Radiohead's OK Computer Anniversary Edition Includes a Secret ZX Spectrum Program

By Matt Wales on at

Welcome to the distant future! Who'd have thought, 20 years prior to today, that we'd all be spooling up our cassettes to listen to the latest radical sounds from popular rock combo Radiohead right now, as played by a ZX Spectrum computer? Yet here we are, doing just that, thanks to Radiohead's recently released 20th anniversary edition of OK COMPUTER, called OKNOTOK 1997 2017.

As you can see in the official (and slightly unsettling) unboxing video below, the £100 OKNOTOK special edition, features music and more: including an art book, a book of Thom Yorke's notes, a vinyl disc version of OK COMPUTER, and a classic C90 cassette type—the kind of which you don't really see very much anymore.

That 90-minute cassette tape is the bit we're most interested in today though. Also released as a digital download for those that pre-ordered OKNOTOK, it features 78 minutes of rare Radiohead demos and recordings. Its final track, however, is a mysterious two-minute blast of squeaking, squawking computer tones, quickly recognised by Redditors as the analogue mating call of the wild ZX Spectrum personal computer, last seen in the early 90s.

As spotted by ArsTechnica, one enterprising YouTuber has gone the extra mile, taking those intriguing loading tones, filtering them through a 3.5kHz low pass filter (of course), then running the treated sound through a ZX Spectrum emulator.

As you can see in the video above, the resulting program purports to be the work of Thomas Yorke, Colin Greenwood, Jonathan Greenwood, Edward O'Brien, and Philip Selway—better known as Radiohead—and to have been created more than 20 years ago, on December 19th 1996. I like the idea of the gang all sitting around a ZX Spectrum one night, 21 years ago, giggling as they made the ensuing musical abomination.

Once the introductions are over, the software begins playing several minutes' worth of either completely random or distinctly avant garde bleeps-bloopy musical notes.

There's also apparently a secret message hidden in the black-on-black squares, reading, "'ve found the secret message syd lives hmmmm. We should get out more". Possibly a tribute to legendary Pink Floyd experimentalist Syd Barrett, but who, other than Britain's premier modern-day prog-rock maestros, can really say for sure?