The very mention of Dire Straits conjures thoughts of millions of fans, global success and multi-platinum sales. But Mark Knopfler and the band toiled extremely hard to make that happen. Their first single, “Sultans of Swing” was a critical success but a commercial failure when it first came out in the UK in May 1978, and when the self-titled parent album came out soon afterwards, its chart imprint was modest, with an initial No. 38 peak. The American release followed in October, and then on 6 January, 1979, Dire Straits gave the band their first-ever appearance on the Billboard album chart.
By that time, their reputation as a live attraction was matching that of the funky little band that Knopfler wrote about in that soon-to-be-trademark single. 1978 was a year packed with Dire Straits’ own shows, support tours with Talking Heads and the Climax Blues Band, a short residency at the Marquee Club and their first headline tour, all in the UK; and then sellout dates in Germany, Holland and Belgium in the autumn, as the album became a huge success in Australia and New Zealand.
The debut LP, produced by Muff Winwood, made a healthy start at American radio, with the result that the 6 January, 1979 edition of Billboard showed Dire Straits on the main album chart for the first time, debuting halfway up the list at a healthy No. 101. The following week, the record was listed in Billboard as a National Breakout, climbed to No. 93, and an ad that ran in the same issue described it as “the last word in first albums.”
In February, as the record continued its climb, the band began a huge, 51-date North American tour, famously attended in Los Angeles by Bob Dylan. That led to Knopfler’s fruitful working relationship with him, which extends to this day. The Dire Straits album went on to a No. 2 peak in the States, spending 41 weeks on the chart and reaching double platinum status. ‘Sultans’ became a No. 4 hit on the Hot 100, and on its UK reissue, hit No. 8. With that momentum, the album rebounded to No. 5 in Britain, went on to sell a million, and the band never looked back.