Song of the Day #334: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – Dire Straits

makingmoviesThe first Dire Straits album I owned was actually not a proper album at all, but the greatest hits collection Money for Nothing. I am resolutely anti-greatest hits — despite my ‘Song of the Day’ blog, I consider the album the principal unit of musical artistry. Money For Nothing was a bit different than most because it contained live and alternate versions of many of the songs, but it’s still just a little bit evil.

However, it did introduce me to one of the very best Dire Straits songs, the elegant and sadly romantic ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ I was blown away by this song the minute I heard it and it has remained a favorite ever since.

I love the conversational tone of the lyrics and the earthbound majesty of Knopfler’s delivery. I love that gentle opening acoustic guitar, the way the drums propel the chorus, how the music almost stops in the “All I do is miss you” verse before ramping up again. I love it all.

I can’t talk about this song without mentioning the version the Indigo Girls recorded for their album Rites of Passage (hear it here). That’s a wonderful album and I appreciate what Amy Ray was trying to do with the song, but Christ do I hate that cover. It’s passionate, sure, but so is a guy who writes “I love you” on the wall in his own feces. I realize their version has some strong defenders (some who read this very blog) but I just don’t get it.

But this… this I get big time.

A love-struck Romeo sings a streetsuss serenade
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made
Finds a streetlight, steps out of the shade
Says something like, “You and me babe, how about it?”

Juliet says, “Hey, it’s Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack!”
He’s underneath the window, she’s singing, “Hey la, my boyfriend’s back
You shouldn’t come around here singing up to people like that…
Anyway, what you gonna do about it?”

Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start
And I bet when you exploded into my heart
And I forget, I forget the movie song.
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?

Come up on different streets, both the streets of shame
Both dirty, both mean, yes and the dream it was just the same
And I dreamed your dream for you and now your dream is real
How can you look at me as if I was just another one of your deals?

Well you can fall for chains of silver,
You can fall for chains of gold,
You can fall for pretty strangers
And the promises they hold
You promised me everything, you promised me thick and thin, yeah
Now you just say, “Oh Romeo? Yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him”

Juliet, when we made love, you used to cry
You said, “I love you like the stars above, I’ll love you ’til I die”
There’s a place for us, you know the movie song
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?

I can’t do the talks, like the talk on TV
And I can’t do a love song, like the way it’s meant to be
I can’t do everything, but I’ll do anything for you
I can’t do anything, except be in love with you
And all I do is miss you and the way we used to be
All I do is keep the beat… and bad company
Now all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme
Juliet, I’d do the stars with you any time!

Juliet, when we made love you used to cry
You said, “I love you like the stars above, I’ll love you ’til I die”
There’s a place for us, you know the movie song
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?

A love-struck Romeo sings a streetsuss serenade
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made
Finds a convenient streetlight, steps out of the shade
He says something like, “You and me babe, how about it?”

You and me babe, how about it?

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #334: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – Dire Straits

  1. Dana says:

    Well, I’m sure Amy will have a few choice words to say in defense of the Indigo Girls:) I will simply go on record now as saying that i don’t share your dislike for that cover, although I do find the “bad, bad company” line completely over the top–which has made it worthy of mockery for many years with us.

    In any event, this is truly a great song. The lyrics are wonderfully poetic. I’m not as wild about the production and arrangement on this recorded version. I feel as though somewhere along the line I had heard an acoustic or live version of this song that I liked better.

  2. Amy says:

    I will say nothing negative about Knopler’s version, for he gave us this song, and for that I’m very grateful. I agree with Dana that this version seems different from the one I know by Knopfler, and it seems a bit more casual, almost careless, whereas I remember Knopfler’s being a bit more earnest than this. Still, I particularly love the section of this recording leading up to the throwaway, “Oh, Romeo, I used to have a scene with him.” Great stuff.

    I’ve always thought of Knopfler’s and Ray’s versions as akin to the work done by Randy Newman and any of the number of people who have covered his songs. The song is so good that is equally serves wildly different voices, tones, moods. I have such respect for Newman’s ability to write such songs. And Knopfler has done it with this song.

    Of course, what I found most powerful about Amy Ray’s version was her choice to sing it “straight.” For a gay woman to take a song written by a man, sung from the perspective of not just a man – but THE classic romantic hero – struck me as incredibly brave, savvy, perfect. The fact that she stripped the song down of anything that could be misconstrued as playful in order to lay bare the anguish Romeo is feeling at Juliet’s coy, dismissive attitude makes is all the more powerful. “Now how can you look at me if I was just another one of your deals?” right up to “Bad, bad company” right through to the end is exquisite. I wouldn’t change a note. The way Ray builds, talks, slows, sings, begs, bemoans, whispers – it’s as powerful a vocal performance as I’ve ever heard.

    And if Clay can’t appreciate it, I just feel sad for the poor, misguided young man. Perhaps with time will come the maturity that will enable him to see the difference between feces smeared on a wall and Amy Ray’s gorgeous performance of Knopfler’s fabulous song.

  3. Clay says:

    OK, I admit I was exaggerating for effect, and like Dana, it’s the “bad bad company” line that really grates on me. The rest is pretty good. But as somebody who loves this original version so much, I just never got into Amy Ray’s.

    This version is the one I know quite well (it’s the original album version), but the quality of the audio track is a bit off.

    Funny how young Leo and Claire look.

  4. Amy says:

    Just watched the video for the first time now, and I like Knopfler’s version much less in the context of the actual story. The way he as the singer seems to be almost mocking the emotions he’s singing about undercuts all the emotional intensity of the song.

  5. Amy says:

    Or should I say all the emotional intensity the song can have, when served by a singer who is willing to commit to that emotion fully. A singer such as, say, Amy Ray :P

  6. Clay says:

    I don’t get the charge of mocking at all. I find his delivery very emotional. I’m guessing you didn’t know this version before you heard the Indigo Girls version (I think you wrote that yesterday) so maybe that colors how you hear it.

    Also, I just listened to this clip again (I had to replace another one that was pulled from YouTube) and the sound quality is atrocious. The instruments are mixed way too high. It’s the same version I’m used to but compressed all to hell.

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