The song is a first-person narrative of an outlaw, captured for a bounty, who recognizes that he is about to be executed for his criminal activities. The execution will be by hanging, as the outlaw laments, "Hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don't have very long."
Some pressings of the single were made with translucent, red vinyl. Years after its release it remains a staple on classic rock radio playlists, and is usually the final song Styx plays at its concerts.
When performed live from 1978 to 1983, drummer John Panozzo increased the tempo of the drum pattern during the guitar solo sections. Also, the track would serve as the drum solo spot for Panozzo during that time frame.
Although songwriter Tommy Shaw and fellow Styx guitarist James Young usually played lead guitar on their own compositions, Shaw asked Young if he could take the solo on "Renegade". Young agreed, and later returned the favor by allowing Shaw to play lead on his "Half-Penny, Two-Penny" on the Paradise Theatre album.
Since 2001, the song has become a de facto theme song for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. The song is frequently played on the Heinz Fieldjumbotron, accompanied by a video featuring members of the defense. According to lore, during the 2008 season that saw the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII, the defense was able to keep the opposing team from scoring nine times out of the ten times the song was played. On January 11, 2009 Styx performed the national anthem and sang the introduction to "Renegade" before the Steelers-San Diego Chargers playoff game. They also performed the song in between the 2nd and 3rd period of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic.
This song was also included in Chris Cole's "ZERO: Dying to Live" video part.