Single Stories: Dire Straits, SKATEAWAY

Monday, March 27, 2023

It was October 1980 when Mark Knopler and Dire Straits released the band's third studio effort, Making Movies. Having found formidable success with the group's first two LPs, Dire Straits (1979) and Communiqué (also 1979) , Knopler was ready for a production upgrade; having heard and been impressed with Jimmy Iovine's work on Patti Smith's single, "Because the Night," the guitarist recruited Iovine to helm Making Movies.

Growing tensions within the band, however, saw guitarist David Knopler (Mark's brother) leave the band after the pair arguments during the Making Movies recording sessions reach a fever pitch. While David's guitar parts had already been captured for the album, Mark Knopler re-recorded those parts after his brother left the fold.

After kicking off the Making Movies campaign with lead single, "Tunnel of Love," in October 1980, Dire Straits returned with single #2 in December 1980: "Skateaway." The song found Knopler waxing about a beautiful woman bombing busy city streets on a pair of roller skates, listening to music through headphones as she zips through traffic ("She tortures taxi drivers just for fun") and cheats death along the way ("I swear she let a big truck grease her hip.")

On Making Movies, "Skateaway" clocks in at over six minutes. In order to make it a little more-radio friendly as a single, the track was trimmed down to under five minutes. While the tune accumulated spins on radio stations across the country, it was a year after the song's release when it hit critical via a music video. MTV launched in August 1981, and Dire Straits provided them with a striking clip for "Skateaway."

The video featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe in the role of Rollergirl. While she was originally credited as Jay Carly, it was actually Azikiwe, the daughter of Nigeria's first president Nnamdi Azikiwe. The video depicted Azikiwe cruising on pair of oxblood roller skates to the strains of the track. The clips ends with the band performing as the sun goes down behind them (Jayzik Azikiwe died in 2008 at the age of 49).

"Mark Knopfler's narrative of a city skate princess is as vivid as it is narrative," raved Record World magazine in December 1980 about "Skateaway." The review also mentioned the track's "hallowed organ textures," which were provided by Roy Bittan of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

The song made a solid chart run, crashing the top 40 to peak at #37 in the UK. Here in America, the track reached #58 on the Billboard Hot 100. Beyond the charts, however, the tune has become a Dire Straits fan favorite that still gets ample spins on classic rock radio.