The song was a big hit for James in 1981, charting on the pop, R&B and dance charts in the US. On the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the song peaked at no. 16 in the fall of 1981 and spent 10 weeks in the top 40. Together with two other singles from Street Songs, "Give It to Me Baby" and "Ghetto Life", it spent three weeks at no. 1 on the American dance charts earlier that year.
In 1984, Los Angeles-based novelty band Big Daddy (whose comic conceit was to cover fast songs as ballads and slow songs up-tempo, and all contemporary songs done in 1950s style) recorded the song to a slower beat as if it had been done by the Everly Brothers.
An instrumental version of the song was featured in the 1992 movie Batman Returns.
In a 1998 episode of Just Shoot Me!, disappointed to find out she hadn't been the inspiration to the fictional song "Nina in The Cantina", Nina Van Horn found solace in the belief that she was at least the inspiration to Rick James' Super Freak.
^Keyes, Cheryl Lynette (1991). Rappin to the Beat: Rap Music as Street Culture Among African Americans. Indiana University Press. p. 109. "Hammer's musical success is predicated on his extensive use of recycled old rhythm and blues tunes as background music in his rap songs, for example, "U Can't Touch This" uses the music from Rick James' "Super Freak""