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. 7 in Canada, but only 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 Jeux Sans Frontières, a long-running TV show broadcast in several European countries, in which teams of residents representing a town or city in one of the participating countries would compete in 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. The lyrics[2] themselves are an allegory of the childish antics of adults.

The song was Gabriel's first UK Top 10 as a solo artist. Gabriel's first two solo albums were distributed in the U.S. 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 U.S. At this point, Gabriel wanted nothing to do with Atlantic and let Mercury Records distribute the album in America.

The track features Kate Bush on backing vocals.[3] The whistling is performed by Gabriel, along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.

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 U.S. school children on what to do in case of nuclear attack. Such forlorn imagery tends to reinforce the song's antiwar theme.

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.[5]

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



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.

Chart performance[edit]

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,[14] 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.[15]

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.