Understanding Dire Straits – Money for Nothing

I want my MTV………

Hearing this ghostly whisper along with never before seen computer animation left me spellbound as an eight year old who shouldn’t have been able to watch MTV. Cable television was still relatively new and like most new things, kids often figure them out well before the adults do. Eventually the adults catch on and it was goodbye MTV and sometimes all of cable in my household.

In fact, I think we lost cable a total of six times over a five year time period. Mom would bound into the room unannounced and if anything even remotely more offensive than Sesame Street was on it was goodbye cable for a while. If it wasn’t that, then it was a proclamation from Dad that we had to “tighten our belts,” and once again a large source of entertainment in the household suddenly vanished. Luckily the cable people knew what they were doing. Eventually a must see television show or important baseball games would be on the horizon and they were only available on the cable channels. It was then, like a miracle from above, the cable box once again miraculously appeared next to our humble family T.V. Over time us kids learned to keep one finger on the wired cable remote just in-case Mom suddenly popped out of nowhere as in an ambush so we could quickly switch back to the kids channel. There wasn’t much we could do about the belt-tightening however.

In my ’80s childhood, I didn’t exactly pay attention to songs or wonder about the lyrics. It was either something I liked or something I didn’t and I thought nothing more about it. You’d hear it on the radio and turn up the volume, and then who knows if you’d ever hear it again in your lifetime. That’s how things were in the ’80s as a kid. In fact, not being able to play favorite songs on demand made hearing them even more enjoyable. I would have a very difficult time today explaining to my kids my joy when “Ghostbusters” came on at the skating rink. We’d all skate around shouting “Ghostbusters” along with the song, all of us enraptured but the fun of skating which was greatly amplified by a collectively beloved song.

For those nascent years of MTV I would say “Money For Nothing” was the de-facto theme song. Furthermore, listening to music on TV with their accompanying videos was a brand new thing for everyone. We all thought it was just so incredibly cool. Furthermore, nobody had seen computer animation before. This video and Max Headroom introduced us to this new type of technological wonder and we were all amazed.

Max Headroom

In those days I just enjoyed the song or I didn’t. I didn’t think about recording it, understanding it or even wondering who the artist or what the title was. Over the decades, and after hearing ’80s songs hundreds of times, I eventually came to know the names of the tunes but I still never really got the lyrics or wondered what the song was about and until last month, this was the case with “Money for Nothing.”

I was listening to ’80s music with an expensive pair of headphones and “surfing the net” when “Money for Nothing” came on and I heard that whisper, “I want my MTV…..” in full surround sound awaking childhood memories followed by that really cool guitar riff in such depth I felt like I was in a concert hall. It grabbed my attention and I switched from being immersed in NFTs over to my YouTube Music app which had the unfiltered video playing. I watched the animation with a nostalgic fondness and then my eyes widened when I heard the lyrics that has given that song trouble for the past 37 years.

“See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup?
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire.”

I remember hearing something years ago about this song being censored in some places, or at least a version without those offensive words being used on the radio. However, I didn’t think much about it but listening now I wanted to dig into it.

I had always thought that it was Dire Straits making fun of probably Boy George or perhaps George Michael. But again, that thought appeared briefly then vanished probably 5 times in my life. But in reading the lyrics I realized I not only misheard the lyrics but also never understood what the song was about.

The lyrics are not:

“We’ve got some movies, color TVs, etc.”
It is “We have to move these color TVs”!

“Maybe get a pistol and your little finger.”
It is, “Maybe get a blister on your little finger!”

We got to move these color TVs

The song is about a working class man who is jealous of the money and fame of those on MTV!

Dire Straits – Money for Nothing

Because playing music and singing on MTV well, “that ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it.” He’s got to “move those refrigerators,” and those color TVs!

*Side note: “Yeah Buddy!” This is something working class people used to be very fond of saying, at least in Ohio. I cut grass during summers for three years on a golf course and have heard many a “Yeah Buddy!” It is a positive affirmation, that promotes a sort of macho bonding between the speaker and recipient. “Buddy” is more affectionate than “man” or “dude” A “buddy” is a close friend whereas “man” is a merely a neutral fact. A “dude” is a hair on an elephant’s butt if you remember your ’80s childhood mythology correctly.

So if those homophobic slurs aren’t from Dire Straits directed at Boy George or George Michael, then who is our working class animation speaking about? I did a quick Google search which did not help solve the mystery even a little bit. So I rewatched the video and thought I had found my answer.

“First Floor” is Első Emelet

Above is a screenshot from the Dire Straits video. Below is the video I found doing a search for it on YouTube but is just the clip from the Dire Straits video over and over and thus is not an original video.

Dire Straights video clip with actual song “Állj vagy lövök”

The true name of this band is Első Emelet which is Hungarian and means “First Floor” in English. The song name of “Baby, Baby” is completely made up; the real name of the song is “Állj vagy lövök” which using Google Translate means “Stop or I’ll shoot.”

Unfortunately the original video Dire Straits took clips from may be too old, too foreign and too forgotten for YouTube. When I did a search for “Állj vagy lövök” the best I got was the song with the album cover.

Első Emelet – “Állj vagy lövök”

This poor band probably had no idea their music and video were being used by Dire Straits. And you know what? It was highly unlikely anyone in the USA knew or cared who Első Emelet was even though I did see there was a version of “Állj vagy lövök” in English. Furthermore Hungary, while not part of the Soviet Union, had Soviet troops stationed there until 1989 so it was unlikely they were exposed to much American music if any. I could be wrong about that but suppose I’d need to speak to a contemporary or older from Hungary to find out for sure.

Hungary – Soviet Union Relations

Even though Dire Straits had this Hungarian band in their video I suspect the lyrics were still aimed somewhat at Boy George. He was the most flamboyant at the time and being gay was still something that wasn’t accepted back then.

Boy George

After all in the ’80s the AIDS epidemic was raging and Republicans were busy scaring everyone by saying the homosexuals were coming for their children. If bigotry weren’t so detestable I would certainly applaud the conservatives for being so consistent through the decades! Come on now, if they just tried a little harder perhaps we could get the vote taken away from women!

Remember when Conservatives liked masks?

Thus, the use of the word “faggot” seemed not to bother too many people at the time. Researching a bit further it seems the only objection back then was from a gay man at a London magazine but that’s pretty much about it.

Watching the Dire Straits video further we come to another video when our working man says:

“Look at that mama, she got it stickin’ in the camera
Man, we could have some”

Ian Pearson Band – “Sally”

This band Ian Pearson Band and song “Sally” are completely fictitious! Luckily a good citizen of the internet gives us what we Dire Straits sleuths are searching for. God Bless you YouTube user Gustavo Medina, wherever and whoever you are.

Ian Pearson Band – “Sally”

I’ve always been someone who has enjoyed looking back on my own life. Often it is nothing more than the practice of remembering; taking time to pause and go as deeply into the memory as possible. Another way is to inquire about the memories of a shared experience from an old acquaintance. I’m one of the few who has plenty of items from the past to help revive memories and perhaps the greatest of those items is this very blog.

But in addition to being what I’d call a “personal anthropologist,” I also enjoy the wider scope of learning about the times I lived through. I experienced the ’80s as a kid so really didn’t know much outside of school and other limited experience. This little serendipitous adventure started through simply hearing an ’80s song but led me on a fun, investigative journey.

Furthermore, it opens up more things to think about. The first is how wonderful the internet really is, it records the human experience. Without it, I probably would no longer remember Dire Straits. Before the internet, didn’t humanity just bumble along with each generation slowly forgetting the experiences of the generations before it except for some lessons at school? Humanity would be like a mild Alzheimers patient strolling through the park who has forgotten not only where they live but also where the car is parked.

The second is a question of how much society is losing by erasing everything that is offensive by today’s standards. It reminds me of some girls I know who never want to be reminded of the previous chapters in their lives. Each chapter turns into something they want to forget where in the end, they have no story to tell at all!

In our current society, both sides of the political spectrum want to erase. The Left wants to erase everything they find offensive (which really could be just about anything) while the Right wants to erase painful US history and perhaps even democracy.

If everyone keeps erasing everything, we too will have no story to tell.

Well, would you look at that. A simple investigative post about Dire Straits turned into a philosophical question with a splash of politics.

Yeah Buddy!!!

Yeah Buddy!

Through my internet investigations I also learned Weird Al parodied the song! How could I go about 35 years without knowing this, especially when I’m a Weird Al fan!!?? Weird Al is simply fantastic.

Further Reading:

Slate – Money for Nothing is Not Really Insulting to Homosexuals.

Categorized as Music

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/