Produced by Don Was, the song's inspiration was a cabin around Athens, Georgia, complete with tin roof, where the band conceived "Rock Lobster", a single from their first album; it is often said to have been located off "the Atlanta Highway", as the first verse implies. B-52's singer Kate Pierson lived in the cabin in the 1970s, and the cabin existed until 2004, when it burned down. "Tin roof...rusted," wailed by lead singer Cindy Wilson, was originally an outtake added to the track, and is perhaps the song's most memorable line. Fred Schneider also provides some memorable lines, including his notable boast of having a Chrysler that is "as big as a whale" and "seats about twenty". It has come to mean many things to different listeners.
The drag queen RuPaul can be seen dancing in the music video that was directed by Adam Bernstein and shot at the home and studio of ceramic artists Philip Maberry and Scott Walker. The song was a comeback of sorts following the band's decline in popularity in the early 1980s coupled with the death of their guitarist, Ricky Wilson, in 1985.
The single release contained various tracks depending on the country it was released in. The United States had a B-side of "Roam", a song that would later reach number 3 as well, and other countries had singles with either "Channel Z" or a live version of "Rock Lobster" as the B-side. In 1998 and 1999, the single was released again with a number of remixes, including one by DJ Tonka, but the re-release did not chart in the United States, although it did enter the United Kingdom charts.