The album's title may be a reference to the 1987 film Withnail and I. Vauxhall is an area of London noted for its gay clubs (it is also an area of Liverpool), and there is also a British car manufacturer of the same name.
"Spring Heeled Jim" contains bits of dialogue from We Are the Lambeth Boys, a 1959 documentary that follows the lives of members of a south London youth club. The line "Don't leave us in the dark" at the end of "Billy Budd" is sampled from the 1948 David Lean film adaptation of Dickens' Oliver Twist. This was said by one of Fagin's pickpockets to Fagin when the mob was closing in on their hiding place. The song itself shares the title with a novella by Herman Melville.
Vauxhall and I was a success in the United States, making the top 20. It was also Morrissey's second solo album to reach the top of the charts in Britain, the first being Viva Hate.
The lead single off the album, "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get", became the only song by Morrissey or The Smiths to achieve chart success in the United States, where it reached number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. In the United Kingdom, the song hit number 8 in the UK Singles Chart and was the only single by Morrissey to reach the top ten during the 1990s.
Q listed it as one of the top ten albums of 1994. In February 2006, the same magazine voted it at number 91 on its list of the best albums ever. In January 2006, NME voted it number 57 in its list of the "Top 100 British Albums".