"We were at a real low point after it... we had to scrap the whole idea": Radiohead once recorded a Bond theme that never happened

 Rock band Radiohead poses for a portrait at Capitol Records, Hollywood, California on June 11, 1997
(Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In the mid-90s, Radiohead had Bond themes on their mind. Around the time that The Bends made everyone sit up and realise that the Oxford five-piece were a special band doing thrillingly exciting things with ye olde guitar-rock, Thom Yorke & co. were prone to covering Nobody Does It Better in their live sets. At the same shows, they unveiled a new song that, with its mix of swooping dynamics, minor and major chord switches and lyrics that alluded to globe-trotting, drinking, affairs and being “dressed for the kill”, seemed to be a Bond theme of their own. 

Depending on who you talked to, its title was either Man Of War or Big Boots. Originally considered as a B-side to the Street Spirit (Fade Out) single, that release came and went, as did their next full-length OK Computer – but still no Man Of War/Big Boots, which apparently had been recorded but not to the band’s satisfaction.

In 1998 came the track’s most curious interpretation when Radiohead entered the studio to record it for the soundtrack of The Avengers – not Tony Stark, Thor et al, but a 1998 reboot of the classic British spy caper. Memorably documented in Radiohead’s Meeting People Is Easy film, this recording was also deemed unsuitable for release, even though the shards of it that you hear in the film sound pretty good to these ears.

The same year, Thom Yorke told MTV’s 120 Minutes about the latest failed attempt to get the song down. “We had a five week break and we tried to go to the studio to do it,” he said, “and it just didn’t happen. We were at a real low point after it and we had to scrap the whole idea. It’s the nature of what you do, you’re essentially a recording artist and sometimes it doesn’t work… we were walking round the studio going, ‘actually, we’re just making an advert for a movie aren’t we? This is a bit wrong, isn’t it?’.”

After that, Man Of War was left alone for the best part of two decades, until Radiohead gave it another crack – this time for use as an actual Bond theme in the 2015 film Spectre. And they got it recorded! And they got a bloody orchestra in on it! And it sounds great! But the Bond people turned it down as there’s some official rule that the Bond theme isn’t allowed to be pre-written as it would rule it out of being nominated for an Oscar. ARGHHH! It is a cracker, though, and crackers deserve to be heard, and this version was eventually released on the 2017 20th anniversary edition of OK Computer, OKNOTOK 1997 2017, thus bringing the long saga of Big Boots/Man Of War to an end.

Check out the track below, as well as the full 120 Minutes interview. 

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.