Although the song was played moderately on US radio stations, it did not chart on the BillboardHot 100 as it was not released in the states as a physical single, a criterion that was still used by the Hot 100 at the time. The song did chart and peaked at number 3 on the BillboardTop Tracks chart in the US.
The song is written from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy who is constantly being told to be good, but prefers to daydream rather than concentrate in class or play sports. Johnny feels like he understands some of his instructions, but also that he is completely misunderstood by the adult world. The lead singer, Colin Hay, uses his voice in different ways throughout the song to imitate Johnny, Johnny's mother and father, and his teacher. The song also features spoken dialogue by keyboardist Greg Ham as he tries to figure out what Johnny is like. The title of the song is a reference to Johnny B. Goode.