Singer Mark E. Smith stated the song was written about "the ageism thing, where people are supposed to be screwed after they're 29", directed towards middle-aged men who are "hard livers with hard livers; faces like unmade beds", saying of them "I mean the people in the pubs where I go are 48 or 50, but they've got more guts than all these other preeners. In every generation, you get this core of spirit, and they never lose it.". It featured a rockabilly-influenced backing, which was seen as deliberate by writer David Wilkinson "due to the genre being one which would likely have been to the taste of a middle-aged working class Mancunian in 1979". Simon Reynolds saw it as "a coruscating portrait of one of Manchester's finest sons, the hard-bitten product of five generations of industrial life...a forty-five-year-old pub stalwart who's spent three decades on the piss, ignoring the pain from his long-suffering kidneys", also speculating that Jack may be an amphetamine user.
Smith stated in a Sounds interview at the time of the single's release that Jack was "the sort of guy I can see myself as in twenty years".
The single was recorded at Foel Studios in Llanfair Caereinion, Powys, Wales in October 1979, and produced by the band with Geoff Travis and Mayo Thompson, who had accepted Smith's invitation to work on the sessions. Smith recorded the vocals for "Fiery Jack" in the studios' courtyard as he liked the echo that it created. It was released in January 1980 by Step-Forward, the band's last release on the label before moving to Rough Trade Records. As well as "Fiery Jack", the band recorded the B-side tracks "2nd Dark Age" and "Psykick Dancehall #2" (a song originally released on their Dragnet album), and "That Man", which wasn't included, but was later released on the Totale's Turns album.
The single sleeve featured artwork by Smith's sister Suzanne, and text by Mark E. Smith referring to Roman Totale XVII (one of several references to this character in the band's early releases), and claiming the contents of the single were found next to Totale's remains, "the results of experiments which took place in the remote Welsh hills one autumn" and urging the reader to "never unleash it on humanity".
"Fiery Jack" was chosen as 'Single of the Week' by Sounds, Mick Middles stating: "Perfecting pomposity, the Fall jump into the rough and raw world of rockabilly with confidence in excess. 'Fiery Jack' sees the band at their painful best, a number that glides on and on and on."