Spectrum references in popular music

This is a list of musicians and bands who have included Sinclair Spectrum references in their commercially-released music, artwork, or lyrics. Short clips of the music are included, where possible.

Aphex Twin

Richard D James Album: Corn Mouth Listen contains the loading noise from the attribute block of the loading screen Listen from Sabre Wulf by Ultimate. A short tone can be heard after the attribute block. Matt Westcott suggests that this tone was generated by Keysoft's tape copying program, The Key, in which case the game was a pirated copy!

Richard D James Album: Peek 824545201 starts with loading noise Listen that seems to be a Speedlock-protected header block from Starstrike 3D by Realtime Software. (The filename bytes spell STARSTRIKE RND, but I'm not aware of any version of the game that's protected with Speedlock.) There is further loading noise throughout the track Listen , presumably from the same source. PEEK is a Spectrum BASIC keyword that retrieves a byte from memory, but the number in the title is not a valid memory address.

Girl/Boy EP front cover Girl/Boy EP back cover

Girl/Boy EP: This 12" single and corresponding CD release have the track titles spelled out in Spectrum 48K rubber keys (note the $ key in INKEY$, which is an edited 4 key), and there is something like the Spectrum rainbow stripe across the top right-hand corner. The track called INKEY$ is named after a Spectrum BASIC keyword that checks what key is being pressed.

Drukqs: Aphex Twin is written on the CD itself in Sinclair ZX81 rubber keys — not technically a Spectrum reference, but worth a mention. The sound at 2'38 in Taking Control could also be loading noise, but it's out by about a semitone.

Aphex Twin is also credited with background sounds for the TV show CSI: Miami. The episode Bunk (season 1 episode 13) has a scene in which the characters use an XRF spectrometer to analyse a suspect's shirt — but the electronic background noises Listen are actually Spectrum loading noise, the same segment used in Corn Mouth (see above).


(Unknown release): Fascinating Rhythm is said to contain a sample from the game Penetrator by Melbourne House.


Return to the Last Chance Saloon: Jub-Jub Bird has Spectrum loading noise in the background, starting at approximately 2'30. The source of the loading noise is not known.

Credit to the Nation

(Unknown release): Sowing the Seeds of Hatred is said to contain a looped section of Spectrum loading noise. The source of the loading noise is not known.

Darkspell Records

Kampfansage Projekt Hardcore: This vinyl collaboration, released in 2009 on the German label Darkspell Records, features a chiptune techno track by "Spectrum of Terror" (a.k.a. demosceners Yerzmyey and Moran).

Goldie Lookin Chain

Half Man Half Machine / Self Suicide: Half Man Half Machine opens with some dialogue, in which a drug-addled Eggsy wraps himself in tinfoil and declares, Listen "I am a robot. I have interfaced with my Spectrum." The chorus Listen includes: "Binatone, Spectrum, Pac-Man, Commodore; ZX81, Donkey Kong, fucking high score." The ZX81 was the forerunner to the Spectrum.


Spectrum: Manic Minor Listen consists entirely of rearranged Spectrum loading noise accompanied by drums. The source of the loading noise is unconfirmed, but presumably it's from Manic Miner by Software Projects, an early platform game. Of course, the album title is also a Spectrum reference!


They Were Wrong, So We Drowned: There's Always Room on the Broom Listen appears to contain some Spectrum loading noise.

MJ Hibbett and the Validators

Say It With Words: Hey Hey 16K Listen is a nostalgic song about growing up with early home computers. All of the games and BASIC keywords mentioned in the lyrics relate to the Spectrum. One version begins with a short block of loading noise, which is the BASIC loader for an unknown chess program. There's also a Flash animation by Rob Manuel.

This Is Not a Library: The online sampler reveals many Spectrum influences, with a loading screen for a splash page, an Ultimate-style title menu for a track listing, and a fake system reset (with the message © 2003 ARTISTS AGAINST SUCCESS) when you follow the "buy the album" link. The album itself has a PC-runnable data section, Futuristic Multimedia, which includes a display of Spectrum loading stripes and a Manic Miner-style animated logo, accompanied by an audio clip Listen (originally part of a bonus track for an unreleased single) with vocals and Spectrum loading noise.


The Magic Treehouse front cover Million Suns front cover The Magic Treehouse inside inlay

The Magic Treehouse: The Spectrum rainbow stripe appears at the bottom right-hand corner of the album cover, and also in the same place on the Million Suns EP from that album. The track listing inside the album is presented as a Spectrum BASIC program.

Blossoms Falling front cover

The Story So Far: 13 Listen contains the line: "I was always alone with my telescope, Spectrum Spectrum, machine code machine code, Z80A." Co-songwriter Danny Popplewell explains, "13 is about . . . the good old days while my mind was full of the purer things in life (spaceships, telescopes and my ZX Spectrum computer). . . . I'm also glad to have slipped in 'Z80A' — the machine code language for the ZX Spectrum, which I tried and failed to teach myself one summer." The track can also be found on the Blossoms Falling single, whose inlay has the Spectrum rainbow stripe on both sides and on the trousers of a figure on the back.

Plastic Raygun

Spectrum EP record and sleeve

Spectrum EP: This 12" record, released in 1998 on the Plastic Raygun label, featured tracks by various artists. The sleeve and label include Sinclair rainbow stripes, a picture of a 48K Spectrum ("the one I had as a kid — I found it in my parents' loft," says label founder Matthew Lewis), and the word Plastic in something like the rectangular Sinclair logo font. There was also a Spectrum game recorded on the B side, which Lewis adds "was often used by DJs to scratch with". The game was written by Andrew Owen and also submitted to the comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition 2000.


OK Computer: Some people hypothesise that the album title was inspired by the Spectrum's success report, 0 OK, 0:1. Green Plastic claims that the noises at the end of Let Down were "created by ZX Spectrum computers, which all the members of Radiohead owned in the 1970s", but this must be at least partially false: the Spectrum did not exist until 1982.

Richy Pitch

Ye Fre Mi Richy Pitch: The single Blackstar, a rap about a Ghanaian MC's rise to stardom, has a four-and-a-half-minute music video done entirely in the style of a Spectrum game, including a loading sequence. Some sprites from actual games, such as Bomb Jack and Robot Messiah, make an appearance.


Schmoof have used a Spectrum+ to produce visual effects at their live shows. Juice has photographic evidence! His photos are from a gig on 16 December 2004, where Schmoof supported Freezepop.

Band member Lloyd explains, "The video recorder is the only way to convert the UHF signal to composite video. Only old videos tune in reliably to the ZX Spectrum. We program the animations ourselves in BASIC: they are timed to the music so that different sections of the song have different bits of animation, and are triggered by an operative at the beginning of each song."

Shakin' Stevens

(Unknown release): An arcade game called The Shaky Game, made by Olympic Software in 1983, appeared on at least one release. (World of Spectrum says the game reportedly appeared on one or both of the This Ole House single and The Bop Won't Stop album, and that it was preceded by an explanatory message from Stevens.) The game is a Dodgems clone in which you try to guide a car through a maze while avoiding bats, and its instructions page incorporates various references to Stevens' lyrics.

Chris Sievey and the Freshies

Camouflage: The B side of this 7" single contained a game called Flying Train, written in BASIC by Chris Sievey himself, in which the player must land the flying top half of a train on its bottom half.


Vic Acid front cover

Vic Acid: The cover artwork for this single includes one of the sprites from Alien 8 by Ultimate, and the colour scheme seems to be based on cyan and magenta, two of the colours in the Spectrum palette. There are more Alien 8 sprites on the disc itself.

Carwreck EP: There is said to be some Spectrum loading noise at the start of Squarepusher's remix of Funki Porcini's Carwreck.

The Thompson Twins

Quicksilva produced a text-based adventure game called The Thompson Twins Adventure. It was released in 1984 as a cover-mounted 7" Flexidisc record on Computer & Video Games magazine. Concert tickets and a chance to meet the band were offered to the first winner. World of Spectrum has the program, artwork, and spoken introduction by the band.

ZX Spectrum Orchestra

Birmingham electronica label Warm Circuit is the home of ZX Spectrum Orchestra, a group that produces experimental music and visuals using only Sinclair Spectrum computers.

© Copyright 1996-2018 Paul Equinox Collins. 

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