The lyric introduces the listener to Bowie’s latest persona and his environment; Halloween Jack dwells on top of tenement buildings in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. The guitar sound is heavily influenced by The Rolling Stones, and signalled Bowie moving away from glam rock and closer to a proto-punkStooges-influenced sound.
The track was considered by many commentators to be an unconventional single, and only reached UK No. 21. According to NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, "As a potential hit single, the title track from Diamond Dogs was something of a non-event. Too long, too bleak in vision, too tough to dance to... you know the drill."
While it failed to make the US charts, the song became a central part of Bowie’s North American tour in 1974.
The B-side was a version of Bowie’s 1971 single "Holy Holy", re-recorded during the Ziggy Stardust sessions the same year.
A live version from the 1974 tour was released on David Live. This version was also issued on the Dutch release Rock Concert. Another live recording from the 1974 tour was released on the semi-legal album A Portrait in Flesh.
A live performance recorded on 23 March 1976 was released on Live Nassau Coliseum '76, part of the 2010 reissues of Station to Station.
Beck recorded a cover version of "Diamond Dogs", produced by Timbaland, for the film Moulin Rouge! in 2001. The dancers in the film were also called the Diamond Dogs, as were the dancers on Bowie's 1974 tour.