Song of the Day #50: ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’ – Mark Knopfler & James Taylor

Mark Knopfler is one of those artists I feel I should like even more than I do. He’s written and performed some truly magical songs (and albums) and I have to believe he has a ton of music I’ve never heard that I’d really love.

Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms is, of course, a masterpiece. And Making Movies is another stellar album, full of Knopfler’s other-worldly guitar work and terrific songwriting. Tunes such as ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Brothers in Arms’ would make my short list of the greatest songs ever written.

And yet I don’t own any other Dire Straits albums and haven’t even tried to seek one out. I’m not sure why. It could be that their time sort of came and went before I got into them so there wasn’t the reminder that comes with new releases. And with so much new music to explore, it’s easy to forget about back catalogs.

As for Knopfler’s solo work, I’m familiar with only one album, the stellar Sailing to Philadelphia. It’s brilliant start to finish and again, I have no idea why I haven’t sought out more of his solo work. Today’s song is a duet between Knopfler and James Taylor which covers the unique subject matter of the creation of the Mason/Dixon line.

32 thoughts on “Song of the Day #50: ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’ – Mark Knopfler & James Taylor

  1. Amy says:

    Your post is another example of why it’s so daunting to try to explore all the music that’s worth listening to. I, too, have little of Knopfler’s work, yet I hold him in equally high esteem.

    Of course, you managed to write an entire post about a duet between Knopfler and James Taylor and not mention one word about James Taylor! What’s that all about? How many songs does he elevate with that earnest, emotional, beautiful voice of his? I find a duet such as this one to be particularly fascinating, as it joins two artists who each have a rich body of work, are accomplished songwriters, and unique singers. Inevitably, they will bring out something interesting in one another. This song is certainly a great example of that collaboration.

  2. Clay says:

    Aside from loving the way Taylor’s voice works in this song, I just don’t have much to say about him. I enjoy his music when I hear it but I’ve never been moved to own any of his albums.

  3. Dana says:

    I love this song, but agree with Amy that you are missing out if you don’t pick up some Taylor albums. He is among the greatest of songwriters and voices.

  4. Clay says:

    I like some of his songs (‘Fire and Rain’ and ‘Carolina On My Mind’ are good examples) but overall I find him boring.

  5. Amy says:

    Boring?! That was for me, wasn’t it? Just to get me ranting and raving. Well, if I didn’t have grades due for far too many students I might do it. Instead, I’ll simply say this – you’re a sad little man if you can’t appreciate James Taylor πŸ™‚

  6. Clay says:

    No, that wasn’t meant for you… just being honest. I get that he’s talented and has a very pleasant voice but his music tends to put me to sleep.

  7. Dana says:

    if you haven'[t even bought one of his albums, how can you say he is boring and puts you to sleep? What, you fell asleep in the bridge of Fire and Rain? Come on! How is he more boring than Carol King with Tapestry or even the sometimes plodding Aimee Mann?

  8. Amy says:

    What about his music puts you to sleep? I’m just curious. “His introspective songs, acoustic guitar, and calm, understated singing style” ??? At least the folks over at all seem to appreciate him.

  9. Clay says:

    I have bought and/or listened to some of his albums, but I don’t currently own any. I sold back the two or three I did pick up over the years (Greatest Hits, Sweet Baby James and a more recent one).

    Not sure why his music doesn’t appeal to me as much as the laid-back Tapestry, although I think Carole King is a better songwriter.

    “Introspective songs, acoustic guitar, and calm, understated singing style” pretty much sums up why he puts me to sleep! πŸ™‚ And AllMusic appreciates Radiohead, too, ya know!

  10. Amy says:

    How can you say introspective songs, acoustic guitars, and/or understated singing puts you to sleep? Didn’t you go see John Mayer in concert? Don’t you value Bob Dylan above most any other songwriter? Paul Simon? If I had to say what you value in music, I would list introspection as one of the major ingredients. And I hardly see you embracing artists with grating voices (well, witht the exception of that awful Rufus). I can certainly see that different moods call for different artists and that when you’re in the mood for critically acclaimed Radiohead that James Taylor certainly won’t do. However, I don’t see how if you’re in the mood to listen to a well-crafted, thoughtful song delivered by a passionate artist with a beautiful voice that you wouldn’t reach for James Taylor just as often as you reach for John Mayer or Aimee Mann.

  11. Clay says:

    To paraphrase a wise person I know: “That’s why you have your CD collection and I have mine!”

  12. Amy says:

    Wow, that is incredible wisdom. Especially from one so young πŸ˜‰

  13. pegclifton says:

    Wow, quite a discussion and it’s not even about politics! I’m not a James Taylor fan, but we had the opportunity to see him in concert this summer at Tanglewood, and I must say he did shake rattle and roll quite a bit along with his slower hits.

  14. Dana says:

    Your lack of enthusiasm is consistent with your short shrift of some great 70’s music and artists in general, whether it be Steely Dan, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, etc… It is unfortunate in my humble opinion as that decade had some good music in it. It would be one thing if you eschewed generally MOR music like Mayer, Tracy Chapman, etc, but what I find interesting and ironic is that you enjoy this music when made in the 90’s or 00’s, but not if it comes from the 70’s. Indeed, the song you picked to launch this blog trail could find itself quite easily on an old Taylor album, which is perhaps why Knopfler picked Taylor for the duet. Alas, perhaps when some new artist you adore references Taylor as an inspiration (or is critically compared to him) you will “re-discover him much like you receontly did for Dusty Springfield.

  15. Clay says:

    I had never dismissed Dusty Springfield as boring before recently becoming a fan, so you’re off base with that analogy. And I like plenty of 70s artists, I’m just not very inspired by this one.

    Why is it that my not liking friggin’ James Taylor prompts you to portray me as shallow and trendy? Can you not just believe me when I say he’s not my cup of tea? Why does it have to be a symptom of some failure of mine?

    I will admit that I, too, am sometimes quick to dismiss the opinions of people who don’t share my taste. And arguments like this are part of what make these song blogs fun. But come on, this must be the most passion James Taylor has inspired in anyone , ever!

  16. Dana says:

    I didn’t dismiss you as shallow and trendy. I simply was pointing out that you often discover or resdicover older artists when your newer finds cite them as inspiration or are otherwise compared to them. That is not a bad thing.

    And please tell me all of these 70’s artists you like so much…and don’t go counting the ones who started in the 60’s and moved into the 70’s like the Stones.

    My point remains that you dismiss some great artists of the 70’s like Steely Dan and James Taylor even though you listen to a tremendous amount of more contemporary music that descends from those artists. Mayer is a perfect example of that.

    I don’t claim to have tremendous passion for Taylor, though Amy surely does. I just think he is among the more remarkable and talented artists of the past 30 years and deserves to be the cup of tea of anyone who truly appreciates music.

  17. Clay says:

    Let’s see…. 70s artists I like:

    Paul Simon, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrisson, Billy Joel, Cat Stevens, Carole King, Carly Simon… to name a few.

    Are there 70s artists I dislike? Sure. The Eagles and Steely Dan are prime examples. And there are plenty of artists in the 80s, 90s and 00s that I dislike as well.

    Also, I don’t see much of a parallel at all between James Taylor and John Mayer, so I’m not sure why his name keeps coming up. More than half of Mayer’s work is on the electric guitar… he has much more in common with Eric Clapton (another 70s artist I like).

    I’m sure we all like some artists more than the artists who inspired them. I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan but I don’t own a thing by Woodie Guthrie. A lot of artists I like cite Queen as a bit influence but I mostly can’t stand Queen.

    Nobody “deserves” to be anyone’s cup of tea. Taylor has certainly had a great career and I give him credit for that, but I’m just not a big fan of his music. It’s as simple as that. He certainly doesn’t offend me… on the contrary, he doesn’t stir me at all one way or the other.

  18. Amy says:

    I rarely can even categorize an artist as “60’s,” “70’s,” *80’s,” and the like. Nor can I frequently even correctly guess how they’ll be marketed. Invariably I look in the wrong section of the “record store” (how quaint is that? I’m aging as I write this) for Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett and others. I just know what I like. And I’m sensing you want to leave it at that as well, Clay. I guess we just get into these debates when what we like (whether it involves films, tv shows, musicians or politicians) is not appreciated by the other πŸ™‚ I respect that James Taylor is not your cup of tea; I just don’t appreciate you referring to him as boring when he is clearly mine. So I’ll try to remember that next time I have the urge to trash something you hold dear πŸ˜‰ Deal?

  19. Dana says:

    Queen is another group deserving of your attention. They put out some great music.

    And distinguishing Mayer because he plays the electric guitar? Come on! The man is about as mellow and jazzy as any 70’s artist could be. My point remains that you should like Taylor because he plays a style of music that you otherwise gravitate to…your cup of tea. Indeed, he is in many ways the male Carly Simon and Carole King.

    I would understand your criticism better if you DIDN’T like mellow MOR artists, much like I have little use for metal or grunge or country. But YOU DO like these artists, and Mayer is a front and center example of that. Indeed, when I was listening to XM Cafe yesterday, Fathers Be Good to Your Daughters (or whatever that song is called) came on, and I said to Amy how I was falling asleep listening to it πŸ™‚ Good thing that heavy electric guitar solo in the middle didn’t disturb my rest.:)

  20. Clay says:

    For examples of either of you trashing things I hold dear, go back and read the comments on about 40 of the last 50 songs of the day!

    It doesn’t really bother me, though. The truth is, I love these debates. Not because I really believe any of us is going to convince the others (that would be ridiculous, because we’re talking about matters of taste) but because they’re fun. And good for page views! πŸ™‚

  21. Dana says:

    I’m not sure we have “trashed” songs or artists you hold among your favorites. If so, we, and by we I mean Amy, should be more sensitive.

  22. Amy says:

    I’ll leave the combing through old comments to you, but I’m willing to wager my vote this November (not really, but it sounded good) that you won’t find me “trashing” your musical taste. I often may say that I don’t like what I’m hearing, but I’d be surprised if I out and out trashed something you valued. When you invariably find an example of a time I did just that, I’ll be humbled and reminded to watch my words in the future πŸ˜›

  23. Clay says:

    Ha! She is a cold, vicious monster, no?

    As I said, it doesn’t bother me. But I’d like to think James Taylor can take a gentle tweaking after my stable of artists has been shot to pieces.

  24. Clay says:

    OK, since you asked, some examples (all from Amy):

    “This song must simply inspire me to hit the mute button.”
    “Not sure what it is about (ARTIST HERE) that fails to inspire me.”
    “This kind of interchangeable music does little for me.”
    “As for the music, while I appreciate (ARTIST HERE), I’ve never been much of a fan of their music”

    All perfectly reasonable and heartfelt comments, and nothing I take offense at. It’s not like I wrote any of those songs!

  25. Clay says:

    And don’t make me dig up all the horrible things you’ve said about Rufus Wainwright!

  26. Clay says:

    OK, now I’m spamming my own blog.

    Just want to make it clear that I absolutely DO NOT want you or anyone to censor your opinions on anything I post here. If you think a song or movie I write about it total shit, say so!

    And on the flip side, please don’t ask me to hide my dislike (or in this case, indifference) for things you like.

    If we did that, we’d have missed out on the great Greek Wedding-esque debates of old. Where’s the fun in that?

  27. Amy says:

    My Lord, you’ve lost your mind πŸ™‚

  28. Amy says:

    What most horrifies me is evidence of the grammatically incorrect sentence I apparently wrote!

  29. Dana says:

    Look, all I’m saying is that when YOU put up Sailing to Philadelphia as YOUR song of the day and THAT song could find itself on a James Taylor album because it is equally mellow, that it suggests to me that your “indifference” to Taylor is based on a failure to give him a sufficient listening. Surely, you can see the difference between that type of criticism and Amy criticizing an assautting Mexican rap artist where she would noever really like that type of song or music anyway.

  30. Amy says:

    Some comments you neglected to share:

    “Back to the song… Powerful. Confident. Talented.”

    “I like this song, this album, and this band”

    “I certainly do agree that she captures β€œaching” better than just about anyone.”

    “Okay, Clay may have done it again. I’m only on my first listen, but I can already tell that this album is going to get a lot of play. So thank you, Clay, for twisting my arm (figuratively, of course) and reminding me that there is a lot of good music I’ve yet to hear and would miss out on if I decided never to emerge from my old favorites.”


  31. Clay says:

    Well, sure, you’ve liked plenty of these songs too. I’d hope we have some common ground. πŸ™‚

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I’ve listened to enough James Taylor to know I don’t care to immerse myself in anymore. It’s like Amy has said several times… pleasant enough, but not anything that’s going to keep me from putting in Lyle Lovett or Elvis Costello the next time I reach for a CD.

  32. Dana says:

    Okay, but what about the next time you are reaching for John Mayer? I just saw him running through the double doors of his high school with an acoustic guitar.

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