It became a commercial success, charting at number eight on the UK Singles Chart and number fourteen on the US Hot Modern Rock Tracks. Critical reception to the single was also favourable. 'Karma Police' debuted live in 1996, when the band briefly supported Alanis Morissette on an American tour. This version had different lyrics than the final release, with the second verse being 'Karma Police, arrest this girl / she stares at me / as if she owns the world / and we have crashed her party', and the first chorus ending with 'This is what you'll get / when you mess with me'.

The line 'he buzzes like a fridge' is explained by Thom: 'to me sort of, after a while, if you have the, you know, you know when you're driving around in America and you have the alternative stations on in the background or in your hotel room or whatever, and its just like a fridge, fridge buzzing, its not, its not, its all I'm hearing, I'm just hearing buzz, its really odd, its kinda funny though really, you just have to laugh'.

A live version of 'Karma Police', performed with a Rhodes piano on The Late Show with David Letterman, is captured in the Radiohead documentary 'Meeting People Is Easy'. While recording OK Computer, Radiohead listened to late Beatles albums, among other music, such as Miles Davis, DJ Shadow and Ennio Morricone, for inspiration.