The song is musically a simple folk song based on acoustic guitar, but accompanied by drums and strings. The lyrics describe a dead skunk in the middle of a busy road and the smell it produces for pedestrians. Wainwright said the song was an accident, written in 15 minutes.
Although the single was released in November 1972, it was not until well into 1973 that it caught on with radio stations, and its number 16 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 chart was not reached until the week ending 31 March 1973. It peaked at number 12 on the Cashbox charts on April 14. It was the only record to chart for Wainwright. "Dead Skunk" also reached number eight in Canada and number 12 in Australia.