In the song, Davies is fed up with the modern world and declares that he wants to "sail away to a distant shore and make like an apeman". He also expresses how man created our problems and, given half a chance, he would leave the cities and traffic to live in the jungle. In some ways, this is the epitome of the nostalgia expressed on the albums Lola vs. Powerman and The Village Green Preservation Society.
"Apeman" was released as a single in the fall of 1970, with a B-side of the Dave Davies composition "Rats". While it did not do as well on the U.S. Pop Singles chart as its predecessor, "Lola", it was a major hit in the UK, peaking at number five on the singles chart. It was also the band's final chart success in Australia, reaching #9 on its chart.
The Kinks caused some controversy, because in the line "...the air pollution is a-foggin' up my eyes...", the word "a-foggin'" sounds too much like "a-fuckin'". Like the band's previous single "Lola" where Ray Davies had to change "Coca-cola" to "cherry cola", he again had to fly back to London to re-record this line, dubbing over with a more clear "a-foggin'" prior to its single release. The original lyric remains intact on the album, and is heard at 2:20. On their Top of the Pops performance filmed later in November, the changed lyric can be heard on the backing tape.