Released as a single (with "Pledging My Love" on the B-side) on June 6, 1977, it was his single at the time of his death. It initially peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated August 6, 1977 and had fallen to No. 53 on the chart for the week ending August 27, 1977. Thereafter, it reversed direction and reached an even higher peak at No. 18 on 24 September – 1 October 1977. "Way Down" reached No. 1 on the American Country chart the week he died. Overseas, the song hit the number one in the UK Singles Chart week ending 3 September for five weeks,  just over seven years after his previous 16th UK number one single, "The Wonder of You", in August 1970. His previous single, "Moody Blue", had been a number one hit on the US Country Charts earlier in 1977. "Way Down" was reissued in April 2005 and reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
The recording also featured J.D. Sumner singing the words "way on down" at the end of each chorus down to the note low C (C2). At the end of the song, this phrase is octaved, reaching a double low C (C1, three octaves below middle C). This note was first accomplished by Sumner in a 1966 recording of the hymn "Blessed Assurance."