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Tunnel of Love - Dire Straits

This needs to be played loudly. Like in a dancehall. It doesn't work at all softly or at normal levels.

Some people's records seem to hit the charity shops while others don't. It's always recording artists who sell a lot of records initially, but later fade from popularity.

In the sixties it was the Tremeloes, the Shadows, the Baron Knights, Lulu, Neil Sedaka in the seventies Gilbert O'Sullivan, Leo Sayer, the Carpenters, Garry Glitter, Bread, Status Quo. You can see why: they were very popular singles orientated acts whose albums didn't measure up to the singles standard or people whose style of music became dated very quickly.

So why do Dire Straits albums wind up in Oxfam and co? I'm guessing it's because although their music was extremely popular, a recurring theme in Mark Knopfler's songs is nostalgia, looking back to old times, and a peculiar effect of this is, that you feel like you've heard them before. Cue, give them to he charity shop.

Or, maybe the sort of people who bought Dire Straits were the sort of people who got rid of their record players and vinyl when cd's came - aspirant, making way for the post IKEA, non-clutter, bare room. Certainly people who didn't spend their summers at fairgrounds in North Eastern English seaside resorts.

Maybe he did repeat himself a bit, but there's no doubt about the continuing freshness of Knopfler's songs from their first three albums, especially this offering from "Making Movies" which features the best of him - the sadness, the looking back, the wry melancholia, camouflaged under words of faux toughness. It begins with a couple of bars from Rodger's and Hammerstein's "Carousel Waltz" from the forties musical "Carousel" - placing us firmly into the fairgrounds that were so popular in England in Knopfler's teenage years during the sixties - further emphasised by the first line mention of the "waltzers" which were fairground rides:

"Getting crazy on the waltzers but it's the life that I choose sing about the six blade sing about the switchback and a torture tattoo and I been riding on a ghost train where the cars they scream and slam and I don't know where I'll be tonight but I'd always tell you where I am"

and suddenly we're in a kaleidoscope of fairground images, coming thick and fast with assertions of youthful bravado and of course, he's the "perfect stranger", and the excitement mounts as he and the girl hit it off and head for the tunnel of love

and then he sings, uptempo, flashy-like talking to the girl,

"....girl it looks so pretty to me

like it always did

like a Spanish city to me

when we were kids...."

he's showing her his romantic side, how the fairground looks like something exotic, from foreign lands, something mythical,

and the excitement mounts until it takes off at exactly 3 minutes and 25 seconds into the song.

I have played this at packed dances, when everyone's dancing, and then when this moment comes, even though they've already been going for it, they find something else and they reach for the stars. It's always an extraordinary moment as though they are physically trying to transcend their corporeal selves; and as the silhouetted chopped chords and drums are split by Knopfler's superbly lyrical and exquisitely timed guitar solo

we grab a breath, hanging in there for dear life, we're in the world of fairy tales as she does a leather Cinderella:

"She took off a silver locket she said remember me by this she put her hand in my pocket I got a keepsake and a kiss and in the roar of dust and diesel I stood and watched her walk away I could have caught up with her easy enough but something must have made me stay...."

- and we're high, exultant with him -

and the big wheel keep on turning, neon burning up above and I'm just high on the world come on and take a low ride with me girl on the tunnel of love, on the tunnel of love, love, love,

and he sings slower and gentler, winding down -

"and now I'm searching through these carousels and the carnival arcades searching everywhere from steeplechase to palisades in any shooting gallery where promises are made to rock away rock away from Cullercoats and Whitley Bay out to rock away...."

and we slip into reality, where at a specific place in time, Cullercoats, and the Spanish City is really the legendary concert hall and ballroom in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, but the romantic encounter is real, and we're left emotionally drained as we leave him on his beach of youthful memories:

"....and girl it looks so pretty to me like it always did like the Spanish city to me when we were kids girl it looks so pretty to me like it always did like the Spanish city to me when we were kids....................................."

You can feel the lights come up as the music grows again, the piano enters and refreshes us like a basin of cold water, and finally fades, and we walk exhausted into the early morning light.

I think I'll check out those charity shops again tomorrow. It may be nostalgic and second hand, but no less powerful for that.

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