"Down To The Waterline" as written by and Mark Knopfler....
Sweet surrender on the quayside
You remember we used to run and hide
In the shadow of the cargoes I take you one time
And we're counting all the numbers down to the waterline

Near misses on the dog leap stairways
French kisses in the darkened doorways
A foghorn blowing out wild and cold
A policeman shines a light upon my shoulder

Up comes a coaster fast and silent in the nihgt
Over my shoulder all you can see are the pilot lights
No money in our jackets and our jeans are torn
Your hands are cold but your lips are warm

She can see him on the jetty where they used to go
She can feel him in the places where the sailors go
When she's walking by the river and the railway line
She can still hear him whisper
Let's go down to the waterline


Lyrics submitted by Dasch

"Down to the Waterline" as written by Mark Knopfler

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Down To The Waterline song meanings
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12 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentA quay wall, counting the numbers on the draft marks, cargos and coasters (barges), pilot lights, foghorns, etc are all things that have to do with ships.

    So I always thought this song was about a couple who used to go down to the waterfront and make-out along the docks. Then the guy had to leave on a ship so the girl was left behind with only the memories of what they used to do. It makes sense to me, but maybe I just think this because I’m in the Navy and have had to leave too many times over the years.

    In any case I have enjoyed this song for almost 30 years now.
    Textanaon February 24, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentHe is referring to Newcastle Quayside, and the Dog Leap Stairs are an old set of narrow stone steps that run down from the Castle Keep to the Quayside.
    Gaskoon December 25, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAccording to Knopfler's brother, David, when Mark was about 15, he got a part in a play, and used to come back home on the train every night, and loved seeing the lights on the Tyne (let's face it, who wouldn't? All right, so as a Geordie, I'm biased, but even so!) He even did a painting of them, which his parents had framed and put up on the wall. The song comes from that, and from walking along the Quayside at night with his then girlfriend. Mark Knopfler himself said in an interview that he used to be able to hear the fog horns on the Tyne at night when he was in bed, throughout his childhood and youth, and they made a huge impression on him. That he loves Newcastle and Northumberland is in no doubt; he was asked once, considering that he'd been all round the world, what it was about Newcastle that he found so impressive, and he simply replied: "Everything!"
    guttion January 02, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAfter hearing this song i feel i have to move Mark Knopfler way up on my Favorite Story-Tellin song writer list... close to Willie Nelson and Roger Waters... I love this song. It's rhythm is exciting, and he plays that guitar like only he can.
    larryoduncanon February 11, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song I suspect is about Knopfler's early days as a youth in Newcastle.
    In that respect it has much in common with his later "Tunnel Of Love" that specifically references Newcastle eg. "the Spanish city" was a part of Newcastle.
    chrisb1on March 19, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti'm not quite sure what this song's about, but it does seem to have the quality that its a couple in love, and the Waterline is a place dangerous to them, kor illegal to go to, or something of the like. the man gets killed or taken away somehow, and then she can remember him in everywhere she goes that's related to the waterline. something makes me think he only got arrested or maybe he's a deserter soilder and he got caught while on the waterline with his girlfriend. now he's been taken away, but she can still hear him whisper, "Lets go down to the waterline."
    Rodan2000on October 16, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI don't know...I always thought the waterline was a place they went to to make love because they couldn't find a private spot elsewhere. Maybe you're right and it turned out that it wasn't as safe as they were thinking it was! I'll have to think about that.
    DJacques75on October 18, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI took it as a couple which went on a sort of... daring date "down to the waterline" where they were not allowed by law to be. The excitment of the danger and the presence of the man she was with has engraved the night into the woman's memory and "she can still hear him whisper..."
    McAuronon March 02, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI mean, it's obviously about the sea, it's about cargoes and coasters, different types of ships. And the line "counting the numbers down to the waterline" makes me remember those numbers ships have on their sides so you can tell how deep in the water they are...
    JustusvVon January 31, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentVery pretty song. Clean and very professional lead, and great modulation on the rhythm. Not sure what it's about, but it's great and innovative musically.
    T_D_Phoenixon October 03, 2007   Link

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