Liam Sternberg wrote the song after seeing people on a ferry walking awkwardly to keep their balance, which reminded him of figures in Ancient Egyptianreliefs. The opening lyrics state, "All the old paintings on the tombs/They do the sand dance don't you know". The reference to the sand dance possibly refers to a music hall routine performed by Wilson, Keppel and Betty where Wilson and Keppel danced around in the postures portrayed on the reliefs wearing the fez while Betty watched.
By January 1984, Sternberg was finished cutting a demo version of the song with Marti Jones singing the lyric. He offered his song to Toni Basil, who turned it down. From Peer Southern Publishing, David Kahne, the producer of Different Light, received a copy of the demo and liked it, especially Jones's "offhand quality". Kahne took the song to the Bangles who agreed to record it. He had each member of the group sing the lyrics to determine who would sing each verse, with Vicki Peterson, Michael Steele, and Susanna Hoffs singing lead vocals on the first, second, and third verses, respectively, in the final version. Kahne did not like any of Debbi Peterson's leads, and so she was relegated to backing vocals. This angered Debbi and caused tension within the group, as she felt the rest of the band was not supportive. The situation was exacerbated by the drumming in the song being done by a drum machine instead of by her, further diminishing her role in the song.
"Walk Like an Egyptian" was released as the third single from Different Light. It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1986. The song reached a peak of number three on the UK Singles Chart in November 1986 and reached number one in the US on December 20, staying at the top of the Hot 100 for four weeks, carrying it over into January 1987. The song is the first song by an all-female group playing (mostly) their own instruments to top the Billboard singles chart. The success of the song and "Manic Monday" propelled Different Light to number two on the Billboard 200 chart, making it the group's most successful album.
On the American Top 40 Top 100 of 1987 radio show, host Casey Kasem reported the song was added to the album as a joke, to which he added, "Some joke. Here's the punchline: The Bangles' sand dance of the ancient pharaohs walks away with the pyramid prize of the year!" contrasting how the song was added to the album with how popular it became, as it topped the year-end Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, which is the chart the American Top 40 was using at the time.
The music video for "Walk Like an Egyptian" was nominated for Best Group Video in the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards. The street scenes were filmed in New York City. It featured people dancing in a pose similar to the pose depicted in the Ancient Egyptian reliefs that inspired songwriter Liam Sternberg; while most of them are ordinary people, some famous figures and objects were depicted dancing in that same pose through the use of simple special effects, like Lady Diana, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the Statue of Liberty. In a popular scene from the video, Hoffs was filmed in a close-up where her eyes moved from side to side, looking left and right. When asked about the scene in an interview with online magazine PlanetOut.com, Hoffs explained that she was actually looking at individual audience members during the video shoot, which took place with a live audience. Looking directly at individual audience members was a technique she used to overcome stage fright, and she was unaware that the camera had a close-up on her while she was employing this technique, switching between one audience member on her left and one on her right.
In 1990, "Walk Like an Egyptian" was re-issued as a single in the UK to promote the Bangles' Greatest Hits album. It featured new remixes for the song called Ozymandias Remix. With the group having parted ways by then, little promotion was made and it charted at a poor number 73 in the UK.
Lamb, Bill. "Kelly Clarkson – Never Again". About.com. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 15, 2014. "David Kahne is responsible for over 2 decades of pop-rock classics from seminal work with the Bangles ("Manic Monday," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Going Down to Liverpool") to more recent production efforts for the Strokes."