Dire Straits - Money for Nothing - 1985

Dire Straits - Money for Nothing - 1985


"Money for Nothing" is a song by the British rock band Dire Straits, released in 1985 on their fifth studio album, Brothers in Arms. Known for its groundbreaking music video and its distinctive guitar riff, the song became one of Dire Straits' most famous tracks. It was written by Mark Knopfler and Sting, who also provided the iconic falsetto introduction and backing chorus. The song's lyrics, inspired by a conversation Knopfler overheard between delivery men in a New York appliance store, offer a critique of rock star excess and the music video culture of the early MTV era.

Background and Writing Process

The inception of "Money for Nothing" is as interesting as the song itself. Mark Knopfler was inspired to write the song after overhearing a conversation in a store. The delivery men were discussing the music videos playing on a store television, expressing envy and disdain for the rock stars featured. This moment of eavesdropping gave birth to the song's opening lines and its critical tone towards the seemingly effortless success of rock musicians. Sting's contribution, the famous "I want my MTV" line, was improvised during the recording session and added an extra layer of irony, as the song itself became a staple on MTV.

Musical Composition and Style

"Money for Nothing" is noted for its distinctive opening riff, played by Knopfler on a Gibson Les Paul guitar. The song features a mix of rock and roll, blues, and new wave elements, showcasing Dire Straits' versatility. The use of synthesizers and electronic drums alongside traditional rock instruments reflects the 1980s' music trends. The song's dynamic range, from the quiet introspection of the verses to the explosive energy of the chorus, contributes to its enduring appeal.

Music Video

The music video for "Money for Nothing" was one of the first to be fully computer-animated, marking a significant moment in the evolution of music videos. Its visual style, featuring blocky 3D animations, was cutting-edge at the time and played a crucial role in the song's success on MTV. The video's narrative, which depicts blue-collar workers watching music videos and dreaming of fame and fortune, complements the song's lyrics and themes.

Impact and Legacy

"Money for Nothing" became a worldwide hit, topping charts in multiple countries and winning a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The song's critique of music video culture and its ironic embrace by the same medium it critiqued highlight the complexities of pop culture in the 1980s. It remains a staple of classic rock radio and has been covered and referenced by numerous artists over the years.

Interactive Tasks

Quiz: Questions on the song

What inspired Mark Knopfler to write "Money for Nothing"? (Overhearing a conversation in an appliance store) (!Watching a music video on MTV) (!A magazine interview with a famous musician) (!His own experiences as a rock star)

Who provided the iconic "I want my MTV" backing vocals in "Money for Nothing"? (Sting) (!Bono) (!Freddie Mercury) (!David Bowie)

What musical instrument is notable for its use in the song's opening riff? (Gibson Les Paul guitar) (!Fender Stratocaster guitar) (!Yamaha synthesizer) (!Roland electronic drums)

How did "Money for Nothing" stand out in terms of its music video in the mid-1980s? (It was one of the first fully computer-animated music videos) (!It was shot entirely in black and white) (!It featured live performance footage) (!It used stop-motion animation)

What major award did "Money for Nothing" win? (Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal) (!MTV Music Video Award for Best Direction) (!Billboard Music Award for Top Rock Song) (!Brit Award for British Single)

Quiz: Questions on the Performer

In what year was Dire Straits founded? (1977) (!1980) (!1975) (!1982)

Who was the lead singer and lead guitarist of Dire Straits? (Mark Knopfler) (!Eric Clapton) (!David Gilmour) (!Sting)

Which Dire Straits album features "Money for Nothing"? (Brothers in Arms) (!Dire Straits) (!Making Movies) (!Love Over Gold)

How is Dire Straits' music often described? (A blend of rock, blues, and country) (!Primarily heavy metal) (!Synth-pop) (!Punk rock)

What innovation is Dire Straits known for in the music industry? (Pioneering use of music video and digital recording techniques) (!Introducing rap elements into rock music) (!Developing the concept album format) (!Using orchestral arrangements in rock music)

Quiz: Questions on the lyrics

What theme is central to the lyrics of "Money for Nothing"? (Critique of rock star excess and music video culture) (!The joy of live performance) (!The struggles of working-class life) (!The history of rock and roll)

What line does Sting sing in the song? ("I want my MTV") (!"Money for nothing and the chicks for free") (!"That ain't working") (!"Play the guitar on the MTV")

How does the song depict the perspective of the workers? (Through a conversation overheard by Mark Knopfler) (!A monologue by a single worker) (!A letter written to a rock star) (!An interview with a group of workers)

What is a notable lyric from the song that reflects its critical tone? ("That ain't working, that's the way you do it") (!"Love over gold") (!"We are the sultans of swing") (!"Walk of life")

In what way does "Money for Nothing" use irony? (By becoming a hit on MTV despite criticizing music video culture) (!By using expensive production techniques to criticize wealth) (!By featuring unknown musicians to make a point about fame) (!By having a complex musical structure to critique simplicity in music)


Mark Knopfler Lead singer and guitarist
"I want my MTV" Line sung by Sting
Gibson Les Paul Guitar used for the riff
Computer animation Music video innovation
"Brothers in Arms" Album featuring the song

Open Tasks


  1. Create a playlist: Compile a playlist of songs from the 1980s that critique society or media, including "Money for Nothing".
  2. Research the era: Investigate how the 1980s music scene was influenced by the advent of MTV and write a short essay.
  3. Analyze the lyrics: Write a paragraph on how "Money for Nothing" uses satire to critique the music industry.


  1. Design a music video: Create a storyboard for a modern version of "Money for Nothing", considering today's digital culture.
  2. Compare and contrast: Analyze the differences and similarities between "Money for Nothing" and another protest song of your choice.
  3. Explore the guitar riff: Learn to play the iconic riff of "Money for Nothing" on the guitar and record a video.


  1. Investigate digital music production: Research how digital recording techniques have evolved since the 1980s and present your findings.
  2. Debate the impact of MTV: Organize a debate on whether MTV has had a positive or negative impact on music culture.
  3. Critique of music videos: Write a detailed critique of three music videos from different eras, including "Money for Nothing".

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Oral Exam

  1. Discuss the irony: How does the success of "Money for Nothing" on MTV contribute to the song's critique of music video culture?
  2. Analyze the influence: In what ways did Dire Straits influence the music video industry and digital recording?
  3. Explore the collaboration: Discuss the significance of Sting's contribution to "Money for Nothing" and its impact.
  4. Reflect on the era: How did the 1980s music scene, particularly the role of MTV, shape the careers of rock bands like Dire Straits?
  5. Examine the lyrics: What does the perspective of the workers in "Money for Nothing" reveal about societal views on fame and labor?

OERs on the Topic


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