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"Games Without Frontiers" is a hit 1980 single written, composed, and recorded by British artist Peter Gabriel, released on his self-titled third solo album, which was also called Melt. It features Kate Bush on backing vocals (as would his later "Don't Give Up", which they recorded and released as a duet) and became his first Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at No.4. It ties with 1986's Sledgehammer as his highest-charting song in the UK; it peaked at No.48 in the United States. The B-side to the single was two tracks combined into one: "Start" and "I Don't Remember".[1]

"Games Without Frontiers" was also officially licensed as the title music for the Commodore 64ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC computer game, The Race Against Time [2] which, in turn, was the official game of the charity event Sport Aid '88

Title and lyrics[edit source | editbeta][]

The song's title comes from (and is the English translation of the original French title of) a European game show, Jeux Sans Frontières, that featured teams competing for prizes in outlandish games of skill while frequently dressed in bizarre costumes. (The phrase "jeux sans frontières" is repeated frequently in the lyrics, and has often been mis-heard, or mondegreened, by listeners as "she's so popular" due to an incorrect pronunciation of the French word "jeux".[3]) The British version of the show was called It's A Knockout, a phrase that also appears in the song. The teams represented towns and cities from each country, so the games had an inevitable element of nationalism. While some games were simple races, others allowed one team to obstruct another.

The lyrics are seen as a critique of nationalism and war, both of which the song portrays as essentially childish and silly. The tag line of the song, "Games without frontiers, war without tears" is a comment on the sublimation of the rivalries within Europe, caused by centuries of war, in a meaningless and stupid game.

The name Lin Tai Yu, which appears in the song, is that of a character from the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber.

Chiang Ching, another name mentioned, refers either to the wife of Chairman Mao and a leader of China's Cultural Revolution or to Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, the President of China before the communist revolution, who continued to lead an anti-communist government in Taiwan at the time that the song was written.

The end of the first verse refers to German dictator Adolf Hitler, and physicist Enrico Fermi: "Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt; Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it." It was Germany's invasion of Poland under Hitler that triggered the Second World War in 1939, while Fermi's nuclear reactor enabled the development of nuclear weapons by the United States. Additionally, Sacha is a Russian nickname for Alexander, while Britt refers to the United Kingdom (also known informally simply as "Britain"), which allied with the Soviet Union (often referred to informally as "Russia" throughout its existence).

The album version of the song includes the line "Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle" after the second verse and before the second chorus.[4] This was replaced for the single release 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 and removed the words "we piss on the goons in the jungle".[5] The whistling is performed by Gabriel himself, along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.

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.[6]

The song also appeared in the season one finale of the TV series The Americans (episode 13, "The Colonel"), playing over the end of the episode.

Personnel[edit source | editbeta][]

Music[edit source | editbeta][]

This song features the PAiA Electronics Programmable Drum Set, widely considered the first programmable drum machine. (It is not the Roland CR-78, used by many of Gabriel's former Genesis bandmates on both Genesis and solo albums.) It also features the Moog Model 15 small analog modular system for many of the synthesizer sounds and was one of the first singles to feature the Fairlight CMI sampler, of which Gabriel was an early exponent. A Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 polyphonic synthesiser is also said to have featured on the song.

Track listing[edit source | editbeta][]

Single[edit source | editbeta][]

English version

7" UK single (1980)

  1. "Games Without Frontiers"
  2. "Start/I Don't Remember" (non-album version—alternate recording)

7" US & Canadian single (1980)

  1. "Games Without Frontiers" (3:47)
  2. "Lead A Normal Life" (3:42)

7" US single (1980)

  1. "Games Without Frontiers (Mono)" (3:45)
  2. "Games Without Frontiers (Stereo)" (3:45)

12" UK single (1983)

  1. "Games Without Frontiers"
  2. "Schnappschuss (Ein Familienfoto)"

German version

7" German single (1980)

  1. "Spiel Ohne Grenzen (Games Without Frontiers)" (4:07)
  2. "Jetzt Kommt Die Flut (Here Comes The Flood)" (4:57)