It was a double A-side single release featuring "Precious" as the flip side. The song has a very similar introduction and bassline to "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes. A 12" version was also available with a live version of "Town Called Malice" backed by an extended version of "Precious".
Released as the first single from the album on 29 January 1982, it entered the chart at number one on the British music charts, staying at the top for three weeks,, and preventing "Golden Brown" by The Stranglers from reaching number one. EMI, the Stranglers record company, objected to the sales of both formats of "Town Called Malice" being aggregated, arguing that Jam fans were buying both versions and thus preventing their band from reaching the top of the charts.
In common with all of the Jam's singles, the record failed to chart in the United States. It was the band's third #1 single in the UK. Paul Weller has said that it was written about his hometown Woking as a result of his teenage experiences there.