In 2020 lyric videos are so common place that the only shock is when they get all the words correct. In 1983 such an idea must have seemed so futuristic.
1983 was also the year that singer songwriter Pete Shelley released his third solo album XL1. The former Buzzcocks singer, and writer of their hit Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), had seen his star fade over the last few years. Diminishing sales coupled with a BBC ban on his single Homosapien had made him look for new innovative ways of presenting his music.
A fan of the new home computing boom of the early 1980’s he first thought of producing an album using his ZX Spectrum. The limitations of the Spectrums sound process made him look at other options. After playing an adventure game, which printed your progress to the screen, he came up with a new idea. Instead of producing the album through his PC, he would use the technology to replace the lyrics on the albums inlay.
So along with the UK release of XL1 came software for the Spectrum. Once loaded you were given instructions on when to sync and to ‘press any key to start’. Once started basic graphics of shapes and lines would move in a pane on the screen whilst the lyrics appeared along with the music.
The graphics and background colours would change per song, although due to the restrictions of the available hardware, the variety was a little repetitive. Also syncing the software to the album could be a challenge all itself.
Unfortunately for Shelley singer Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom) had also conceived a similar idea for his single Camouflage. Due to the fact that Sievey was programming for one song and not a whole album he slightly piped Shelley to the post on the release date. In terms of conception XL1 truly was the first lyric video.