Flashback: Radiohead’s Rejected James Bond Theme ‘Spectre’
The long-awaited James Bond movie No Time to Die opens this week, with Billie Eilish taking on the franchise’s famed theme song. It’s part of a long tradition of selecting the biggest name in pop to cover the honor, a distinction that has included Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney, Adele, Madonna, Sam Smith, and Alicia Keys.
But there’s also a long history of James Bond producers rejecting songs by extremely high-profile performers. For proof, check out Johnny Cash’s “Thunderball,” Alice Cooper’s “The Man with the Golden Gun,” Blondie’s “For Your Eyes Only,” Ace of Base’s “Goldeneye,” and Pulp’s “Tomorrow Never Lies.” In an alternate universe, all of these songs were accepted and became beloved classics. In this universe, they were beaten out by Tom Jones, Lulu, Sheena Easton, Turner, and Sheryl Crow.
And then there’s Radiohead. They were approached in 2015 about cutting the theme song to Spectre and went for it despite being midway through recording A Moon Shaped Pool. The end result was a rather downcast orchestral ballad that director Sam Mendes couldn’t find a way to use. He ultimately went with a Sam Smith song instead.
Radiohead hasn’t dealt with a lot of rejection in the past couple of decades, and they weren’t thrilled. “That fucking James Bond movie threw us a massive curveball,” producer Nigel Godrich told Rolling Stone in 2017. “It was a real waste of energy. We stopped doing what we were doing and had to concentrate on that for awhile since we were told it was something that was going to come to fruition. I haven’t seen the movie and I think they ended up with something more suitable for it, but in terms of making A Moon Shaped Pool, it caused a stop right when we were in the middle of it.”
In December 2015, the band shared it for free online as a Christmas gift to fans. Thom Yorke liked the song so much that he added it into the live repertoire for his solo shows, and Radiohead even played it seven times on the last leg of the A Moon Shaped Pool tour in 2018. It may not have been good enough for “that fucking James Bond movie,” but it was good enough to rest comfortably in a Radiohead setlist between “How To Disappear Completely” and “Myxomatosis.” That’s a victory right there.