Monday, September 6, 2010

If looks could kill, they probably will

Words cannot express how much I love this song...

I recently thought of the line used as today's blog post title, whilst considering the hopelessness of the current political climate... THEN I realized the song came out in 1980, when the Right took over the last time.

And by the way--it isn't "she is so funky-hey!" It's French, you uncultured louts!: Jeux sans frontières (games without frontiers)

From Wikipedia:

The song's title comes from a European game show, Jeux Sans Frontières, that featured teams competing for prizes while dressed in bizarre costumes. The British version of the show was called It's a Knockout, a phrase that also appears in the song. The teams represented towns and cities from each country, so the games had an inevitable element of nationalism. While some games were simple races, others allowed one team to obstruct another.

The lyrics are seen as a critique of nationalism and war, which the song portrays as essentially childish. The tag line of the song, "Games without frontiers, war without tears" is a comment on the sublimation of the rivalries within Europe, caused by centuries of war, in a meaningless game.

The name Lin Tai Yu, which appears in the song, belongs to a character from the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber.

Chiang Ching, another name mentioned, refers either to the wife of Chairman Mao and a leader of the Cultural Revolution or to Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, who was president of Taiwan at the time the song was written.

The end of the first verse refers to Hitler and Enrico Fermi: "Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Brit; Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it." Hitler started World War II in Europe, while Fermi's nuclear reactor enabled the nuclear weapons which ended the war in Japan. Additionally, Sacha is a Russian nickname for Alexandr, while Brit refers to Great Britain which allied with Russia during WWII.

The album version of the song includes the line "Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle" before the second chorus.[2] 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 whistling is Gabriel along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.
The "piss on the goons" remark was also a criticism of European imperialism in Africa, so I was sorry to see it change for radio. (This version is intact, from the original album, not the single.)

Aside: I think it always sounds extremely cool and poetic when names of TV shows are in songs... I had no idea the line "It's a knockout" was the title of a TV show, and the song actually sounds far better if you DON'T know. Likewise, I was disappointed to learn "Meet the wife" was a TV show title, from the Beatles song "Good Morning" ("It's time for tea and meet the wife")--because it sounds fabulous and terribly poetic without knowing that!

Similarly, a young friend of mine didn't know the reference to "Beat the Clock" (50s game show) in Jackson Browne's "Boulevard" and liked the line better ("The kids in shock up and down the block/The folks are home playing beat the clock") without knowing, and was disappointed Browne didn't write the line himself.


Games Without Frontiers - Peter Gabriel


JoJo said...

I love love love Games Without Frontiers! My bff Holly thought he was singing "She's so popular!" lol

I remember "Beat the Clock"! I remember seeing it in black and white, then colour for it's last couple of years.

D. said...

I heard it as "schizo funky yeh," and I don't remember when I learned it was a literal translation.

The other info was fascinating; the song sort of works as a silly kid's song, but knowing who the names are moves it up a notch.

Bryde said...

The man's a genius.

Sevesteen said...

I saw Peter Gabriel in the early 80's when Shock the Monkey was current. Simple set, no elaborate costumes, but a fantastic concert despite the less than sellout crowd. (He had the misfortune to be here the week after one of the more popular acts that ever played the area) No opening act, and the band came through the front doors with a marching band bass drum, walked through the crowd and climbed up on stage.