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The Beatles vs. Radiohead – Song Parallels

The Beatles and Radiohead
Keystone/Hulton Archive / Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Generally speaking, there isn’t a rock band on the planet that doesn’t owe some sort of debt to the Beatles — even an act as willfully experimental as Radiohead, who stopped tinkering with unorthodox song structures long enough to borrow from one of the Fab Four’s best-known recordings in 1997.

Of course, with Radiohead being Radiohead, when the band decided to nick a few chord progressions, they did it cleverly. The song in question, the ‘OK Computer’ track ‘Karma Police,’ draws its title from a band inside joke about the Hindu belief in cosmic cause and effect — and it leads off with a piano riff that sounds an awful lot like the intro to the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ cut ‘Sexy Sadie.’

What’s the connection? Well, as Beatles fans know, ‘Sadie’ was originally titled ‘Maharishi,’ and served as a pointed jab from John Lennon to the band’s erstwhile guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, reportedly inspired by Lennon observing the Yogi putting the moves on a female party guest. Although George Harrison talked him into changing the lyrics, Lennon shared the story behind the song in interviews, and it seems safe to assume that Radiohead were having a bit of intentional (albeit not terribly subtle) fun with Lennon’s infamous disenchantment.

As an interesting side note, it’s worth mentioning that the opening lines of ‘Sexy Sadie’ — “What have you done? / You made a fool of everyone” — are an almost word-for-word lift from one of Lennon’s self-professed favorite songs, ‘I’ve Been Good to You’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Parallels within parallels!

Listen to the Beatles, ‘Sexy Sadie’

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Listen to Radiohead, ‘Karma Police’

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