Mark Knopfler described the writing of the song in a 1984 interview with critic Bill Flanagan:
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....
The first-person narrating character in the lyrics refers to a musician "banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee" and a woman "stickin' in the camera, man we could have some fun". He describes a singer as "that little faggot with the earring and the make-up", and bemoans that these artists get "money for nothing and chicks for free".[
In 2000, Knopfler appeared on Michael Parkinson's interview program and explained again where the lyrics originated. According to Knopfler, he was in New York and stopped by an appliance store. At the back of the store, they had a wall of TVs which were all tuned to MTV. Knopfler said there was a man working there dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt delivering boxes who was standing next to him watching. As they were standing there watching MTV, Knopfler remembers the man coming up with lines such as "what are those, Hawaiian noises?...that ain't workin'," etc. Knopfler asked for a pen to write some of these lines down and then eventually put those words to music.
Here's the original video:
We got this covered, Denis and James on lead vocals.