In a 1984 interview, Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler had this to say about the song that would not only become the band’s biggest hit but also one of the best known videos from the early years of MTV:
The lead character in “Money for Nothing” is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/custom kitchen/refrigerator/microwave appliance store. He’s singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real….
According to Knopfler, he was in a New York appliance store when he heard a man who worked there complaining about all of the TVs in the shop being tuned to MTV. (Urban legend has it that the man was watching a Motley Crue video.) Knopfler wrote down the man’s exact words, which included the famous line about “money for nothing and chicks for free,” and later set them to music. (Knopfler also included the man’s controversial description of a rock star as being “that little faggot with the earring and the makeup.” In 2011, 26 years after the song’s initial release, that line would lead to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council banning the song from being played on Canadian radio stations.) After hearing the band’s initial recording of the song, Sting suggested the “I want my MTV” line and was rewarded with a co-writer credit.
The ground-breaking music video was one of the first to feature computer animation. Under the direction of Steve Barron, Ian Pearson and Gavin Blair (who later founded Rainmaker Studios) created the animation using a Bosch FGS-4000 CGI system and a Quantel Paintbox system.
Money for Nothing spent 3 weeks as the number one single in the United States and the video was named Video of the Year at the 3rd Annual MTV Music Awards.