This song is about guys who go to a club after work, listen to music and have a good time. They are there for the music, and not for the image presented by the band. The song was a marked change from the waning disco style and the nascent punk movement.
Group leader Mark Knopfler got the idea for song this from watching a lousy club band perform. As the story goes, Knopfler was in Ipswich on a rainy night. He ducked into a bar where a mediocre band was closing out the night to an audience that was maybe four or five drunks unaware of their surroundings.
The hapless band ended their set with the lead singer announcing, with no apparent irony, "Goodnight and thank you. We are the sultans of swing." Said Knopfler: "When the guys said 'Thank you very much, We are the Sultans of Swing,' there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren't. You know they were rather tired little blokes in pullovers."
Knopfler got a lot of songwriting ideas from observing everyday people, something that got harder to do when he became famous.
You get a shiver in the dark It's raining in the park but meantime South of the river you stop and you hold everything A band is blowing Dixie double four time You feel alright when you hear that music ring Well, now you step inside but you don't see too many faces Coming in out of the rain to hear the jazz go down Competition in other places Oh, but the horns, they're blowing that sound Way on down south, way on down south London town You check out guitar, George He knows all the chords Mind it's strictly rhythm He doesn't wanna make it cry or sing Left-handed old guitar is all he can afford When he gets up under the lights to play his thing And Harry doesn't mind if he doesn't make the scene He's got a daytime job, he's doing alright He can play the honky tonk like anything Saving it up for Friday night With the Sultans, with the Sultans of Swing And a crowd of young boys, they're fooling around in the corner Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles They don't give a damn about any trumpet-playing band It ain't what they call "Rock 'n' Roll" And the Sultans, yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole, Creole And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone And says at last just as the time bell rings "Goodnight, now it's time to go home." Then he makes it fast with one more thing, "We are the Sultans, we are the Sultans of Swing."