Weil and Mann were based at Aldon Music, located at 1950 Broadway, New York City, and the song as written by Mann/Weil was originally recorded by the Cookies (although the Crystals' version beat them to release) and featured an upbeat lyric in which the protagonist is still on her way to Broadway and sings "I got to get there soon, or I'll just die". The song was played as a shuffle.
When Leiber/Stoller let it be known that the Drifters had booked studio time for the following day and were a song short, Mann/Weil forwarded "On Broadway". Leiber and Stoller liked the song but felt that it was not quite right and the four held an overnight brainstorming session which culminated in the better-known version of the song, now with a rock oriented groove and with a more bluesy feel which matched the new lyric in which the singer was now actually on Broadway and having a hard time. A young Phil Spector played the distinctive lead guitar solo on The Drifters' recording. The personnel for the Drifters recording is Joe Newman, Ernie Royal - trumpets; Billy Butler, Bill Suyker, Everette Barksdale - guitars; Russ Savakus - bass; Gary Chester - drums; and Phil Kraus, Nick Rodriguez, Martin Grupp - percussion. The instrumental arrangement was written by noted arranger Gary Sherman.
British electro pioneer Gary Numan began performing the song on his 1979 tour, which was later released on the live album Living Ornaments '79. A studio recording was later made and has appeared on several Numan compilation albums.
Argentinian group Serú Girán referenced the song's melody — played by the fretless bass — in their track "Canción de Hollywood" (Hollywood song) from their 1979 album, La Grasa de las Capitales.