“Money For Nothing” is a song written from the point-of-view of a blue-collar worker who’s jealous of famous musicians. The lyrics describe the worker’s resentment; his own hard labor is earning him no praise or money. Watching the musicians achieve fame and wealth by making music frustrates the man, but he can’t help but have a bit of respect for them.
Mark Knopfler got the idea for the song after hearing a worker in a hardware store make similar complaints about an MTV broadcast. Knopfler began writing the song down then and there and focused on directly using the language of the worker in the lyrics.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these comical lyrics to decipher their hidden meaning. We’ll also examine the songwriting story, as well as the controversy surrounding some of the lyrics. Without further ado, let’s begin!
The intro to the song simply repeats, “I want my MTV.” This is intended to set a mood while explaining the inspiration for the song. This iconic section is sung by Sting to the tune of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” a Police hit from 1980. As a result of this contribution, Sting is actually listed as a songwriter for the track.
The intro is abruptly cut off by the song’s legendary guitar riff, and the opening verse begins. Immediately, the lyrics are from the perspective of a working man watching an MTV broadcast, which is undoubtedly the inspiration for the song.
The worker describes the musicians on screen as “yo-yos,” indicating a level of dislike. He doesn’t view playing music as real “workin’,” and it makes him jealous to see the success the artists are having. He accuses them of taking “money for nothing” because he doesn’t consider music a job.
Nonetheless, he sort of admires their craftiness. The worker insists that “them guys ain’t dumb” because he recognizes that they’ve gamed the system. While he works a difficult job, the musicians’ only worry is getting a “blister” on their finger.
In the famous chorus, the worker complains about the harshness of his own job. He spends his days making “custom kitchen deliveries” and moving appliances. He eats by the sweat of his brow; watching others get easy money burns him.
The next verse is where the controversy lies. The worker describes one musician as a “little f*ggot” and continues elaborating on his hair, makeup, and appearance. His jealousy deepens because he realizes that this silly-looking man is a “millionaire” despite what he may think of him.
Some have criticized the use of the “F word” as offensive, but they would do well to remember that the lyrics are not from Knopfler’s perspective. Nonetheless, the track has been banned from many radio stations. If this song does come on the radio, there’s probably a good chance you’ll be hearing an edited version.
Another milder debate surrounding the track is whether or not the song is about Motley Crue. Crue’s bassist, Nikki Sixx, once famously insisted that his group was the inspiration for the lyrics. However, Dire Straits have never confirmed that this was the case.
In the final verse, the worker starts talking about his regrets. He thinks he “shoulda learned to play the guitar” instead of winding up where he is now. He’s also jealous of the rock star’s access to women, citing the “mama stickin’ in the camera” as proof.
Funnily enough, the worker doesn’t even think the music itself is all that good. He views it as strange and compares a percussionist to a “chimpanzee.” Not only are these artists more successful than the worker, but he doesn’t even understand why.
After this verse, the lyrics are repetitive. To sum up, “Money For Nothing” is a polished version of classic working-class blues. It pokes fun at everyone involved, the musicians and the worker alike. Due to its good humor and musicianship, the track has managed to overcome controversy and remain a hit for the ages.
This track was inspired by direct experience. Mark Knopfler has repeatedly stated on the record that he personally encountered a worker at an appliance store who inspired the song.
The man was watching an MTV broadcast and had similar feelings to the narrator of the song. Knopfler wanted to use the “more muscular” language the man actually used because it felt authentic. Then and there, Knopfler began writing the song down on borrowed paper.
Sting was brought in as a contributor because the “I want my MTV” section follows the tune of a Police hit. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” was a famous smash from 1980, and Sting sings the intro to this same melody. While Sting thought very little of offering his contribution, his publishers were apparently very assertive about their rights to the melody.
The result of this collaboration changed the course of music history. “Money For Nothing” was a commercial and critical success beyond belief. This #1 hit was also a grammy winner, and its famous music video left a permanent mark on music culture.
The next time you play this instant classic, let these little bits of background information make it even more special!