Articles by Jim Connelly

Jim Connelly has been eye-deep in media of all kinds ever since he can remember, and probably prior to that. Over the past quarter-century he has worked in the radio, film, music, and internet industries, and has been writing about popular culture and technology the entire time. Prior to co-founding Medialoper, Jim's work appeared both online and off in publications such as Wired, The Village Voice, Neumu and Websight Magazine . . . Jim at Facebook . . . Jim on Twitter . . .

Certain Songs #1542: Peter Gabriel – “Games Without Frontiers”

Album: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1980

. . .

It probably goes to my age that two of the running subplots of Certain Songs are 1960s/1970s songs about SPACE! and 1980s songs about nuclear destruction, the latter of which “Games Without Frontiers” is an absolutely stellar example.

Featuring spooky guitar and synth noises, a disjointed but steady drum beat, “Games Without Frontiers” opens with a Kate Bush-sung hook that I misheard for, well, decades really. I can’t remember if there was a lyric sheet on my copy of Peter Gabriel, but what I’ve heard her sing was:

She’s so pop-u-lar
She’s so pop-u-lar
She’s so pop-u-lar
She’s so pop-u-lar

When in reality, she was actually chanting:

Jeux sans fron-ti-ères
Jeux sans fron-ti-ères
Jeux sans fron-ti-ères
Jeux sans fron-ti-ères

I mean, I don’t speak French, and I’d never heard of Jeux Sans Frontières, the TV show that inspired the song (and was called It’s a Knockout in the U.K.) and Kate Bush’s vocals are kinda wispy and backgrounded against the ever-changing synth weirdness.

And I can’t be the only one who misheard this: it’s even referenced on the song’s Genius page.

But of course, none of that would matter if “Games Without Frontiers” wasn’t a near-perfect combination of hooks, weirdness and apocalyptic. So while the verses warn about nationalism and the abstracting of your enemies into easily-dismissed stereotypes, the pre-chorus is what catches your ears.

Whistling tunes, we hide in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes, we piss on the goons in the jungle
It’s a knockout!

With Gabriel, producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padham providing one of the greatest whistling hooks in all of popular music — maybe Otis Redding at the end of “Dock of the Bay” or Peter Wolf at the end of “Centerfold” beat it — that plays almost like a synthesizer riff (and continues on even after Gabriel starts singing the pre-chorus), it’s so brutal, brilliant and staggering, it almost makes the actual chorus seem like an afterthought.

Almost. Because it’s pretty fucking chilling itself.

If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers, war without tears
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers, war without tears
Games without frontiers, war without tears

It all adds up to one of the greatest singles of the post-punk era, and was Gabriel’s biggest single to date, making it to #4 in the U.K., and, er #48 here in the U.S. And while he would have bigger singles — “Sledgehammer” was deservedly a world-wide top 10 and even topped the U.S. charts — I don’t think he ever made a better one.

“Games Without Frontiers”

“Games Without Frontiers” official video

“Games Without Frontiers” original video

“Games Without Frontiers” performed live in 1987

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Certain Songs #1541: Peter Gabriel – “And Through The Wire”

Album: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1980

. . .

I find it extremely weird that I’m doing so many Peter Gabriel songs, because I really don’t consider myself that big of a Peter Gabriel fan. And I think that’s because — unlike Peters Case & Yorn — he never made an album that I loved start-to-finish, but rather, it was always individual songs of his that always slayed me. That said, the closest he came for me was his third album, 1980’s Peter Gabriel, the follow-up to 1978’s Peter Gabriel.

As he crashed into the 1980s, Peter Gabriel decided to augment his third album with younger musicians who mixed with the expected older guard. So while you still had Robert Fripp & Tony Levin show up, as well a guy named Phil Collins on the drums, he also had Kate Bush singing, and Dave Gregory from XTC — who were also recording Drums and Wires with producer Steve Lillywhite — play some guitar.

Oh, and weirdest of all, Paul Weller playing guitar on my favorite track from the album, “And Through The Wire,” another of those songs where Gabriel leads with the chorus.

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Certain Songs #1540: Peter Gabriel – “D.I.Y.”

Album: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1978

. . .

While Peter Gabriel’s second album, 1978’s Peter Gabriel wasn’t quite as commercially or critically successful as his debut, Peter Gabriel, or one that came next, 1980’s Peter Gabriel, it started incredibly well.

The opener, “On The Air,” featured the roaring guitar of producer Robert Fripp battling against the keyboards of E-Streeter Roy Bittan, but was instantly topped by one of my all-time fave Gabriel tracks, the statement of purpose “D.I.Y,” which featured neither of those people.

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Certain Songs #1539: Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill”

Album: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1977

. . .

First, a little housekeeping. As you probably know, Peter Gabriel out Led Zeppelined Led Zeppelin by naming all four of his first solo albums Peter Gabriel, only finally acquiescing to Geffen in the U.S. to allow the fourth one to be sub-titled Security, which no doubt helped the album sales when “Shock The Monkey” became a big MTV song in 1982.

And since then, fans have retconned the album titles of the albums as I, II, II and IV or — based on the album covers (and Geffen’s Geffening) — Car, Scratch, Melt and Security.

As a casual fan of Mr. Gabriel, I’m having none of that bullshit. The first four Peter Gabriel albums — from which three will have posts in the next few days — are as follows: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel.

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Certain Songs #1538: Peter Frampton – “Do You Feel Like We Do? (Live)”

Album: Frampton Comes Alive!
Year: 1976

. . .

The popularity of most the biggest artists of the 1970s still makes sense today. Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, Donna Summer, Fleetwood Mac, the Bee Gees, hell even Kiss are understandable. You can see why they were big in the 1970s, especially since the music still resonates all these years later.

(Audience cheers)

Not so much Frampton Comes Alive!, which totally and owned 1976. Not only was it the best-selling album of that year, it was #1 for 10 weeks, over a period of six months — starting in April and ending in October — where it would get knocked off for a couple of weeks or even months at a time, but eventually claim the top spot until Songs in the Key of Life finally knocked it from the top spot for good.

(Audience cheers)

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