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".
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The song's title and lyrics refer 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.
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.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". The whistling is performed by Gabriel himself, along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.
- Peter Gabriel – vocals, synth, whistles
- David Rhodes – guitar
- Jerry Marotta – drums, percussion
- Larry Fast – synth, synth bass
- Kate Bush – backing vocals
- Steve Lillywhite – whistles
- Hugh Padgham – whistles
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 Genesisbandmates 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 CMIsampler, of which Gabriel was an early exponent. A Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 polyphonic synthesiser is also said to have featured on the song.
7" UK single (1980)
- "Games Without Frontiers"
- "Start/I Don't Remember" (non-album version—alternate recording)
7" US & Canadian single (1980)
- "Games Without Frontiers" (3:47)
- "Lead A Normal Life" (3:42)
7" US single (1980)
- "Games Without Frontiers (Mono)" (3:45)
- "Games Without Frontiers (Stereo)" (3:45)
12" UK single (1983)
- "Games Without Frontiers"
- "Schnappschuss (Ein Familienfoto)"
7" German single (1980)
- "Spiel Ohne Grenzen (Games Without Frontiers)" (4:07)
- "Jetzt Kommt Die Flut (Here Comes The Flood)" (4:57)
"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.
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.