Song of the Week – Why Worry, Dire Straits

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

I realized recently that I don’t feature many ballads, so today I’m switching up.

The SotW is “Why Worry” by Dire Straits, from the multi-platinum album Brothers in Arms (1985).

“Why Worry” has a perfect combination of music and lyrics.  The music has a beautiful melody that is reminiscent of an Everly Brothers style song.  (In fact, the Everly Brothers covered it!)  The music is proficiently played by Mark Knopfler and his band, with a little extra help from Tony Levin playing the bass part on his Chapman Stick.  (Levin had to be brought in when regular bassist John Illsley had a roller skating accident and sprained his wrist.)

It clocks in at over 8 minutes, which gives it room to breathe in the instrumental sections.  That is, unless you’re listening to the vinyl version that is abridged to 5:22 to avoid a “groove crowding” problem.

In the lyrics, sung in a near whisper, a friend or lover offers words of comfort to someone in need.

Baby, I see this world has made you sad
Some people can be bad
The things they do, the things they say

But baby, I’ll wipe away those bitter tears
I’ll chase away those restless fears
That turn your blue skies into gray

Why worry
There should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now
Why worry now

I found this terrific synopsis of “Why Worry” on the internet but can’t recall the attribution.

The (album) side ends on ‘Why Worry’ which is kind of the mirror image of the last song: instead of a bitter betrayal from a distance this is the warmth of a new relationship up close, with the narrator seeking to calm the fears of his loved one. Despite being the last and poorest selling of all the album’s singles, it’s probably the most covered song Knopfler’s ever written (Art Garfunkel does a great version of this song), despite the fact that no one else could have come up with the lovely extended opening which is born for Mark’s crystal clear guitar work. His vocal is up to speed now, too, and the equal of his fine lyrics about turning problems around (another common idea, sure, but well handled here: would that other songs providing comfort had the chorus line ‘there should be laughter after pain, there should be sunshine after rain, so why worry now?’) The one real love song on the album, its moving indeed, the aural equivalent of a blanket a hot water bottle and a box of chocolates, looking for positives in negatives. Interestingly this song is very similar in mood, theme and structure to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – an album very close to ‘Brothers In Arms’ on the list of best-selling albums – suggesting that what a wannabe successful artist should record for their first album is a kind of warm audio hug; both songs are slow and ponderous but with enough going on to keep the excitement – perhaps more importantly both songs are closely rooted to gospel, although here the music is dominated not by an organ or piano but by Alan Clark’s subtle synthesiser work. Alas two things prevent this from becoming the highlight of the album: the mix of this song is awful; its much quieter than the songs either side of it (despite neither being particularly noisy) with Knopfler’s vocal, which should be the centrepoint of the song, ducked quieter than anything else in the mix; there’s also yet another extended ending which despite giving Knopfler’s guitar a good work out sounds more like a battle than act of comforting and undoes much of the atmosphere built up on the track’s first four minutes. Still, this is a lovely song even with all the ‘mistakes’ and it deserves its place in the pantheon of great AAA ‘covered’ songs.

Enjoy… until next week.

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