The song which "Student Demonstration Time" is based on, "Riot in Cell Block Nine", was originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and was considered for inclusion on the Beach Boys' 1965 album Party!, but was ultimately not included. The song was subsequently performed live by the Beach Boys in concert starting in 1969. In mid-1970, Mike Love re-wrote the lyrics after learning of the Kent State Shootings where four unarmed college students protesting the Cambodian Campaign were killed by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. Stephen W. Desper, engineer of the Beach Boys during this period, explained the genesis and context behind the song:
If you lived through the 60s, the civil riots, the unrest, the anti-war demonstrations, the crowds of unruly students in the streets, with hundreds of young soldiers dying every day -- every day, and in-depth TV coverage of people being shot at close range coming into our living rooms every night, you might have more understanding of "the why and wherefore" of the song.
Michael was seeing all this going on in Santa Barbara, CA where he lived. It was in his front yard. It was in all our lives. It was a sick time. The country was sick. And much of it was needless. Michael was moved to write a song about war protest. His approach was to offer vocal advice to the listener as to what to do when you may be caught up in one of these civil unrests -- so as not to get killed. Remember, Kent State was still in the news when the lyrics were written.
Other events referred to in the song include (in order of appearance):
"Student Demonstration Time" (backed with "Don't Go Near the Water") was released as a single in the Netherlands and Italy, as well as Australia, where it charted during 1972. However, for the British and German releases of the single, the A-side and B-side were switched, resulting in "Don't Go Near the Water" being the A-side.