“Down to the Waterline” is a 1978 song written by Mark Knopfler and first released by Dire Straits as the first song on their debut album, Dire Straits. It was also included on the demo tape that the band sent to Charlie Gillett, which led to their first recording contract. It was subsequently released as the B-side of the “Water of Love” single.
The lyrics of “Down to the Waterline” tell of a brief sexual tryst. Cary Darling of Billboard praises the song as superior to the other love songs on side 1 of Dire Straits, including “Water of Love.” According to Mark Knopfler’s brother and fellow Dire Straits member David, the song’s imagery is based on Mark’s memories of walking along the River Tyne at night under the lights with his girlfriend when he was a teenager. Darling praises the lyrics as “incisive” but “never cliched.” Darling also praises the moody foghorn sound that opens the song, Knopfler’s “quick finger picking” guitar playing and the tightness of the band on this song. Author Joel McNally describes how “the band appears out of the fog” to start the song, noting that the effect is “not hokey.” High Fidelity also commented on the song’s “tender, passionate, and yet unsentimental” erotic imagery.
Hi-Fi News & Record Review described the song as “bouncy and punchy.” The Rolling Stone Album Guide commented on the song’s “galloping groove.” Montreal Gazette critic Bubert Bauch claims that “Once Upon a Time in the West”, the song that opened Dire Straits’ second album, Communiqué, sounded very similar to “Down to the Waterline”, which opened their debut album.
“Down to the Waterline” later appeared on Dire Straits live album Live at the BBC and on the Dire Straits “Best of” compilation album Money for Nothing.