35 Years Ago: Dire Straits Turn Back the Clock on ‘ExtendedancEPlay’
In the early ’80s, before “Money for Nothing” and its chunky riff took over MTV, Dire Straits had developed a reputation as a ponderous, humorless band with overly orchestrated recordings. Sure, frontman Mark Knopfler was an incredible guitar player with a distinct tone, but albums like 1982’s Love Over Gold were knocked by critics and some fans for being airless achievements in overproduction.
It wasn’t just outsiders who felt this way. After Dire Straits’ fourth album was released, Knopfler heard the criticism and began to agree.
“I was sitting in a bar once and unfortunately [Love Over Gold track] ‘Telegraph Road’ was playing and I was sitting there thinking, F---, it sounds like this big lifeless thing. All this work had gone into it and it doesn’t sound like it’s got any life in it somehow,” Knopfler said in 1995. “And then straight after that came ‘Rave On’ by Buddy Holly. It sounded four times louder, 20 times bigger and with 100 times more life. That really made my day.”
Like so many of his fellow British rockers, Knopfler had been inspired by ’50s rock ’n’ roll, R&B and rockabilly. Yet he discovered that his music had gotten so far away from the raw aesthetic of those records. As an almost immediate response to Dire Straits’ most recent material, Knopfler and company went back into the studio less than two weeks after Love Over Gold hit stores.
“I wanted to do something that just took a day, or took as long as it took to play it,” he admitted, “and that's when I went and did an EP with the group that just took a day to record and it sounds like it – that's all it was.”
Although the sessions actually lasted three days, the musical approach was indeed back-to-basics, with Dire Straits channeling the ’50s spirit. “Twisting By the Pool” found Knopfler nodding to ’50s party records in his songwriting and keyboardist Alan Clark doing his best Jerry Lee Lewis impression on the piano. "Two Young Lovers” featured throwback saxophone from session player Mel Collins while “If I Had You” merged Knopfler’s fingerpicking with a gently chugging momentum.
Dire Straits packaged these tunes as the band’s first EP, released in January 1983. Instead of overthinking the recordings, they overworked the title: ExtendedancEPlay. The American version featured an extra song, a jazzy Love Over Gold leftover called “Badges, Posters, Stickers, T-Shirts” that channeled fan banter into lyrics. When Knopfler sings, “Yeah, me and my mate like AC/DC / Hot and sweaty, loud and greasy,” it’s tough to tell if he’s being a rock snob or confessing jealousy of another band’s knack for keeping it simple.
The EP proved a moderate success, making the charts in the U.S. and going platinum in Canada. The catchy “Twisting By the Pool” became a hit single for Dire Straits, going to No. 14 in the U.K. and becoming their highest charting song down under, ending up at No. 2 in Australia and No. 1 in New Zealand (where, of course, you could have an actual pool party in January. Despite the breezier approach and listeners’ reactions, Knopfler still didn’t feel he had gotten it right.
“‘Twisting by the Pool’ was just another bad idea,” he reflected more than a decade later. “I didn’t know anything about making rock ’n’ roll records. You have to learn the hard way.”