Karma Police

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"Karma Police"
Single by Radiohead
from the album OK Computer
  • "Meeting in the Aisle"
  • "Lull"
Released25 August 1997
GenreAlternative rock[1]
Radiohead singles chronology
"Paranoid Android"
"Karma Police"
Audio sample
Music video
"Karma Police" on YouTube

"Karma Police" is a song by the English alternative rock band Radiohead, released as the second single from their third studio album OK Computer (1997) on 25 August 1997. The song charted at number 8 on the UK Singles Chart and at 14 on the US Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. It was included on the Radiohead: The Best Of (2008).


"Karma Police" is in a 4
time signature and played in standard tuning. The first half is in the key of G major.[2] The second half (starting with the line "For a minute there") is in B minor.[3] Acoustic guitar and piano are the most prominent instruments.[4] Throughout the song, an analog synthesizer imitating a choir is featured.[5][6][7]

The song progresses from the intro into a mid-tempo section which alternates between two verses. The first verse begins with the line "Karma police", and the other begins with the line "This is what you'll get". After this section cycles through twice, the song switches into a second section which is based around the line "For a minute there, I lost myself". During this section of the song, Yorke's voice is put through an echo effect and a sliding melodic figure serves as a counterpoint to his vocals.[8] In the final minute, Ed O'Brien distorts his guitar by driving a delay effect to self-oscillation, then turning the delay rate to a low frequency, creating a "melting" effect.[9]

"Karma Police", like several OK Computer tracks, was debuted live in 1996, when Radiohead supported Alanis Morissette on tour.[10]


The title lyric originates from an in-joke; the Radiohead band members would threaten to call the "karma police" if they did something bad.[11] Yorke explained that the song was about stress and "having people looking at you in that certain [malicious] way".[12] In 2006, he explained to The Independent: "It's for someone who has to work for a large company. This is a song against bosses. Fuck the middle management!"[7]

Yorke and Jonny Greenwood emphasised in interviews that the song was humorous. Yorke said: "[It's] not entirely serious. I hope people will realise that."[12] The line "He buzzes like a fridge / He's like a detuned radio" refers to distracting, metaphorical background noise that Yorke calls "fridge buzz", one of the primary themes of OK Computer.[13] "Karma Police" also shares themes of insanity and dissatisfaction with capitalism.[14]

Release and reception[edit]

"Karma Police" was released as the second single from OK Computer on 25 August 1997. The single was released in two versions. The single peaked at number eight on the UK Singles Chart.[15] In late March 2010, almost thirteen years after its initial single release, the song went to number fifteen on the Danish Singles Chart.[16] In a song review, AllMusic referred to Karma Police as "haunting, mystifying, and exquisite", labelling it "one of the cornerstones of one of the greatest albums of the '90s."[8]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song was directed by Jonathan Glazer, previously responsible for Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" clip. The video premiered in August 1997 and featured Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke as well as Hungarian actor Lajos Kovács. Glazer won MTV's Director of the Year award in 1997 for his work on this, as well as Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity".[17] Despite this Glazer said he considers the video to be a failed attempt.[18] According to MTV.com, Glazer had pitched the concept of the "Karma Police" video months earlier to Marilyn Manson, who disliked it.[19]. In an interview with The Culture Show, Yorke stated that the music video was his favorite, because he was drunk during the production.[20]

The video is shot from the perspective of the driver of a car pursuing a man along a dark road. Yorke sits in the back seat. The man falls to his knees and the car reverses, revealing that it is leaking fuel. The man produces matches from his pocket and ignites the trail of fuel. Yorke vanishes and the car is engulfed in flames.


Charts and certifications[edit]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood and Philip Selway.

  1. "Karma Police" – 4:23
  2. "Meeting in the Aisle" – 3:08
  3. "Lull" – 2:28
  1. "Karma Police" – 4:23
  2. "Climbing Up the Walls" (Zero 7 Mix) – 5:19
  3. "Climbing Up the Walls" (Fila Brazillia Mix) – 6:24


  1. ^ Richin, Leslie (12 January 2017). "20 Alternative Rock Hits Turning 20 in 2017". Billboard. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  2. ^ http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtdFPE.asp?ppn=MN0068601&ref=google
  3. ^ Griffiths, 2004. p. 92.
  4. ^ Footman, 2007. p. 79
  5. ^ Griffiths, 2004. p. 61
  6. ^ Randall, 2000. p. 209.
  7. ^ a b Webb, Robert (15 September 2006). "Story Of The Song: 'Karma Police' Radiohead (1997)". The Independent. Accessed on 15 October 2008.
  8. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Karma Police". allmusic.com. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  9. ^ Randall 2000, p. 224
  10. ^ "Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Radiohead Songs – 4. 'Karma Police'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  11. ^ Sutherland, Mark (31 May 1997). "Return of the Mac!". Melody Maker.
  12. ^ a b Randall 2000, p. 223
  13. ^ Footman 2007, p. 140
  14. ^ Footman 2007, pp. 144–147
  15. ^ Randall 2000, p. 248
  16. ^ "Radiohead - Karma Police (Song)". danishcharts.com. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  17. ^ Tobias, Scott (4 April 2014). "Director Jonathan Glazer on Under The Skin's complex honesty". The Dissolve. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  18. ^ Kaufman, Anthony (6 December 2001). "Interview: Shooting the 'Beast'; Jonathan Glazer Tames the Gangster Genre". IndieWire. Accessed on 4 December 2011.
  19. ^ Moss, Corey. "Without Proper Video Planning, You Wouldn't See Eminem Naked". MTV. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  20. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za_ze85LcBA&t=1s
  21. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988-2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  22. ^ "Ultratop.be – Radiohead – Karma Police" (in Dutch). Ultratip. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  23. ^ "Ultratop.be – Radiohead – Karma Police" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  24. ^ "Danishcharts.com – Radiohead – Karma Police". Tracklisten. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  25. ^ "Music & Media: Eurochart Hot 100" (PDF). Music & Media. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  26. ^ "Radiohead: Karma Police" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  27. ^ "Lescharts.com – Radiohead – Karma Police" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  28. ^ "Íslenski Listinn NR. 236 Vikuna 28.8. '97 - 4.9. '97" (PDF). Dagblaðið Vísir. 29 August 1997. p. 22. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  29. ^ "Search the Charts – Karma Police". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  30. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Radiohead" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  31. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Radiohead – Karma Police" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  32. ^ "Charts.nz – Radiohead – Karma Police". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  33. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  34. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  35. ^ "Radiohead Chart History (Radio Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  36. ^ "Radiohead Chart History (Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  37. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Drake – Fake Love". Music Canada. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  38. ^ "Italian single certifications – Radiohead – Karma Police" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 9 June 2017. Select "2017" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Karma Police" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli online" under "Sezione".
  39. ^ "British single certifications – Radiohead – Karma Police". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 9 June 2017. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Karma Police in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.


External links[edit]