The song, as originally performed by the Beach Boys, is sung from the point of view of a teenager who reluctantly agrees to a challenge to race a rival after rashly bragging about his car, and is reassured by his girlfriend's plea to take her love with him when he races.
David Howard wrote that "Don't Worry Baby" was a "subtle harbinger for the growing dichotomy within the California Sound. While 'I Get Around' symbolized the sunshine ideal in all its carefree splendor, 'Don't Worry Baby' suggested something entirely more pensive and even slightly dark underneath its pristine facade."
The stereo mix of the song had been used on Shut Down Volume 2 when it was released in 1990 and 2001. A single mono mix appeared on the 20 More Good Vibrations compilation. On the 2008 Singles box set, a mono album version was used instead of the single mix. The original stereo mix of "Don't Worry Baby" had Brian's lead vocal hard-panned in the left channel, the instrumental track in the centre and backing vocals on the right. Thanks to the discovery of the lost multi-track masters in 2009, an alternate stereo mix was created from the analog master with the instrumental track and Brian's lead vocal placed in the middle channel while the backing vocals were shared between the left and right channels. This new stereo mix can be found on the 2009 compilation Summer Love Songs.
The song has been played live at most Beach Boys concerts since its release. However with Brian Wilson's absence from the group the song has had many lead vocalist for its live versions, including Al Jardine and Matthew Jardine. Brian Wilson performed the song live during his solo concerts in which he took the lead. However in the late 2000s the lead was given to Jeffrey Foskett a member in Brian Wilson's backing band.
Garbage's 1998 hit, "Push It", contains an interpolation of its chorus.
The B.J. Thomas version has a slightly altered story, as a man waking up to his partner every morning, thinking that her love for him is fading, but his spirits rise as she reminds him how much she believes in him and loves him.
Billy Joel performed the cover version of this song at "An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson (2001)". Before he sang, he mentioned that his daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, adored the song from Never Been Kissed and dedicated the song to her.