Seminal Single: Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers

Charisma | UK | 7" | 1980 | CB 354

Charisma | UK | 7″ | 1980 | CB 354

Peter Gabriel: Games Without Frontiers UK 7″ [1980]

  1. Games Without Frontiers
  2. Start
  3. I Don’t Remember [alt. ver.]

By the time of Peter Gabriel’s third eponymous album in 1980, I was primed and ready for it. I had first been exposed to his second album in 1978 with exposure to the magnificent tracks “D.I.Y.” and “On The Air.” I remember even the local meatball “FM Rock” stations played “Games Without Frontiers” on its release; oblivious to the fact that after his first album, Gabriel had switched his spots from Prog Rock to Art Rock, which by 1980, basically meant New Wave [albeit played very, very well]. I bought that third album and my mind, she was blown. It was the album of 1980 for me, in what was already a very awesome year with albums by Roxy Music, David Bowie, Gary Numan and with albums to come by John Foxx and Ultravox that would also stand as high water marks.

The Roland CR-78 that kicks the song off is abetted by cowbell and David Rhodes’ plaintive guitar figure that wends rhythmically through the song. Kate Bush’s French b-vox and Larry Fast’s bass synth add admirable top and bottom end to the track. The insect percussion that maneuvers adroitly through the arrangement gives Jerry Marotta plenty to do. The instrumental break at the coda is magnificent. Gabriel fielded an incredible left-field near-hit, that while it never ascended to the top of the charts like “Sledgehammer,” raised his profile commercially to an astonishing degree for such a complex and rewarding piece of music.

The B-sides to this British single awaited me over 20 years later as I awoke to the need to compile PG rarities into a BSOG by 2001. The version of “Start” on the flipside of this 7″ is the album version as rendered by Fast and Gabriel on synths with a generous portion of creamily MOR Dick Morrissey sax over the top of their unsettling synths. I love the way the last sax notes turn like the curdled synths beneath to indicate that something is amiss as the track segues into “I Don’t Remember.” But this isn’t your father’s “I Don’t Remember.”

The version on this 7″ is an alternate recording as produced by Peter Gabriel and Stephen W. Tayler! As I live and breathe, the Prog Goes New Wave noose gets tight enough to snap a neck on this track! Tayler is better known as Rupert Hine’s right hand engineer and I just found this out before typing. The juxtaposition of the familiar “Start” with this radically different take of “I Don’t Remember” is jarring to me. Part of what I love so much about “Start/I Don’t Remeber” on the LP is the radical shift from the MOR of the sax playing to the chaotic insanity of “I Don’t Remember.” The LP version has Gabriel’s unhinged expression vocals in the intro that convey mad abandon. This 7″ recording is presumably a demo that was expounded on later in the studio with producer Steve Lillywhite.

This version began with Tony Levin’s Chapman Stick bassline [very similar to the song as played live] but the arrangement here was much tighter with almost no time to build mood before the song begins in earnest. Gabriel eschews vocal dramatics and opts for a buttoned-down delivery bereft of expression vocals. The stretched-past-the-breaking-point aspect of the LP cut is upended here for an introverted-English-civil-servant articulation. I prefer the LP version, but for radically different version kicks, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than this. Finding alternate versions this different is truly a gift.

David Rhodes’ guitar is far more polite here with none of the crunchy distortion of the more familiar album version. Fripp still sounds reptilian but the juxtaposition of Rhodes’ clean picking with Fripp’s vacuum hose squeals is more polite than I’m used to. The cold ending is likewise very “showbiz” on this much shorter version of “I Don’t Remember.” Missing is the queasy, rhythmic synth churn coda with whispered asides that distinguish the LP cut.

With this single, Peter Gabriel ascended to the inner circle of my core collection, where he’d stay for the next five years. The arrival of the tepid “So” album in 1986 opened a door, and everything else that has happened with Gabriel has seen me walk through that door and out of the temple of Gabriel worship. For me it’s the ’77-’84 period that stands as his high water mark.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to Seminal Single: Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers

  1. Echorich says:

    I’ve heard the b-side version of I don’t remember and did find it curiously less thrilling. The album version is by far my favorite track on PG-3.
    My fave part of this post Monk is your description of Art Rock by 1980 being basically New Wave played very well. This is so true and defines my differentiation of Art & Prog. Art Rock has always seemed the more porous genre. Prog has always felt very brick lined to me creating barriers to it evolution.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Well stated! To this day “Start/I Don’t Remember” is my go-to PG track. It doesn’t get much more exciting that that. Prog is escapist; lose yourself in technique and fantasy. Art Rock is a much more varied beast. It is capable of dramatic confrontation, which would never occur to Prog Minds.

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  2. I met Larry Fast at a Macworld quite some years after this record and told me of the impact it and other examples of his work had had on me, he was genuinely surprised and pleased to know that his contributions were noted behind the shadow of stars like PG. That whole record is a mind-blower, and the transformation from the first to the third PG solo album is a Peter Jackson-esque quest movie from Prog to Art that rivals the journey from the Shire to Mordor IMO.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Tsk Tsk! Invoking fantasy is a definite Prog tendency! Didn’t you read my last comment to Echorich? Yes, Larry Fast is a gentleman and scholar. I had a nice email exchange with him a few years ago. Memo to self: see what Fast is up to currently!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – I just heard back from Stephen W. Tayler and he had just dug out that PG 7″ himself. People like Tayler and Fast are invaluable to the Rupert Hines and Peter Gabriels of the world. I was “well chuffed” to discover the Hine/Gabriel link was Tayler himself as I always thought there should be one.

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