The song was written by Ed and Steve in the band's early days and was originally released on the second version of their first demo tape Buck Naked in 1989. A second version, at a much faster tempo and featuring Jim Creeggan on bass and Andy Creeggan on congas, appeared on the 1990 demo Barenaked Lunch.
In 1990, the band submitted a homemade recording of the song to local radio station CFNY-FM, after which the station asked them for the master recording in order to add it to a compilation record. Steve claims he "didn't have the heart" to tell them that he had sent the master recording (a simple cassette) and they soon entered a proper studio to record a more professional-sounding version. This recording was later released on 1991's Barenaked Ladies, aka The Yellow Tape.
In 1991, the band entered the studio again to record another version of the song, this time featuring drummer Tyler Stewart, to be released as a single through Steve's dad's label Page Publications. This version, remixed and partially re-recorded, was later released on the band's 1992 debut album Gordon.
After the departure of Steve from the band in 2009, the song is rarely performed live, though British comedian and singer-songwriter Boothby Graffoe has been known to sing the song with the band on UK tour dates.
In 1990, Toronto-based TV station Citytv set up a booth outside their building at 299 Queen Street West containing a coin-operated camera that allowed anyone to record a two-minute video, the best of which would then be broadcast on the CityPulse evening news program. Though the original intent was to collect the opinions of average citizens on current events, people soon began using it as a creative outlet and self-promotion tool; the segments were soon spun off into their own series Speaker's Corner.
In early 1991, BNL stuffed themselves into the booth and played an abridged version of "Be My Yoko Ono", with Steve announcing, "Hi! We're Barenaked Ladies, and we're a little too cheap to make our own video, so here you go". The segment originally aired on March 30, 1991 and proved to be one of the show's most popular segments; it was even aired repeatedly on MuchMusic (which shared a parent company with Citytv, CHUM Limited) alongside multimillion-dollar videos by major artists.
The official video for the Gordon version of the song was released in 1993 and was directed by Larry Jordan, who had previously directed the video for "What A Good Boy". This video features the band playing together in a dark room while recreating many of Yoko Ono's performance art pieces (such as "Cut Piece", in which Ono allowed audience members to cut pieces of her clothing away with scissors), interspersed with archival footage provided by Ono herself.
- The song reached #90 on the RPM 100 chart in Canada on February 22, 1992.