Thursday, February 6, 2020

Peter Gabriel's goes dark on his first UK Top 10 hit

Peter Gabriel : Games Without Frontiers

On February 6, 1980 Peter Gabriel's new single "Games Without Frontier" was enjoying its first week in the UK charts at #48. It would peak at UK#4 but despite heavy radio play never get beyond #48 in the United States. I remember the first time I heard the song with its shimmering synthesizers and synthesized bass, wondering whether it was the new Gary Numan single. 

The title of the song is inspired by a French game show called Jeux Sans Frontières, which is the phrase Kate Bush is singing at the beginning of the song ( not "She's So Popular" as I've thought for nearly 40 years). The show pitted neighborhood against neighborhood and was duplicated in Great Britain on a show called It's A Knockout ( another phrase Gabriel sings).

The song begins innocently enough with a list of children playing each other, but the names of the children start to sound uncomfortably familiar: "Adolf builds a bonfire/ Enrico plays with it". There's menace throughout , culminating with the chorus “If looks could kill, they probably will/In games without frontiers/War without tears.”

Around the time of its release Gabriel said:

 It seemed to have several layers to it. 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 program [and the] sort of nationalism, territorialism, competitiveness that underlies all that assembly of jolly people.

The single was released three months before Gabriel's third album, known by fans as Melt.The track features Jerry Marotta on drums and percussion, David Rhodes on guitar, Peter Gabriel and Larry Fast on synth and synth bass and Kate Bush on backing vocals. Whistles come courtesy of Steve Lillywhite, Hugh Padgham and Peter.

Storm Thorgerson explains how he got the Melt effect on the cover of the single:

We used ordinary Polaroids (after Les Krims) and if one pushes around the developing picture sandwiched between two bits of plastic with a blunt instrument like the end of a pencil the image is then smeared as it develops. Since this procedure is dead easy we did it loads of times along with Peter Gabriel in disfiguring himself by manipulating Polaroids as they ‘developed’. Peter impressed us greatly with his ability to appear in an unflattering way, preferring the theatrical or artistic to the cosmetic. Because we couldn’t decide on a favourite, for they were all great fun, we used lots”

No comments:

Post a Comment