Randy Bachman had sung what would later become "Takin' Care of Business" while still a member of The Guess Who. His original idea was to write about a recording technician who worked on The Guess Who's recordings. This particular technician would take the 8:15 train to get to work, inspiring the lyrics "take the 8:15 into the city."
In the early arrangement for the song, the chorus riff and vocal melody were similar to that of The Beatles' "Paperback Writer." When Bachman first played this version for Burton Cummings, Cummings declared that he was ashamed of him and that The Guess Who would never record the song because the Beatles would sue them.
Bachman still felt like the main riff and verses were good, it was only when the song got to the chorus that everyone hated it. While BTO was still playing smaller venues in support of its first album, Bachman was driving into Vancouver, British Columbia for a gig and listening to the radio when he heard a particular DJ's (Daryl B) catch phrase "We're takin' care of business." Lead vocalist Fred Turner's voice gave out before the band's last set that night. Bachman sang some cover songs to get through the last set, and on a whim, he told the band to play the C, B-flat and F chords (a I-VII-IV progression) over and over, and he sang "White Collar Worker" with the new words "Takin' Care of Business" inserted into the chorus.
After this, he rewrote the lyrics to "White Collar Worker" with a new chorus and the title "Takin' Care of Business." Along with this he wrote a revised guitar riff, which was the I-VII-IV progression played with a shuffle. The song was recorded by Bachman–Turner Overdrive for their second album Bachman–Turner Overdrive II. It would reach number 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, number 6 on the Cash Box Top 100, number 3 on the Canadian RPM charts, and become one of B.T.O.'s most enduring and well-known songs.
The original studio version, recorded at Kaye-Smith Studios in Seattle, Washington, features prominent piano, played by Norman Durkee. Durkee, an accomplished musician who would become musical director for Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, was recording commercials in the next studio when sound engineer Buzz Richmond asked him to play on "Takin' Care of Business". With paid-by-the-hour musicians waiting, Durkee had only a few minutes to spare. Quickly conferring with Randy Bachman, he scribbled down the chords, and, without listening to the song beforehand, recorded the piano part in one take. The fact that he'd written the chords down on a pizza box may have been the source of the long-standing claim - mischievously propagated by band members - that the part had been played by a pizza deliveryman who had heard the track being played back and then cajoled the band into giving him a chance to add piano to it.
In 2011, Bachman said it was the most licensed song in Sony Music's publishing catalogue. It is often referred to as "the Provincial rock anthem of Manitoba."
During his last few years of life, Elvis Presley adopted "Taking Care Of Business In A Flash" as a motto, abbreviated as TCB and associated with a lightning bolt, which can be seen on one of his airplanes, is still used in Elvis merchandise. His entertainment room at Graceland also shows his dedication to that motto. His last backup group was called the TCB Band, which still plays under the name. Elvis had been a major influence on Bachman, who in 2010 said he had been aware of rumors about the origins of the TCB name but had not had them confirmed until watching a documentary about Elvis in which his widow confirmed the BTO connection. In an interview with Larry London of Voice of America, Bachman commented that Elvis had recorded a version of the song but that it would probably never be released.
The song has been used as an advertising campaign for companies such as Office Depot, whose business target consists largely of small business owners. The song was also used for many years in advertisements for Officeworks, an Australian chain of office supply stores which bear much similarity to the US Office Depot stores. In New Zealand, mobile operator Vodafone has used the song in a series of advertisements for their business-oriented mobile plans. Many have noticed the irony of this, as the song focuses on being lazy; the lyrics refer to an unemployed musician who "love[s] to work at nothing all day," and, tongue-in-cheek, calling it "taking care of business." The song has also been used as Kmart's theme and during the 1990s, was coincidentally, used in commercials for OfficeMax, Office Depot's main competitor.
In 2004, Bachman rewrote the song into a Christmas version titled "Takin' Care of Christmas," which was released on a holiday CD of the same title.
The song was used in the popular Australian film Kenny as the main theme song.
The song was also used in an episode of The Simpsons, "Saddlesore Galactica". Homer Simpson is shown at a B.T.O. concert, demanding that the band play the song. The band starts the song and Homer then yells, "Get to the 'workin' overtime' part!" The band obliges, skipping straight to the chorus. Later, just after finishing 'You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet', Homer requests that they sing it: when Bachman claims that they just did, Homer replies with a drawn-out 'What-everrr!'
The song was used in the American Dad! episode "The Boring Identity". Stan Smith sings it in a restaurant while the song is playing in the jukebox.
The song was covered by jam band Phish for the first time at the Hampton Coliseum on October 20, 2013.
The song was used in an episode of The Wonder Years titled "Sex and Economics." Kevin Arnold's sexy social studies teacher, Miss Farmer, posts a painting job on the school's jobs bulletin board. Kevin gets the job and he asks three friends from high school to help him. The song is played as they begin painting Miss Farmer's house. The show was mostly accurate, keeping historical facts and songs played on it within the framework of its timeline (1968 to 1973). In this instance, the song had been released in December 1973, but the episode actually takes place in the fall of 1972.
The song was used in the Regular Show episode "Tent Trouble". The song plays as Mordecai and Rigby try to earn money to replace CJ's tent.