Wednesday, March 23, 2016

TMFW 133 - The Appliance Delivery Guy Who Inspired a #1 Hit



Your humble TMFW writer recently lost his job; our company has a new CEO in Boston and that is incompatible with having a chief lawyer in Chicago.  My last day is this Friday; I am drafting this week's entry from my sad, empty office. The only real thing left for me to do here is finalize the details of my severance.

So with that in mind, and with only a slight stretch necessary to get there, this week's entry is the story of the real-life inspiration behind "Money For Nothing."  (See what I did there?) The song, which reached #1 for 3 weeks in 1985, was the biggest hit for Dire Straits over its Hall of Fame-worthy (but not yet Hall of Fame) career.  It helped drive the album Brothers in Arms to #1 in 18 countries; that record has sold 20 million albums worldwide. 

The "Money for Nothing" video - which at the time was groundbreaking for its use of 3D animation - features a blue collar, hardhat-type guy watching and commenting on music videos that are playing on a wall of TVs behind him.  And it turns out that's pretty much exactly how the song came about.  In an interview with the late British rock journalist Robert Sandall, Knopfler told the story of his inspiration for the track:

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Robert Sandall : "Money For Nothing" was reputedly based on an overheard conversation.  

Mark Knopfler: Yeah, I was in New York in one of the big appliance shops. Basically, the layout was quite simple, the kitchen display unit in the front, the table and chairs and drawers and everything were all there in the shop window. Then you go inside and they had rows of microwaves and all the rest of it and at the back there were big walls of TVs all turned to MTV.

It was like a stage set because there was this big Joe Six Pack figure with his checked shirt and he had a barrel of some sort - he had been pulling boxes of something through the back door and he was holding forth to an audience of one or two about the performances on MTV. But the kind of stuff he was saying was so classic that I just managed to eavesdrop for a couple of minutes and then I went and got this piece of paper and started writing down the lines of things he was saying. Lines like, "That ain't working" and all that, and "Maybe get a blister on your finger", made me laugh. He said all that stuff and "What's that, Hawaiian noises?", so in a sense it was just a piece of reporting. But again, it's one of those things when you are aware that the situation has possibilities to create something.

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That's a great story, and it's your TMFW for today: Mark Knopfler overheard an appliance deliveryman bloviating about rock stars on MTV, and turned him into the narrator of a #1 song.

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BONUS FACT:  Sting famously sings the signature "I want my MTV" background vocals on "Money for Nothing," and though that was his only contribution he is credited as a co-writer of the song. 

I can't believe I never realized this before, but Sting ripped off that melody from himself: "I want my, I want my, I want my MTV" is identical to "don't stand, don't stand so, don't stand so close to me."

BONUS FACT 2:  Mark Knopfler was previously featured in TMFW 45 for inspiring a group of paleontologists (and being rewarded with a dinosaur named after him).

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