Brewer's lyrics are somewhat autobiographical, detailing the band's recent tour and their energetic live performances. In the song, the band mentions traveling through Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as stopping to party with four groupies that snuck into their hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. The lyrics also mention "sweet sweet Connie", which is a reference to legendary groupieConnie Hamzy.
According to rock critic/writer Dave Marsh in his book, The Heart of Rock and Soul, Grand Funk was touring with the British group Humble Pie in early 1973. After one performance, the two groups were drinking in a bar when they began arguing over the merits of British versus American rock. Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer stood up and after bragging about American rock heroes such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, proudly announced, "We're an American band!". Thus inspired, he wrote the song the next morning; by late 1973, it was the top-selling song in the world. A video was also made, showing the band playing the song as well as engaging in activities such as basketball, dirtbike riding, and watersports.
The original single was released on gold transparent vinyl.
It was made available to download on April 5, 2011 for use in the Rock Band 3 music gaming platform for both Basic rhythm, and PRO mode which utilizes real guitar/bass guitar, and MIDI compatible electronic drum kits / keyboards in addition to vocals.
The band Americade covered it for their 1982 album release American Metal and the corresponding video won "Best New Video" (one of six nominated summer rock videos) on MTV (July 3 and 4, 1983---announced by Lindsay Buckingham and VJ Alan Hunter).
The German band Spider Murphy Gang published a musically identical German (Bavarian) version as a single in 1983. The song was also featured on their 1983 album Live! as well as on their Greatest Hits (1986).
Electronic rocker Nash the Slash recorded it as the implied title track of his 1984 album, American Band-ages, which consisted of cover versions of classic rock songs---also issued it as a single. It begins with a 1950s jazz-pop arrangement of the theme song from American Bandstand with a pop vocal group singing the chorus lyrics of "We're an American Band" to that tune, before it abruptly turns into a full electronic rock version of the Grand Funk song. Since Nash plays all the instruments on his records, the lyrics are changed to: "I'm an American band, I come into your town, I'm gonna burn it down." (Nash was Canadian.)
Autograph covered it in November 1985 and had it added to their second album That’s the Stuff in early 1986, replacing track No. 6 in the original October 1985 release. The "Up all night with Freddie King, I got to tell you poker's his thing" portion early in the song is replaced by "Up all night, sleep all day, I got to tell you that's how we play" for unknown reasons, possibly because of King's death ten years earlier.
Poison (who also recorded for Capitol) covered it and released it as a single with a music video for their The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock (2006) compilation which peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200. It was slightly changed, replacing the line "And we proceeded to tear that hotel down" with the line "And Poison tore that hotel down". It was also on the Poison cover album Poison'd (2007).