The song, originally titled "The Guitar", was the result of a jam session based around "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens. This motif is most pronounced in the chorus of the song, which is sung by Laura Cantrell, who also appears in the song's music video. However, the influence of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is present throughout the song in its continuous bassline. Due to the legal ramifications of the recurring theme, Elektra appended "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to the end of the song's title.
The music video for "The Guitar" was the first They Might Be Giants video to be directed by bandmember John Flansburgh.