Radiohead

Karma Police

Composed by Colin Greenwood / Ed O'Brien / Jonny Greenwood / Phil Selway / Thom Yorke

Song Review by

Haunting, mystifying, and exquisite, "Karma Police" was the third single from Radiohead's 1997 masterwork OK Computer. Dense yet subtle layers of sound bolstered the acoustic guitar/piano-centered foundation of the song, culminating in a lush, swooning climax. The structure is somewhat unorthodox, since there doesn't seem to be a true chorus section; the main verse alternates with a short, subdued break during which Thom Yorke repeats the line "this is what you get," and after two cycles, the song builds to a completely different ending section. The melodies in the main body are a little more angular, but the finish is plaintive and soaring, without overpowering the delicate melancholy of all that preceded it. Yorke's vocals are given a little extra echo here, and the bass begins to flex underneath as the orchestration builds; a heavily overdubbed sliding figure dominates instrumentally, providing Yorke with a dramatic counterpart. The lyrics are paranoid and inscrutable -- during the verses, people are "arrested" by karma police for cryptic reasons, and a man protests that he's given all he can, in between the "this is what you get...if you mess with us" section. The ending doesn't make clear whether its only lyrics -- "for a minute there, I lost myself" -- are an expression of relief or hopelessness, but really, the emotion comes from the pure sound, not from any logical, concretely presented meanings. And that emotional intensity is evident throughout "Karma Police," making it one of the cornerstones of one of the greatest albums of the '90s.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
OK Computer 1997 XL
Karma Police 1998 EMI Digital / Parlophone 4:24
The Best Album in the World...Ever! Vol. 7 1998
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:22
Shine, Vol. 10 1998
Various Artists
Polygram 4:22
Now That's What I Call Music 1998
Various Artists
Virgin 4:19
Big Shiny Tunes, Vol. 3 1998
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:23
Ka-Boom! 1999
Various Artists
Beast Records / Simitar Distribution 4:21
Now: 1997 1999
Various Artists
Virgin/EMI 4:23
Desktop 2001 Import 4:23
Q Anthems 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:22
Indie: The Anthems 2002
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Strange & Beautiful 2003
Various Artists
WSM
Best of Acoustic [Echo/V2] 2004
Various Artists
Echo/V2 4:23
Q Awards: The Album 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:23
Best Bands Ever 2004
Various Artists
EMI/Virgin 4:24
Glastonbury Anthems: The Best of Glastonbury 1994-2004 [DVD] 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Supreme: Some Great Music 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
The Work of Jonathan Glazer [DVD] 2005
Various Artists
Palm
Dub Tribute to Radiohead: I'm not the Only Record for You 2006
Various Artists
Vitamin Records 4:05
Essential Bands 2006
Various Artists
Universal 4:22
90s Anthems 2007
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:22
Radiohead Box Set 2007 Capitol/EMI Records / Parlophone 4:21
The Best of Radiohead 2008 Capitol/EMI Records
Classic Rock [EMI] 2008
Various Artists
EMI 4:22
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Mixed Repertoire 4:23
101 Indie Classics 2009
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:23
100 Hits: Alternative 2012
Various Artists
100 Hits 4:23
No Image 2013
Various Artists
Shout! Factory
¡Released! The Human Rights Concerts, 1986-1998 2013
Various Artists
Amnesty International / Shout! Factory 4:07
30 ans de M6 2017
Various Artists
Universal 4:22
No Image EMI 4:24
No Image
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Babies Go Radiohead
Various Artists
RGS Music 4:33
Hit Club '97, Vol. 3
Various Artists
Eva
Index
Rock Zone
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
No Image Thunderball
blue highlight denotes editor's pick