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In late 1996 or early 1997, Thom and Stanley created the artwork for the Karma Police single. This is one of the earliest documents of their long-lasting fascination with nuclear fallout.
This image shows a print titled 'Happy Family', which was the basis for the actual artwork of the single:

Stanley's description of the piece from his website

"The picture shows a father leading his family to a home-made nuclear fallout shelter. I think we can assume that the Four Minute Warning has already sounded, and the missiles are on their way. The shelter is constructed in accordance with the guidelines published by the UK Government; from doors, pillows and cushions."
The song was around during the sessions for Kid A already, and was mentioned three times in Ed's Diary under two early titles. 'Neil Young *9' was a title made up by Ed for the otherwise untitled song, and was replaced when Thom titled it 'Bombers' around late 1999:
thursday, july 22nd 1999
thom arrives & plays a new song on the acoustic. sounds great but has no name, so now on referred to as the song with no name. we move on to "lost at sea/in limbo" after only nine months work its starting to sound like its getting somewhere. good in fact. The others sound ok too.( everything, everyone/the national anthem). highlight of the day is attempting 3 part harmonies on "neil young *9"- not the harmonies themselves, but phil cracking up because he feels a bit like that drummer from the eagles. a fucking brilliant rehearsal. its great to be in our band.
friday, july 23rd 1999
start by working on 'optimistic'. i really love the words, especially the line "this one just crawled out the swamp" reminds me a bit of PJ Harvey's blues stuff. cool. a couple of interesting jams. one of them is jonny's who bemoans the fact that his stuff never turns into proper songs. its good but he doesnt realise it, as hes already bored of it by the time he plays it to us. finished by playing 'neil young *9' or as cozzie calls it the 'phil is don henley' song. It sounds even better today. don't go on too long as its warm and unusually summery today so drive home and get caught in the inevitable friday traffic jams.
monday, january 10th - wednesday, january 19th 2000
happy new year and many many thanks to all you lovely cardsenders.

i think we all arrived at the studio with that same dread of starting where we left plough back into the old tracks seemed like a daunting task. nigel suggested a different plan of action to ease us back into it over the next couple of weeks. the idea was to spend this time working in a completely different way; no acoustic instruments ie any guitars,drums or vocals......everything has to be electronically generated. it means that we can't fall back on what we've done before and forces us to work this equipment. it's actually an incredible amount of fun - which is not something we've had in abundance over the last year or in studios in general. we've been working on four 'bits' and because they are fairly abstract it will be interesting to review it in a few weeks. the important thing is that you are constantly learning even if something doesn't necessarily work out. and actually it's something we've been meaning to do for a while. again it's the need to change the methodology in how you actually make the music - only by doing this will we actually produce stuff that sounds any different. and conversely by finding another approach to recording, it enthuses us in the way that we've worked together as a 'live' band. the rehearsals last week were fantastic precisely because we had not picked up those instruments and recorded them.

this week we have cast the experimental net further afield to include material like 'true love waits' and 'feeling pulled apart by horses'. the former has been kicking around for about four years now and each time we approached it we seemed to be going down the same old actually sounds like the start of something exciting now.

did an interesting band version of 'bombers' which thom has attached to what i used to call 'the neil young' song...we may play it some time later this evening.

thankyou to everyone who sent in their demos......maybe i was a little naive to assume that a handful of people would send in theirs' or others' offerings......what i realise has happened is that various publications and radio stations have visited this diary and announced that radiohead are embarking on a fucking talent search or something. bastards. it's probably pay-back time for being miserable and contrary on our last round of interviews.....anyway i've started going through it and will listen to it all, eventually. it's actually very interesting as it strikes me from what i've listened to so far that there are alot of really good musicians out there, but what distinguishes the good from the not so good is having taste. ie for instance you could be simply red (apologies for the easy target) and send in a demo and i'm always going to think it's totally shit in spite of its technical 'proficiency'. having said that there's little that sounds like that. but what i'm saying in an around-about way is that it doesn't matter if i don't think something's that good; if you really love what you're doing then that is all that matters........there is absolutely no point in making music that you think will help you to get signed..........second-guessing what people want to hear is a completely fruitless exercise as it is almost completely impossible to predict what people want to hear; by the time people actually get to hear that music it's more than likely that it's old-hat and most importantly you will never stumble upon something that is truly fresh and exciting.
A few items from the 'scrapbook' section of are related to the lyrics of this song:

i'm living
empty pretty country house and only 4 minutes to make plans
shame about all the left overs
time to finish what you started
no escape
bombers overhead
'Bombers/4 Minute Warning' was notably absent on the first blackboard the band used during two weeks of rehearsals from september 19th to 30th 2005.
On March 8th 2006, shortly after sessions with Mark Stent had come to an unfruitful end, another photo of a blackboard (and a perhaps slightly worried Ed) was posted on Dead Air Space. A tour had been scheduled for may and june to escape the frustration of the recent sessions and to breathe new life into the project. Rehearsals for the upcoming dates had begun recently, and this board shows which new songs were at this point considered for inclusion in the setlists. 'Bombers/4 Minute Warning' was one of these, and would indeed be played (click image for full size):
On May 6th 2006, the song was premiered live in Copenhagen. It seems like the band had already settled on the title '4 Minute Warning' at this point, at least that's how Thom announces it. After playing this debut Thom mentions that the arrangement is still "sketchy", and in fact the band's insecurity about it is well reflected in the fact that Thom stops the song after the first verse to ask if it's alright.
This video was edited for this website from two video sources and an audio recording:
In May and June 2006, '4 Minute Warning' was played live 11 times. Apart from Wolverhampton, New York and Los Angeles, it was performed in all cities of the European and North American tour, in most cases at the first of two shows in a city.
Often Thom changed the lyrics in the second verse. The other lyrics of the song were unchanged throughout both tours (except for minor details or mistakes) and are not included in the overview you find below. Uncertain words are given in brackets.

Copenhagen 1


hiding from the bombers
wading through the fields
running in the half-light
running through the [undertide]

Blackpool 2


hiding from the bombers
running through the fields
hiding in the forest
lying flat on the ground

Toronto 1


running from the bombers
hiding in the fields
laying in the forest
[running] flat on the ground

Montreal 1


hiding from the bombers
running through the fields
hiding in the forest
laying flat on the ground

Thom: "Then there's '4 Minute Warning' which begins with the lines, 'This is just a nightmare/ Soon I'm going to wake up.' It's a song that's been kicking around for ages but I really, really like it. It's very, very simple. Almost too simple. In fact, it might ultimately get thrown away for being too simple."
On February 3rd 2007, Thom posted the following lines on Dead Air Space. The first of them, "hurling through the forest", could well be related to the lyrics of '4 Minute Warning':

On November 9th 2007, the sounds at the beginning of the studio version were looped and used for the intro of the thumbs_down webcast:
'Bombers/4 Minute Warning' was notably absent on the first blackboard the band used during two weeks of rehearsals from september 19th to 30th 2005.
The studio version of '4 Minute Warning' was released as a b-side on the Nude single on march 31st 2008.
'4 Minute Warning' was not performed during the touring for The King of Limbs.