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A line similar to "this is what you get when you mess with us" can be seen at the bottom of this page of radiohead.com from the OK Computer period:
food and sex dont go
wilting before my eyes


they will peck out your eyes
mathematics aerodynamics
he blubbered under the bubbles of his overflowing mud bath
now seems like a good time to ask for your hand


just killing time before the inevitable
a lottery winner
the life line
a wee artery
with a few veins
hardly any
capillaries
but the possibility of babies
as blindfold referees


this is what you get when you fuck with me
It was a favourite saying of the band that whenever they heard about someone behaving offensively, they'd say 'The Karma Police will catch up with them eventually'. So they wrote this song. A "stupid song" in strict 4/4 time, with it's sudden change halfway through and the sound of the dying computer taking over the whole song.
The band tried out the song prior to recording it when they toured in support of Alanis Morissette in 1996. Those performances differ considerably from the finished arrangement. The lyrics in the first verse are different, Thom sings the choruses in a higher octave, Ed sings along in the final section, the instrumental passages between the sung phrases at the end are twice as long and the performance ends abruptly.

This recording comes from august 14th 1996:

karma police, arrest this girl
she stares at me as if she own's the world
and we have crashed her party
Another performance, from August 19th 1996, features different early lyrics. The line "he smells of air conditioning" seems to be borrowed from 'Lift', and connects the two songs loosely:

karma police, arrest this man
he talks in maths, he buzzes like a fridge
he smells of air conditioning

karma police, arrest this girl
she talks at me as if she own's the world
and we have crashed her party
This page, titled 'stuck in a frozen lake', appeared on radiohead.com during the recording of OK Computer and features a text by Thom with notes about songs that were around then.
The relevant section was not highlighted in red letters in the original page:
an airbag saved my life* in an interstella burst i am back to save the universe computer drums bass wrong lift* is hard work you been stuck in a lift we been trying to reach you thom the belly of the whale (thanks Rei xxxx) paranoid android* get busy with the shakers while im fast asleep could you stop the noise im trying ta get some rest this the place it wont hurt ever again karma police* girl with hitler hairdo everybodys friend life in a glasshouse phew for a minute there i lost myself i lost myself sit down your safe now polyethelene*will never break down swirly self announcements. stuck in a frozen lake. the penultimate place in dante's hell. last flowers till the hospital*is a sign discovered in oxford -my unhealthy obsession with these institutions. analysts may get the connection. ambulances scream past my house at all hours of the day and night like the confessionals of Larkin's "Ambulan s." let down*in the midst of monster tour the momentum getting drunk to talk bombarded by dangerously high levels of radiation from xray machines. one day, one day... climbing up the walls*both managers and record company are nervous about such a nasty sound coming out of the speakers. this is a good sign. dogwander* bring on another take better than another cake. nude* it is a mans world. and this one is very confused and will have sex with anything woman who comes within a mile radius. but feels bad about it. so doesnt. exit song (for a film)* cannot be listened to more than once in a row. which made recording it easy. or not. but what film? big boots* it was a long time ago and i cant remember. a whole orchestra watching the film and playing along. real life is dull. i am i the white lotus flying off the quay with barbara bach.
(information incomplete)
....>>>>i like the idea of you listening to our recordings with your head resting gently in emptiness. or before going out. or when you've come back. i dont like the scientists breaking down its molecular structure and teaching it in O level chemistry i ont want to have expain it but it worries me stupid. there is a lot of crying goes into making things.<<<<.... the masters tell us that there is an aspect of our minds that is its fundamental basis, a state called "the ground of the ordinary mind." It functions like a storehouse, in which the imprints of past actions caused by our negative emotions are all store like seeds. when the right conditions arise, they germinate and manifest as circumstances and situations in our lives. if we have a habit of thinking in a particular pattern, positive or negative, then these tendencies will be triggered and provoked very easily and recurr and go on recurring. With constant repetition our inclinations and habits become steadily more entr ched and continue, increasing and gathering power even when we sleep. This is how they come to determine our life, our death our rebirth.
Originally recorded with Jonny on piano, all the live versions since it's release on OK Computer have been played with Rhodes piano instead.
'KARMA POLICE'
Ignoring the appalling track record of the word "karma" in pop music (Boy George, George Harrison, etc), Radiohead use it to project an Orwellian vision of the future and write a bonzer tune to boot.
Jonny: "It was a band catchphrase for a while on tour - whenever someone was behaving in a particularly shitty way, we'd say "The karma police will catch up with him sooner or later." You have to rely on something like that, even though we're probably just kidding ourselves. But it's not a revenge thing, just about being happy with your own behaviour."
Key Lyric: "This is what you get when you mess with us..."
Thom: "Karma is an important idea. I like it. It makes me nicer to people. It fills me with joy. This song makes me laugh. It was Ed's idea."
Jonny Greenwood: "It's a favourite saying of ours. whenever we hear about someone behaving offensively it's like 'The Karma Police will catch up with them eventually'. A potential single.
It's five minutes after midnight in Cambridgeshire, England, some three hours north of London, and Thom Yorke is standing in the middle of an empty field. Five seven. rail thin, and balding rapidly, Yorke is an unlikely rock star; save for his leather jacket and Pan-Cake makeup, the lead singer of Radiohead looks more like a monk from the local cathedral. Suddenly, a pair of headlights appear in the fog. A big Chrysler New Yorker pulls up beside Yorke. Shivering, he slides into the backseat. Then the driver gets out and leaves him alone in the still-idling vehicle. "A car driving itself," Yorke says with a shrug. "Story of my life."

Last week, Radiohead released their third album, a pivotal effort called OK Computer. Though the Oxford quintet now command the respect of critics and high-profile peers (Madonna, Marilyn Manson, U2, and three supermodels were among the guests at the band's recent sold-out New York show), the new record -a furious and occasionally impenetrable work filled with meandering five minute sonnets-is what is euphemisticlly referred to as "difficult." It's clear that Radiohead will need a great video to conquer America.

Which brings us back to Cambridgeshire, the English equivalent of upstate New York. Yorke is here to work on a two-night video shoot for "Karma Police," the new album's third single. (The band's already made an animated, MTV-approved clip for "Paranoid Android" and a stop-action video for "Let Down.")

Radiohead have a reputation for strikingly innovative videos, but no amount could possibly Justify the strategy for the new album. Tonight's shoot is the third project in a grandiose, if ill-advised, plan to turn the entire disc -twelve tracks-into videos. It's a move of Michael Jacksonian proportions, more in keeping with a superstar than a "sensitive" alternative outfit. "It's financially suicidal," Yorke admits, with a twisted smile on his face. "This video alone would cost us a really nice house somewhere."

It's slightly after I A.M. now, and tensions are high. It's very cold. The remote-control camera seizes up. Technicians mill around. Suddenly, the director yells "Action," and everyone scatters. Everyone except Yorke; he's still in the backseat, a camera inches from his face. Music pours from a pair of hidden speakers and Yorke begins to lip-synch: "This is what you get / This is what you get when you mess with us.'" Cut! "

Yorke's nailed the take, but now there's a new problem: Fumes from the engine are irritating the singer's lungs. "You can smell it, can't you?" the soundman says. A technician pokes his head into the vehicle: "Smell it? You can see it! " The British press have long pegged Yorke as a solitary, tortured soul, but neither of these qualities is evident during this long, cold night. A slightly dazed Yorke appears unconcerned. "Ah, well," he says, "at least I'll be warm when I die."

It's a tale of retribution, kind of a Samuel Becketty psychological tease." Director Jonathan Glazer is explaining the plot of "Karma Police" to a visitor on the set. "You're the point of view," he says, "and Thom is a passive passenger." Despite the faulty equipment and extreme fog, Glazer is clearly enthused. Preparing the next take, he pauses for just a moment, then turns around. "Great band, eh?" Later, a climactic shot will require a special-effects man to set the vehicle on fire. It's a risk: Video-channel censors have a tendency to pass on pyrotechnics. But even if MTV blinks, there's a plan to take the twelve-clip project directly to the film-festival circuit. It's possible the entire collection will also be available for purchase later this year, just in time to stuff a stocking near you.

It's approaching 2 A.M. In spite of the cold, Yorke remains on the set to watch a battered-looking actor run madly from the vehicle. The whole thing is seriously frightening. "Did you see that?! " Yorke says to no one in particular. "He looked absolutely terrified!"

Later, the crew and the singer stand around a monitor, reviewing the night's work. Yorke is particularly pleased with a rather ordinary-looking take of him lipsynching in the backseat. "I could do this for a living," he says, only half joking. "You just have to get in a car and move your mouth." The exhausted crew nod, patting both his back and his ego.

On the way back to Oxford after the shoot (3 A.M. for those of you still keeping track), someone pops a video into the minivan's VCR. "It's the new, censored version of 'Paranoid Android,"' the band's creative director explains. The six-and-a-half-minute animated epic has created something of a controversy. "Certain countries have objected to certain parts," she says. "The big problem was the mermaid's breasts; we had to cover the cartoon nipples. Her eyes roll.

As the music plays, Yorke watches the colorful footage in awe, singing along in the backseat. When the "offensive," footage hits the screen, he breaks into hysterics. "Now all you notice are the naughty bits! " he yells, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. 'Brilliant," he says, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Absolutely bloody brilliant!"
Q: "But can you get a grip on grudge-bearing? It's such an ingrained part of a person's character if you're that way inclined."

Thom: "I have a lot of other day-to-day things to deal with so I can't add that to the list. I get stressed pretty easily and having people looking at you in that certain way (acts out curly-lipped malice, laughs), I can't handle it any more. That's what a lot of the album was about. That's what 'Karma Police' was about. Though it's a joke as well, you know. 'Karma police, arrest this man.' That's not entirely serious, I hope people will realise that."
Q: "In interviews, which songs are people keenest to divine the true meaning of?"

Ed: "It depends on the country, In Germany, they're very keen on 'Karma Police'. [German accent] 'Oh yes, karma. '70s. yes, Karma. 'Instant Karma', John Lennon. Cool, yeah.'"
Of course, because of his job, Yorke has to ride around in cars all the time. He even got inside one with a remote-control driver to shoot the video for Radiohead's latest single, 'Karma Police'. And as he sat in the backseat, lip synching, something went wrong, and carbon monoxide fumes began pouring into the car. Yorke was terrified. And as he started to feel faint, he thought, "This is my life...."

In June, Yorke met Jonathan Glazer, the director responsible for their earlier clip 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)', on a deserted lane three hours from London, to shoot the chilling, Orwellian video for OK Computer's second single, 'Karma Police'.

For his part, Glazer thinks 'Karma Police' is about retribution, but he's not sure if that even matters. "Radiohead are all about subtexts, about underbellies," he says. "Thom thinks about music in the same way that I think about film--he thinks it's a dialogue. That's why in the video he just sings the choruses, because the verses mean whatever we want them to mean."
Also like The Bends, many of the more interesting sounds, like those at the end of 'Karma Police', which features O'Brien's AMS digital delay unit feeding back on itself, were recorded with a sense of abandon. "We said, 'Put down the headphones and just go'", says Yorke, "and so he made weird noises, and we taped that a few times. Sometimes the best stuff happens when you're not even Iistening at all. Once we get to a studio, we either do it together live at the same time, so we can hear what we're doing, or we do the exact opposite, so we don't know what's going on at all. A lot of the time you have to either make it really random or really calculated. There's no middle ground."
Jonny: "And also, it feels like a comic album, parts of it. There's lots of dark humor. The song 'Karma Police' is obviously not overly-serious as a title or a subject."
The second single 'Karma Police', explains Thom, "is dedicated to everyone who works for a big firm. It's a song against bosses."
Thom: "This is a song for someone who has to work for a large company. This is a song against bosses, fuck middle-management! Hahaha."


Something seemed familiar the first time Marilyn Manson saw Radiohead's "Karma Police" video. Actually, a lot of things. It turned out director Jonathan Glazer had pitched him the same concept months earlier and he passed. "Manson was like, 'F— that,' " recalls Randy Sosin, who has worked with Manson on his videos for years. "But you know, a good idea is a good idea." [from MTV]
Stanley Donwood's description of the artwork he and Thom had created in 1996 or 1997 for the cover of the 'Karma Police' single (the print is titled 'Happy Family'):

"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."

Karma Police was released as the second OK Computer single on august 25th 1997 in the UK. This full-page ad is taken from the august 23rd issue of the NME:

(click image for full size)
Part of the performance of 'Karma Police' from august 28th 1997 in New York for 'The Late Show with David Letterman' can be seen in Meeting People Is Easy:

Live performances #275 and #276 during the making of The King of Limbs:
275. january 24th 2010 The Music Box Theatre at The Fonda Los Angeles, CA USA Link
276. june 25th 2010 Glastonbury Festival Pilton UK Link