Money for Nothing (song)

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"Money for Nothing"
Money for Nothing single.JPG
Single by Dire Straits
from the album Brothers in Arms
B-side"Love over Gold" (Live)
Released28 June 1985[1]
StudioAIR (Montserrat)
GenrePop rock
  • 8:22 (full version)
  • 7:04 (vinyl LP edit)
  • 4:38 (official single edit)
  • 4:06 (promo single edit)
Dire Straits singles chronology
"So Far Away"
"Money for Nothing"
"Brothers in Arms"
Music video
"Money for Nothing" on YouTube
"Money for Nothing" on YouTube

"Money for Nothing" is a song by British rock band Dire Straits, the second track on their fifth studio album, Brothers in Arms (1985). It was released as the album's second single on 28 June 1985 through Vertigo Records. The song's lyrics are written from the point of view of two working-class men watching music videos and commenting on what they see. The song features a guest appearance by Sting singing background vocals, providing both the signature falsetto introduction and backing chorus of "I want my MTV."[2] The groundbreaking video was the first to be aired on MTV Europe when the network launched on 1 August 1987.[3]

It was Dire Straits' most commercially successful single, peaking at number 1 for three weeks on both the US Billboard Hot 100 and Top Rock Tracks chart and number 4 in the band's native UK. In July 1985, the month following its release, Dire Straits and Sting performed the song at Live Aid. At the 28th Annual Grammy Awards in 1986, "Money for Nothing" won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year as well. At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, the music video received 11 nominations, winning Video of the Year and Best Group Video.



"Money for Nothing" is a pop rock song.[4] Knopfler modeled his guitar sound on ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons' trademark guitar tone, as ZZ Top's music videos were already a staple of early MTV. Gibbons told Timothy White of Musician in late 1985 that Knopfler had solicited Gibbons' help in replicating the tone, adding, "He didn't do a half-bad job, either, considering that I never told him a goddamned thing!"[5]

Following the initial sessions in Montserrat, at which that particular guitar part was recorded, Neil Dorfsman attempted to recreate the sound during subsequent sessions at the Power Station in New York but was unsuccessful.[6]

The recording contains a highly recognisable hook, in the form of the guitar riff that begins the song proper. The guitar riff continues throughout the song, played in permutation during the verses, and played in full after each chorus. The song's extended overture was shortened for radio and music video.


Mark Knopfler described the writing of the song in a 1984 interview with critic Bill Flanagan:

The lead character in "Money for Nothing" is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/​custom kitchen/​refrigerator/​microwave appliance store. He's singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real....[7]

In 2000, Knopfler appeared on Parkinson on BBC One and explained again where the lyrics originated. According to Knopfler, he was in New York City and had visited an appliance store. At the back of the store was a wall of televisions which were all tuned to MTV. Knopfler then said there was a male employee dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt delivering boxes who was standing next to him watching. As they were standing there watching MTV, Knopfler remembers the man coming up with lines such as "what are those, Hawaiian noises?...that ain't workin'," etc. Knopfler then requested a pen to write some of these lines down and then eventually put those words to music.[7] The first-person narrating character in the lyrics refers to a musician "banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee" and a woman "stickin' in the camera, man we could have some fun". He describes a singer as "that little faggot with the earring and the make-up", and bemoans that these artists get "money for nothing and chicks for free".[8]

The songwriting credits are shared between Mark Knopfler and Sting.[9] According to Knopfler, he used the "I want my MTV" line after seeing an MTV advertisement featuring the Police and setting it to the tune of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" (written by Sting), hence the cowriting credit.[10] "Sting used to come to Montserrat to go windsurfing," recalled John Illsley, "and he came up for supper at the studio. We played him 'Money for Nothing' and he turned round and said, 'You've done it this time, you bastards.' Mark said if he thought it was so good, why didn't he go and add something to it. He did his bit there and then."[11]

Sting elaborated on his co-writing credit in a 1987 interview:

"Mark [Knopfler] asked me to go in the studio and sing this line, "I want my MTV." He gave me the melody, and I thought, "Oh, great, 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', that's a nice quote, it's fun." So I did it, and thought nothing of it, until my publishers, Virgin - who I've been at war with for years and who I have no respect for - decided that was a song they owned, 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'. They said that they wanted a percentage of the song, much to my embarrassment. So they took it.[12]

However, keyboard player Alan Clark claims the "I want my MTV" intro was his idea and not Knopfler's. According to him, the song originally began with the guitar riff, and then he developed the intro on keyboards and sang "I want my MTV" on top during a break in rehearsals for the album.[13]

Music video[edit]

The song's music video features early computer animation.

The music video for the song features early 3D computer animation illustrating the lyrics. The video was one of the first uses of computer-animated human characters and was groundbreaking at the time of its release.[14]

Two other music videos are also featured within "Money for Nothing". The Hungarian pop band Első Emelet[15] and their video "Állj, Vagy Lövök!" ("Stop or I'll Shoot!") appears as "Baby, Baby" by "First Floor" during the second verse (The name "első emelet" translates to "first floor", and the song is credited as being on "Magyar Records": "Magyar" means "Hungarian" in the Hungarian language.)[16] The other one is fictional, "Sally" by the "Ian Pearson Band". The fictional album for the first video was listed as "Turn Left" and the second was "Hot Dogs". For the second video, the record company appears as "Rush Records", and it was filmed on Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary.[16][17]

Originally, Mark Knopfler was not at all enthusiastic about the concept of the music video. MTV, however, was insistent on it. Director Steve Barron, of Rushes Postproduction in London, was contacted by Warner Bros. to persuade Knopfler to relent. Describing the contrasting attitudes of Knopfler and MTV, he said:

The problem was that Mark Knopfler was very anti-videos. All he wanted to do was perform, and he thought that videos would destroy the purity of songwriters and performers. They said, "Can you convince him that this is the right thing to do, because we've played this song to MTV and they think it's fantastic but they won't play it if it's him standing there playing guitar. They need a concept."[18]

Barron then flew to Budapest to convince Knopfler of their concept. Meeting together after a gig, Knopfler was still unimpressed, but this time his girlfriend was present and took a hand. According to Barron:

Luckily, his girlfriend said, "He's absolutely right. There aren't enough interesting videos on MTV, and that sounds like a brilliant idea." Mark didn't say anything but he didn't make the call to get me out of Budapest. We just went ahead and did it.

Ian Pearson and Gavin Blair created the animation, using a Bosch FGS-4000 CGI system[19] and a Quantel Paintbox system.[20] The animators went on to found computer animation studio Mainframe Entertainment (today Mainframe Studios), and referenced the "Money for Nothing" video in an episode of their ReBoot series. The video also includes stage footage of Dire Straits performing, with partially rotoscoped animation in bright neon colours, as seen on the cover of the compilation album of the same name.

Notable performances[edit]

When Dire Straits performed "Money for Nothing" at the 1985 Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium, the performance featured a guest appearance by Sting. Knopfler performed "Money for Nothing" using his Gibson Les Paul guitar with a pair of Soldano SLO-100 tube/valve amplifier heads and Marshall speaker cabinets[original research?] during the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute and the Prince's Trust concerts in 1986 with Sting,[21] as well as the Nordoff-Robbins charity show at Knebworth in 1990 and the On Every Street world tours in 1991/1992. These versions featured extended guitar solos[according to whom?] by Knopfler, backed by Eric Clapton and Phil Palmer.


Cash Box said that it's "a simply rocking cut taking a look at jobs and videos performed by rock stars."[22] Billboard called it a "bluesy poke at [Dire Straits' and Sting's] own kind; intentions ambiguous."[23]

Rolling Stone listed the song as the 94th greatest guitar song of all time, noting how Mark Knopfler "traded his pristine, rootsy tone for a dry, over-processed sound achieved by running a Les Paul through a wah-wah pedal on a track that became one of the [MTV] network's earliest hits."[24] The video was awarded "Video of the Year" (among many other nominations) at the third annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1986.[19][25]


Nominations for "Money for Nothing"
Year Ceremony Nominated work Recipient(s) Category Result
1986 Brit Awards "Money for Nothing" Dire Straits British Single of the Year Nominated
British Video of the Year Nominated
Grammy Awards[26] Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal Won
Dire Straits
Neil Dorfsman and Mark Knopfler, producers
Record of the Year Nominated
Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler and Sting, songwriters
Song of the Year Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards[25] Steve Barron, art direction Best Art Direction in a Video Nominated
Dire Straits Best Concept Video Nominated
Steve Barron, director Best Direction in a Video Nominated
David Yardley, editor Best Editing in a Video Nominated
Dire Straits Best Experimental Video Nominated
Best Group Video Won
Best Overall Performance in a Video Nominated
Best Stage Performance in a Video Nominated
Ian Pearson, special effects Best Visual Effects in a Video Nominated
Dire Straits Video of the Year Won
Viewer's Choice Nominated

Lyrics debate[edit]

The lyrics for the song have been criticised as being homophobic by critics.[27] In a late 1985 interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Knopfler expressed mixed feelings on the controversy:

I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London – he actually said it was below the belt. Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can't let it have so many meanings – you have to be direct. In fact, I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good idea to write songs that aren't in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in "Money for Nothing" is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality – somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that's not working and yet the guy's rich: that's a good scam. He isn't sneering.[28]

Dire Straits often performed the song in live concerts and when on tour, where the second verse was included but often altered slightly.[citation needed] For the band's 10 July 1985 concert (televised in the United Kingdom on The Tube on Channel 4 in January 1986[29]), Knopfler replaced the word faggot with queenie:[original research?]

"See the little queenie got the earring and the make-up" and "That little queenie got his own jet airplane, he's got a helicopter, he's a millionaire."

In January 2011, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) ruled that the unedited version of the song was unacceptable for air play on private Canadian radio stations, as it breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' code of ethics and their equitable portrayal code.[30][31][32] The CBSC concluded that "like other racially driven words in the English language, 'faggot' is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so."[30] The CBSC's proceedings came in response to a radio listener's Ruling Request stemming from a playing of the song by CHOZ-FM in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, which in turn followed the radio listener's dissatisfaction with the radio station's reply to their complaint about the word 'faggot' in the lyrics.[30][33]

Not all stations abided by this ruling; at least two stations, CIRK-FM in Edmonton, Alberta[34] and CFRQ-FM in Halifax, Nova Scotia,[35] played the unedited version of "Money for Nothing" repeatedly for one hour out of protest. Galaxie, which was owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC) at the time of the controversy, also continues to play the song.[36][37] On 21 January 2011, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission asked the CBSC for a review on the ban, in response to the public outcry against the CBSC's actions; the commission reportedly received over 250 complaints erroneously sent to them, instead of the CBSC. The regulator requested the CBSC to appoint a nationwide panel to review the case, as the decision on the ban was reviewed by a regional panel for the Maritimes and Newfoundland.[38]

On 31 August 2011, the CBSC reiterated that it found the use of 'faggot' to be inappropriate; however, because of considerations in regard to its use in context, the CBSC has left it up to the stations to decide whether to play the original or edited versions of the song. Most of the CBSC panelists thought it was inappropriate, but it was used only in a satirical, non-hateful manner.[39]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[64] Gold 50,000^
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[65] Platinum 90,000double-dagger
Germany (BVMI)[66] Gold 250,000double-dagger
Italy (FIMI)[67] Platinum 70,000double-dagger
New Zealand (RMNZ)[68] Gold 10,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[69] Platinum 600,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Straits tour" (PDF). Melody Maker. 22 June 1985. p. 4. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  2. ^ Kielty, Martin (24 June 2019). "When Mark Knopfler and Sting Connected for 'Money for Nothing'". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  3. ^ "MTV ready to rock Russia". BBC News Online. 25 September 1998. Retrieved 1 April 2007. But the channel's continental incarnation - MTV Europe - ... was launched in 1987 with the first video - beamed into 1.6 million paying households - being Dire Straits' Money for Nothing.
  4. ^ Rose, James (15 September 2015). "30 Years Since: Dire Straits' 'Brothers in Arms' Album". Daily Review. Retrieved 28 October 2019. The opening tracks are pretty conventional pop-rock chart shooters
  5. ^ White, Timothy (January 1986). "ZZ Top: The Ongoing Legend of Texan Rock's Rough Boys". Musician. No. 87. Amordian Press. p. 65. 'I gotta hand it to that Mark Knopfler for the "Money For Nothing" number on that last Dire Straits album. That guy must have called me three or four times to find out what I did with my guitar so that he could copy it for that song.' He pushes the brim back on his golf cap and smiles, the flawless pearly whites gleaming. 'He didn't do a half-bad job, either, considering that I never told him a goddamned thing!'
  6. ^ Buskin, Richard (May 2006). "Classic Tracks: Dire Straits 'Money For Nothing'". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Review of the Atlantic Regional Panel decision in CHOZ-FM re the song "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits". Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. 17 May 2011. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014.
  8. ^ Lasar, Matthew (24 January 2011). "Canada wants unedited "Money for Nothing" back on the radio". Ars Technica. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  9. ^ "Dire Straits: Money for Nothing". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015.
  10. ^ When Mark Knopfler and Sting Connected for Money for Nothing (Ultimate Classic Rock website)
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  12. ^ Watrous, Peter (December 1987). "Slapping Sting around - Can he handle the tough questions...?". Musician.
  13. ^ Griffiths, Daniel (10 March 2022). "Dire Straits keyboard player Alan Clark: "When Mark Knopfler first played Money For Nothing, there was no 'I Want My MTV'... the idea was mine"". Retrieved 28 November 2022.
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  67. ^ "Italian single certifications – Dire Straits – Money For Nothing" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 25 October 2021. Select "2021" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Money For Nothing" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
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External links[edit]