It is similar to the style of many other of the band's hits, a mixture of rock and ska with Roland Gift's distinctive vocals, as well as a jazz-type trumpet solo. It was released in 1985 and was one of the group's most popular hits. The song tells the gritty realistic story of a runaway youth, and alternates from the first-person narrative, explaining how his arrival in the big city has not turned out as he expected, to the view of the parents in the chorus, expressing their wish that he would come home.
Although it failed to reach the top 40 in the United States, stalling at No. 76, it was a good start for the group in their native United Kingdom, peaking at No. 8 on the UK Singles Chart in July 1985. Along with the track "Blue", "Johnny Come Home" did reach No. 9 on the dance chart in the US.
In later years the song's title would serve as the title for a Jake Arnott novel published in 2006 whose plot line is reminiscent of the themes discussed in the song.