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. The song's lyrics are interpreted as a commentary on war and international diplomacy being like children's games. 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"|
|Single by Peter Gabriel|
|from the album Peter Gabriel (Melt)|
|B-side||"Start/I Don't Remember" (UK), "Lead a Normal Life" (US)|
|Released||4 February 1980 (UK) |
|Genre||Art rock, new wave|
|Length||4:05 (album version)|
3:47 (single edit version)
|Peter Gabriel singles chronology|
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".
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.
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.
"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."
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. Following the final chorus, the song segues into a percussion breakdown punctuated by synth and guitar effects.
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. 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. "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." 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. Currently,[when?] this is the only version of the video available on Gabriel's official YouTube channel.
"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 and ranked at No. 87 for the year.
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, which in turn was the official game of the charity event Sport Aid '88.
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censored by the BBC because of its use of children's dolls
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