Oh, Canada: Knopfler's ancient No 1 gets blamed for nothin'


REVOLVER:IN 1983, Mark Knopfler found himself in a department store in New York. An employee was coming in and out of the storeroom with TV sets, which he eventually set out as a bank of screens. He turned one on and the music programme was showing a video of Mötley Crüe, who at the time were rocking their bad pre-op transexual look.

As Knopfler stood there, this Ordinary Joe blue-collar workman (perhaps on not more than the minimum wage) started to voice his opinion about spoilt, pampered millionaire rock stars and how they could do with a spell in boot camp, etc. Knopfler was transfixed by his monologue.

At the time Knopfler was one of the biggest rock stars in the world, probably only ever exposed to the fawning utterances of press and public alike. Here he was up close and personal with someone who was unimpressed by the metal- glam rock of The Crüe – and certainly with how they looked.

So visceral did the musician find the experience that he borrowed a pen and started writing down verbatim what the TV guy was saying: “Look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it – you play the guitar on the MTV. Money for nothing and your chicks for free. See that little faggot with the earring and the make-up? I should have learned how to play guitar.”

Money for Nothing(1985) went on to become Dire Strait’s most successful ever single, a US No 1. For some reason many people think that the video for the song was the first one played on MTV, but that honour belongs to The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star four years previously.

At the time there was some controversy about Knopfler’s use of the word “faggot” in the lyrics. In an interview with Rolling Stone just after the song’s release, he said the song was written in the voice of the worker. “The singer in Money for Nothing is a real ignoramus, hard- hat mentality – somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that’s not working and yet the guy’s rich: that’s a good scam.”

Rather remarkably, another lyric in the song went completely unnoticed: “He’s up there banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee.” On a purely musical note, it also went unnoticed that the song’s now famous guitar riff sounds a bit like one used by ZZ Top a few years previously.

Money for Nothing is the most searched-for lyric this week on the internet, all because one person in Canada complained about the song to the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council. Result: Money for Nothing is now banned from the Canadian airwaves. That’s after a quarter-century and thousands and thousands of airplays.

There have since been hundreds of complaints about that one single complaint, but the overall reaction is perhaps best summarised by a Canadian newspaper, which wrote: “At last, Canada leads the world’s music news this week!”

Of all the songs in the world (and sentiments expressed therein) that could possibly be referred to as “homophobic” this is such a pathetic and ridiculous choice. If you want straight-up pig-ignorant hatred and bile, just move your gaze away from an ancient, not very good song that was only ever intended as a satirical comment and instead tune in to what’s currently on offer in the realms of country and rap.

Meanwhile, I wonder how many plays The Pogues’ Fairytale of New Yorkreceived on Canadian radio over the holidays.

Revolver is deep into Nileism: The Strange Course of the Blue Nile, a book that finally does justice to the ineffable beauty of The Blue Nile’s music. And having A Walk Across the Rooftops on in the background just adds to the joy. 

Zac Efron as Jeff Buckley in a forthcoming biopic? Pass me my baseball bat.