‘Computers of days gone by’ by @monkeyson

A mostly chronological history of computing. I’ve had this on the back burner for a while, and the recent 30 year anniversary of the ZX Spectrum prompted me to finally send it in…


1. Computer World – Kraftwerk

This was the theme tune for The Computer Programme – a BBC TV series designed to introduce the public to computers and show what they could do. The BBC developed its own machine (the BBC Micro, in conjunction with Acorn Computers) to feature in the series; you’d almost certainly have used one if you were at school in the 80s.

I was a bit too young to watch The Computer Programme when it was first broadcast, but this music still gives me a fluffy nostalgic feeling for what was my golden era of computing.

2. The Rise & Fall of the ZX Spectrum – The Bedford Incident

Sheffield band The Bedford Incident wrote this marvellous anthem for the ZX Spectrum, the main rival to the BBC Micro. There was a great dramatisation about the relationship between the founders of Acorn and Sinclair on BBC Four a few years ago; I can highly recommend watching Micro Men if you can find it.

3. Megablast – Bomb the Bass

On to the late 80s and early 90s. Xenon II: Megablast was a classic shoot-em-up game for the Amiga and Atari ST by Bitmap Brothers game. The game’s theme tune was this 1988 track by Bomb The Bass, and marks one of the first times a home computer was programmed to play a pop song accurately.

4. Doin’ the Do – Betty Boo

Another Bitmap Brothers game, Magic Pockets, was released in 1991 with the title track based on Betty Boo’s Doin’ The Do. This game appeared on Going Live; callers could control the game using their phone. Me, I only ever played the demo from the Acorn Computing cover disk – but I played it a lot.

5. Buddy Holly – Weezer

The video for this song was included on the Windows 95 CD as a demonstration of that there newfangled “multimedia” thing.

6. She’s A Rainbow – The Rolling Stones

Steve Jobs. Jony Ive. The iMac. The beginning of the revival of Apple’s fortunes. This track was used in the ad for the fruity iMacs; goodbye beige, hello transparent plastic, bright colours and groundbreaking industrial design (that you’re now more likely to see in an iron than a computer).

7. 1234 – Feist

There have been many iPod ads and, like Levi’s Jeans ads in the early 90s, many of them have launched the careers of the artists whose music was featured. (And whatever you think of Apple, without the iPod we might never have enjoyed the Sesame Street rendition:

8. Exodus Honey – Honeycut

The last in our three-in-a-row Apple show is Exodus Honey. If you’d bought a Mac in around 2008, or an OS upgrade for Leopard or Snow Leopard, you’d have heard a mix of this track in the intro video and whilst you were setting up the machine.

9. A Complete History of the Soviet Union, Through The Eyes of a Humble Worker – Pig with the Face of a Boy

Did you know that the Tetris music is based on an old Russian folk song called Korobeiniki? There are many variants of this song, but this is one of the most creative. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

10. The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black – Johann Johannsson

The final track is from Johann Johannsson’s album IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual. Made in the 1960s, the IBM 1401 was one of the first computers in Iceland. Johannsson’s father was the chief maintenance engineer and a keen musician and was able to make the computer play music by programming the memory in a certain way and placing a radio next to it to pick up the electromagnetic interference that it caused. A recording of the computer’s final performance was found and Johannsson composed this album around it.

This is the final piece from the album, and I’m not sure that much of the IBM’s performance is on it, but it’s beautiful and sad and uplifting and a fine tribute to all the computers of days gone by.

Follow @monkeyson


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