The title is a play on the 1950 Nevil Shute novel A Town Like Alice although Paul Weller says he had not read the book at the time. It was a double A-side single release featuring "Precious" as the flip side. 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 chart.
It was the band's third number-one single in the UK. It was the band's sole chart entry onto any American chart (although this single and "Start!" both appeared in the low-rungs of the Billboard Dance/Club Play charts) when it hit #31 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1982.
The photograph on the front cover of the sleeve was taken by drummer Rick Buckler.
A music video of the song was filmed and was in moderate rotation on MTV in 1982 and 1983. The song was featured prominently in the 1985 comedy film National Lampoon's European Vacation, 2005 film The Matador and also appeared in the film Billy Elliot. The song was also featured several times in the play How to Be a Man in West Belfast, which premiered at Wesleyan University in April 2009. It is also on the soundtrack to FIFA Football 2004, as well as being featured in the video game Rock Band. The song featured at the beginning of episode 3.5 of the show Ashes to Ashes. It can also be heard in the first and last episodes of the first season of the BBCseries Criminal Justice.
In September 2007, McFly recorded a cover version of the song as part of Radio 1 Established 1967, and a cover by Kids In Glass Houses was included on the CD release of their 2008 single "Saturday".
It is played before every Millwall F.C. home game.