"Money for Nothing
" is a song by British group Dire Straits
, which first appeared on their 1985
album Brothers in Arms
and subsequently became an international hit when released as a single
. It peaked at number one for three weeks in the U.S.
, becoming their most successful single. In the band's native UK
, the song peaked at number 4. The song was notable for its controversial lyrics
, groundbreaking music video
and a cameo appearance
singing the song's iconic falsetto
introduction and backing chorus, a borrowing of the cable network
's slogan "I want my MTV
". This chorus mirrors The police intro to "don't stand so close to me". The video was also the first to be aired on MTV Europe
when the network started on August 1
"Money for Nothing" won the Grammy for the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with a Vocal in 1985 at the 28th annual Grammy Awards.
Musical and lyrical themes
The song contains a very recognizable hook
, in the form of the guitar riff that begins the song proper. (The song is also notable for its extended overture, which was shortened for radio and music video.) The guitar riff continues throughout the song, played in full during each chorus, and played in muted permutation
during the verse. Rolling Stone magazine listed it the 94th greatest guitar song of all time.
The song's lyrics are written from the point of view of a blue-collar worker watching music videos and commenting on what he sees. To achieve the effect of such a layman making such casual everyday commentary, Dire Straits' lead singer and songwriter Mark Knopfler used a vocal style known as Sprechstimme.
Knopfler described the writing of the song in a 1985 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.
According to Nikki Sixx's book, The Heroin Diaries, the song was written about his band Mötley Crüe. This is however unverified by Mark Knopfler.
The songwriting credits are shared between Mark Knopfler
and Sting. Sting was visiting Montserrat
during the recording of the song, and was invited to add some background vocals. Sting has stated that his only contribution was the "I Want My MTV" line, which was sung in partial parody
of his own song "Don't Stand So Close to Me
", originally recorded by The Police
. Sting was reportedly embarrassed when his publishing company insisted on a co-writing credit (and royalties).
When Dire Straits performed "Money for Nothing" at the 1985 Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium, the performance featured a guest appearance by Sting. As a result of this performance, this helped launch not only the song, but Dire Straits themselves into international superstardom.
The observations of the character included references to a musician
"banging on the bongos
like a chimpanzee
" and a description of a singer
as "that little faggot
with the earring and the makeup", and lamenting that the artists got "money for nothing and chicks for free". These lyrics were widely criticised as sexist
and anti-gay statements, and in some later releases of the song the lyrics were edited for airplay; "faggot" for example is often replaced with "mother": "little mother, he's a millionaire
". The entire second verse was edited out for content and length for radio and video airplay, and on the 7" single. This edited version is included in the compilation album Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits
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.
Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, in an interview with Blender Magazine, says that the song is actually about his band's excessive lifestyle, and that he heard the clerks in the store were commenting on Mötley Crüe videos shown on the in-store television sets.
The music video
for the song featured early computer animation
illustrating the lyrics. While the characters seem boxy and the animation appears a little crude by modern standards, the video was one of the first uses of computer-animated human characters and was considered groundbreaking
at the time of its release. It was the second computer-generated
music video shown on MTV
. The lead characters vaguely resemble a CGI Laurel and Hardy
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."
Barron then flew to Budapest to convince Knopfler of their concept. Meeting together after a gig, Knopfler was reportedly 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. The animators went on to found computer animation studio Mainframe Entertainment (today Rainmaker Animation), and referenced the "Money for Nothing" video in an episode of their ReBoot series. The video also included stage footage of Dire Straits performing, with partially rotoscoped-animation in bright neon colors, as seen on the record sleeve.
The video was awarded "Video of the Year" at the third annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1986.
Videos within the video
Two other music videos are also featured within "Money for Nothing". A Hungarian
pop band Első Emelet
and their video "Állj Vagy Lövök" is displaying as "Baby, Baby" by "First Floor". (The name "első emelet" translates to "first floor".) Első Emelet was extremely popular at the time in Hungary, although their videos might not have appeared on Music Television.
The other is a fictional
, supposed MTV video "Sally" by the Ian Pearson Band (Pearson was one of the animators of the video).
Knopfler modeled his guitar sound for the recorded track after ZZ Top
guitarist Billy Gibbons
' trademark guitar tone, as ZZ Top's music videos were already a staple of early MTV. Gibbons later told a Musician
magazine interviewer in 1986 that Knopfler had solicited Gibbons on how to replicate the tone, adding, "He didn't do a half-bad job, considering that I didn't tell him a thing!" Knopfler's "not a half-bad job" included his use of a Gibson Les Paul
guitar, which he used on a couple of other Brothers in Arms
tracks, rather than his usual (at the time) Fender Stratocaster
, plugged into a Marshall
amplifier. Another factor in trying to recreate the sound was a wah pedal that was turned on, but only rocked to a certain position.
As a footnote, the video for ZZ Top's "TV Dinners" from 1983 was also groundbreaking for its combination of animation (specifically claymation) with live footage. A scene in the Dire Straits video, where one of the lead character's frozen head is defrosted in a carousel microwave oven appears to reference the earlier ZZ Top video as well.
Mark performed "Money for Nothing" using his namesake Pensa-Suhr signature MK-1 model with a pair of Soldano SLO-100 tube/valve heads and Marshall cabinets during the Nelson Mandela Tribute and Knebworth Charity shows in 1988 and 1990. These 1988 and 1990 versions were the same as the mid-1980s original track, except for the addition of scorching guitar solos by Knopfler himself, backed by extended melodic riffs played by Eric Clapton and Phil Palmer.
"Weird Al" Yankovic wrote a parody titled "Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*" for his 1989 film UHF. As the title implies, this song merges the lyrics from The Beverly Hillbillies theme song ("The Ballad of Jed Clampett") with "Money For Nothing"'s tune. Knopfler returned and recorded a guitar part for the song, replicating his parts from the original. The famous video also got the "Weird Al" treatment, with the removal men replaced by blocky, computer-generated versions of Jed Clampett and Yankovic himself. The parody video was used as a dream sequence midway through the film.
At the time, Knopfler was a "Weird Al" fan, and when Yankovic made his customary contact with Dire Straits' management to get their "blessing" for the parody, Knopfler stated Yankovic could do it, but only if he could play guitar on the parody. His part was recorded in England. He made it with a demo version of the song that had drums, bass and Al's regular guitar player, Jim West, guitar as a rough guide for him. Knopfler has never performed with Al's band.
Satirical puppet show Spitting Image also parodied this song, randomly calling it "Making Nice Curtains". It features puppets of Mark and David Knopfler singing about yuppies and that their music "can be played to your granny and aunts". Sting appears as he does in the real video to claim his "royalty", but is silenced as a guitar hits him in the head.
Sal and Harv, make a cameo appearance in "Talent Night" from the cartoon ReBoot. Primitive by today's standards, the "workers" could be considered celebrities of the computer-generated character set. They appear as an audition act for Enzo's birthday party, and are quickly tossed off the stage in a comical manner.
The third-wave ska band Reel Big Fish released an album in 2007, entitled "Monkeys for Nothing and the Chimps for Free".
References in pop culture
- Elements of the song were used in the Deep Dish song, "Flashing for Money", which is featured on their album George is On. The song is a combination of both "Money for Nothing" and Deep Dish's own song "Flashdance". Deep Dish also produced a "standard" house remix of the original song, incorporating Knopfler's vocals and the memorable guitar riff into the remix.
- The title of the song was mentioned in Wynonna Judd's 1994 song "Girls With Guitars" with "Get your money for nothing and your guys for free."
- Union Underground references the "little faggot is a millionaire" lyrics in their 2000 hit "Turn Me On 'Mr. Deadman'".
- 1200 Micrograms used the main riff in their psychedelic trance number "Acid for Nothing" which was featured in their album Heroes of the Imagination. They have dedicated this song to Albert Hofmann.
- The song was used in the Airwolf episode "Birds of Paradise".
- The song was used on an episode of The Simpsons called "Ice Cream of Margie (With the Light Blue Hair)". As Homer is driving his ice cream truck into view, the intro guitar riff of the song is played.
- Toyota car commercials have used a parodied version of the song, using the line "I want my MPG" (miles per gallon) to promote their fuel-efficient models.
- This song was played in between in-studio commercial breaks on the set of Deal or No Deal Canada.
- The intro to VH1 Classic's We Are the 80s features animation based on this video. It includes Michael Jackson rendered like the man in the beginning.
- Ska band Reel Big Fish released an album on July 10, 2007 entitled "Monkeys for Nothin' and the Chimps for Free," a parody of the original lyrics, "Money for nothing and chicks for free."
- The song "Famous" by Puddle of Mudd features the line "the money is for nothing and the chicks are for free."
- Money for Content and your Clicks for Free is the title of a book by Iliad, creator of the User Friendly comic strip. Also, the User Friendly strip for April 11, 1999 contains a parody of the song.
- Chromeo and director Nima Nourizadeh created an homage to the video in 2007 with their video for "Bonafied Lovin'."
- Pete McTee The Clown on what was FoxKids had a commercial for his Saturday Morning Timeslot which played a song with the lyrics 'I want my Pete McTee.' with the music of Money For Nothing in the Background.
- Title of third season episode of TV series Numb3rs is "Money for Nothing".
- The Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation named an episode after this song.