The album was conceived as a collection of the singles and their B-sides from 1985 and 1986. Additionally, the scrapped single "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby" (which was passed over for "Shoplifters of the World Unite") and the near-single "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" (a single candidate from The Queen Is Dead that was passed over in favour of "Bigmouth Strikes Again") were included.
The title reflects Morrissey's frustration with the fact that mainstream radio and record buyers still weren't paying attention to the band. As the album included many non-album cuts and single versions, it remains a fan favourite. The music press was critical, however, labelling the album "inessential".
The compilation was rendered largely superfluous only three months after its release when Rough Trade decided to release the similar but extended US-intended compilation Louder Than Bombs domestically. This was primarily done to save the consumer from paying high import prices. However, The World Won't Listen has some songs (or different versions of songs) that do not appear on Louder Than Bombs: "Money Changes Everything", "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side", "Stretch Out and Wait" (different version), "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", and "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby" (different version).
The last line is the title of the only song on The World Won't Listen which was previously unreleased, the word 'maybe' being used because the song had appeared on bootlegs and test pressings prior to its official release, and thus some more attentive fans would have had it.
After WEA acquired the Smiths' back catalogue in 1992, all Smiths albums were re-released at mid price, including The World Won't Listen, which was expanded to include a cover of "Golden Lights" and the original Rough Trade cassette edition bonus track "Money Changes Everything" (the "Bigmouth Strikes Again" B-side, also later released on the deluxe edition of The Sound of The Smiths).