The former lead singer and founder of Genesis, Peter Gabriel had been solo since 1976/77. I’d been alerted to him in my childish way, by his 1977 single, Solsbury Hill and also 1980’s Games Without Frontiers.
By 1986 he’d had a further 5 singles – amongst them Biko, but none entered the higher reaches of the UK Singles Chart (I was unaware of Biko until I watched 1987’s Cry Freedom). However, by 1986 MTV was becoming a powerful force, as were music videos generally, so the visual impact of Sledgehammer assisted its undoubted musical virtues to lift it to number 4 in the chart.
Backed by Don’t Break This Rhythm it released in the w/e 26th April 1986 and soon entered the top ten. It was a perennial of the top ten throughout May and June, and I bought it on 6th June. It is claimed that ‘the lyrics are a mosaic of sexual innuendos’ and whilst there are references to bees, pollination, fruit, steam trains, bumper cars and the like, I suppose that it’s only there if you want to see it. Having said that, check the video out below.
As I was only 10 in 1980, there would have been no way that I could have bought the original single, so as you can see, I cheated with this one!
The original track was released in 1980 and was taken from Gabriel’s eponymous solo album. The song recounts a series of games between a group of children. It is clear that they are not all playing altogether nicely – a series of arguments and alliances is reported. Perhaps the most obvious sign that this is an anti-war song is the line about the child Adolf…
Then there is the reference to the extremely popular pan European TV show of the late 70s / early 80s – Jeux Sans Frontières, which, of course, the title of the track is a literal translation. Gabriel even references the domestic UK vesion, It’s A Knockout.
In a precursor to their 1986 collaboration, Kate Bush sings backing vocals – listen out for the repeated refrain of “Jeux Sans Frontières” especially.
It is perhaps forgotten but Games’ is Gabriel’s joint top performing track in terms of UK chart singles position. Along with 1986’s Sledgehammer, it made number 4 in the chart.