Games Without Frontiers (song)

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"Games Without Frontiers"
Single by Peter Gabriel
from the album Peter Gabriel
B-side "Start/I Don't Remember" (UK), "Lead A Normal Life" (USA)
Released 9 February 1980
Format 7"
Recorded 1979
Genre Progressive rock, new wave
Length 4:05
Label Charisma
Writer(s) Peter Gabriel
Producer(s) Steve Lillywhite
Peter Gabriel singles chronology
"Games Without Frontiers"
"I Don't Remember"

"Games Without Frontiers" is a 1980 song written, composed, and recorded by British singer Peter Gabriel. It was released on his 1980 self-titled solo album and features Kate Bush on backing vocals.

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. 48 in the United States. The B-side to the single was two tracks combined into one: "Start" and "I Don't Remember".[1]

Title and lyrics[edit]

The song's title refers to a long-running TV show in the 1960s and 1970s, broadcast in several European countries, in which teams of residents representing a town or city in one of the participating countries would compete on an outdoor track of games of skill while frequently 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, which Gabriel references in the lyrics.

Meaning of the lyrics[2] themselves are an allegory of the childish antics of adults, which is especially prevalent when their countries are competing in the Olympics. Gabriel wrote this before the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980. This reinforced the theme of adults acting like children over the Olympics. Kate Bush sang backup - that's her singing "Jeux Sans Fronteires."

This was Gabriel's first UK Top 10 as a solo artist. It had an interesting impact on his American distribution: Gabriel's first two solo albums were distributed in America 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 States. At this point, Gabriel wanted nothing to do with Atlantic and let Mercury Records distribute the album in America. The whistling is Gabriel along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham. In 1991, Gabriel's performance of this from Holland was beamed to Wembley Stadium in England as part of "The Simple Truth" concert for Kurdish refugees. The video includes film clips of Olympic events and scenes from the 1950 educational film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct school kids on what to do in case of nuclear attack. (thanks, Patrick - Conyers, GA) Part of the song goes: "Andre has a red flag/ Chiang Ching's is blue/They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu.

Andre refers to Andre Malraux (1901-1976) the French statesman and author of the book Man's Fate, about the 1920s communist regime in Shanghai. Red flag refers to Malraux's leftist politics. Chiang Ching refers to Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists - hence, the rightwing Blue Flag. Chiang's forces lost the civil war in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile.

Lin Tai Yu may be Nguyen Thieu (1923-2001), South Vietnamese president during the height of the Vietnam War. After the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, England, and later to the United States where he died in exile.

The lyric refers to the fact that while leftist politicians like Andre Malraux had a secure position in France, and rightist leaders like Chiang Kai Shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those caught in the middle like Nguyen Thieu were pawns in the Cold war and had no secure country. This could also be a reproach to either Thieu or his United States backers, saying that he was now a nobody.

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.[3] 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".[4] The whistling is performed by Gabriel himself, along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.



The 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 proponent. A Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 polyphonic synthesiser is also said to have featured on the song.

Track listing[edit]


English version[edit]

7-inch UK single (1980)

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

7" US and 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[edit]

7-inch German single (1980)

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

In other works[edit]

"Games Without Frontiers" was licensed as the title music for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC computer game The Race Against Time,[5] 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.[6]

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


  1. ^ "Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers". Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Gabriel, Peter. "Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers - The official Games Without Frontiers video. (includes lyrics)". Retrieved 11 May 2014. 
  4. ^ 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" 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Eventmedia". 2009-01-23. Retrieved 2012-01-06.