Games Without Frontiers (song)

"Games Without Frontiers" is a song written and recorded by English rock musician Peter Gabriel. It was released on his 1980 self-titled solo album, where it included backing vocals by Kate Bush.[3] The song's lyrics are interpreted as a commentary on war and international diplomacy being like children's games.[4] The video includes film clips of Olympic events and scenes from the 1951 educational film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct US schoolchildren on what to do in case of nuclear attack. This forlorn imagery tends to reinforce the song's anti-war theme.

"Games Without Frontiers"
Games Without Frontiers.jpg
Single by Peter Gabriel
from the album Peter Gabriel (Melt)
B-side"Start/I Don't Remember" (UK), "Lead a Normal Life" (US)
Released4 February 1980 (UK) [1]
GenreArt rock, new wave[2]
Length4:05 (album version)
3:47 (single edit version)
Songwriter(s)Peter Gabriel
Producer(s)Steve Lillywhite
Peter Gabriel singles chronology
"Games Without Frontiers"
"No Self Control"

The single became Gabriel's first top-10 hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at No. 4, and – tied with 1986's "Sledgehammer" – his highest-charting song in the United Kingdom. It peaked at No. 7 in Canada, but only at No. 48 in the United States. The B-side of the single consisted of two tracks combined into one: "Start" and "I Don't Remember".[5]


Gabriel's first two solo albums were distributed in the US by Atlantic Records, but they rejected his third album (which contained this track), telling Gabriel he was committing "commercial suicide". Atlantic dropped him but tried to buy the album back when "Games Without Frontiers" took off in the UK and started getting airplay in the US. At that point Gabriel wanted nothing to do with Atlantic, and let Mercury Records distribute the album in America.[6]

The song's title refers to Jeux Sans Frontières, a long-running TV show broadcast in several European countries. Teams representing a town or city in one of the participating countries would compete in games of skill, often while dressed in bizarre costumes. While some games were simple races, others allowed one team to obstruct another. The British version was titled It's a Knockout—words that Gabriel mentions in the lyrics.[7]

"It seemed to have several layers to it", Gabriel observed. "I just began playing in a somewhat light-hearted fashion – 'Hans and Lottie ...' – so it looked, on the surface, as just kids. The names themselves are meaningless, but they do have certain associations with them. So it's almost like a little kids' activity room. Underneath that, you have the TV programme [and the] sort of nationalism, territorialism, competitiveness that underlies all that assembly of jolly people."[8]

The lyrics "Adolf builds a bonfire/Enrico plays with it" echo lines from Evelyn Waugh's V-J Day diary ("Randolph built a bonfire and Auberon fell into it").[9]

Musically, "Games Without Frontiers" opens with a sliding guitar line followed by a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion and synth bass. Additional guitar figures enter with Kate Bush's vocals. These elements create the "dark sonic environment" as described by AllMusic reviewer Steve Huey.[4] Following the final chorus, the song segues into a percussion breakdown punctuated by synth and guitar effects.[10]

Gabriel's 1991 performance of the song from the Netherlands was beamed via satellite to Wembley Arena in England as part of "The Simple Truth" concert for Kurdish refugees.


The album version includes the line "Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle" after the second verse and before the second chorus.[11] This was replaced for the single with a more radio-friendly repeat of the line "Whistling tunes we're kissing baboons in the jungle" from the first chorus.

The BBC also censored the video, resulting in two versions being released; one omitting the children seated around the table.[12] "This, they thought, was a reference to my sexual preferences", Gabriel marvelled, "which was something that hadn't really occurred to me. At the time of shooting it, we were aware that that sort of thing might not go down well at the Beeb. And we deliberately shot it – to our eyes, anyway – that there wouldn't be anything which could be misinterpreted. But there were scenes also with dolls ... cheap little Japanese babies. I bought fifty of these things, and they were marching across the floor while I was kneeling in front of them. For some reason, that was also seen as obscene there [at the BBC] – and, to this day, I don't fully understand why. I think they have perhaps a more fertile imagination than I have."[8] In place of these scenes, the BBC version of the music video uses both additional stock footage of athletes and elaborate scenes of people moving around in patterns and shapes.[13] Currently,[when?] this is the only version of the video available on Gabriel's official YouTube channel.


Chart performanceEdit

"Games Without Frontiers" reached the top 10 in Canada and the United Kingdom. In spite of the song's very modest chart showing in the US, it did quite well in Chicago, where it spent two weeks at number five on the survey of superstation WLS-AM[14] and ranked at No. 87 for the year.[15]

In other worksEdit

"Games Without Frontiers" was licensed as the title music for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC computer game The Race Against Time,[23] which in turn was the official game of the charity event Sport Aid '88.

The Thirteenth Winter X Games introduced Gabriel's and Lord Jamar's remix of the song, redubbed "X Games Without Frontiers", which became the theme for subsequent games.[24]

"Games Without Frontiers" played over the closing montage of the 2013 season one finale of the television series The Americans, titled "The Colonel".

In 2013, the song was covered by Arcade Fire as part of the compilation album And I'll Scratch Yours.


  1. ^ "Games Without Frontiers".
  2. ^ "Top 100 Albums of the Eighties". December 2015.
  3. ^ "Peter Gabriel: Released 22nd May, 1980". 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Games Without Frontiers". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers". Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  6. ^ Pond, Steve (29 January 1987). "Peter Gabriel Hits the Big Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Games Without Frontiers is back on Channel 5". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  8. ^ a b Capital Radio interview with Nicky Horne, broadcast 16 March 1980; transcribed in Gabriel fanzine White Shadow (no. 1, pp. 9-10), by editor Fred Tomsett
  9. ^ "Waugh's V-J Day | The Evelyn Waugh Society".
  10. ^ Marsh, Dave (26 July 2001). "Peter Gabriel [3]". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  11. ^ Gabriel, Peter (2014) [1980]. "The official Games Without Frontiers video (includes lyrics)". Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  12. ^ Hewitt, Alan (2000). Opening the Musical Box: A Genesis Chronicle. Firefly. p. 142. ISBN 9780946719303. censored by the BBC because of its use of children's dolls
  13. ^ Gabriel, Peter (3 May 2012). "Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers". YouTube. Real World Records. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  14. ^ "wls091380".
  15. ^ "wls89of80".
  16. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. p. 120. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  17. ^ "Item Display – RPM". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 25 October 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  18. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Games Without Frontiers". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  19. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 219. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  20. ^ "Peter Gabriel Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  21. ^ "Item Display – RPM". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 25 April 2016. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  22. ^ "UK Singles of the Year" (PDF). Record Mirror. London: Spotlight Publications. 27 December 1980. p. 30. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  23. ^ "The Race Against Time (1988, Code Masters)". 16 November 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2016 – via YouTube.
  24. ^ "EventMedia". ESPN. 23 January 2009. Archived from the original on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012.

External linksEdit