album partly in their London, but also partly in New York and even in Montserrat, in the Antilles. In reality, Mark Knopfler explained that the song was by no means autobiographical, but that it was a general situation, in which anyone could be.
There is also a second meaning, less obvious, but which is sometimes mentioned, with particular reference to a line that says “I’m tired of makin’ out on the telephone”: the song could also refer to a phenomenon that raised during the 80s in America and in England, the raise of the hotlines. Dedicated lines where you spoke to a teasing and explicit female voice (in many cases you were listening to a record). Of course they were very expensive lines that led to absolutely out of control bills.
There were also other songs, especially in the United States, which touched on the same theme, which suggests that perhaps the phenomenon was more common than what we think today. For example, Billy Joel’s song Sometimes a Fantasy touches on the same topic, and of course Village People’s witty Sex over the Phone, practically contemporary with So Far Away.
The video for So Far Away was quite simple, made up of scenes of Dire Straits recording the song in the studio and performing it live, plus some very cool scenes of New York from above. Quite an ordinary video, especially if we think about what we will see a couple of months later in the Money For Nothing video.
So Far Away was not the best selling song of the entire album, but it succeeded in the task of boosting sales for the album. As we said, Brothers in Arms was a resounding success, which is still today in the chart of the most successful albums with over thirty million copies. Moreover, it was probably the first album in history recorded with digital technologies, even if it was later released both on vinyl and on CD, and this meant that the vinyl versions were almost all shorter than the CD versions.
Furthermore, Brothers in Arms was also the first album to break the million-selling mark on CD, and we assume that the CD was only released a year earlier, and that the first album to be issued on CD, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., had been put on the market in CD in September 1984, only seven months before the release of this song and this album. In any case, the album cover, light blue with the 1940s guitar owned by Knopfler, has absolutely become a symbol of the 80s.
In short, So Far Away truly heralded the arrival of a new period for the music and career of Dire Straits, who from this moment were able to go far beyond the limits of their fame up to that moment. And besides, we were in the heyday of the 80s, those seven, eight months between the recording of Do They Know It’s Christmas and Live Aid, where Dire Straits were naturally also among the protagonists, and played just before Queen.
Dire Straits on Wikipedia