Many US fans of The Clash didn't get the chance to hear this song at all - when the Clash's self-titled first album was re-released in America in 1979, the tracklisting was edited, and "Cheat" was one of the songs dropped for the re-release.
The lyrics are very much a celebration of the burgeoning punk aesthetic the Clash were a pioneering part of: celebrating non-conformity and breaking the rules -
"I don't know what can be done about it
If you play the game you get nothing out of it
Find out for yourself try bein' a goody goody")
The lyrics were apparently inspired by the King Mob, a Situationalist splinter group active in London in the 1970s.
The first verse relates to drug use, and speed in particular - the giveaway is the line "I get silent when I'm drugged up," a common side effect of speed usage.
Singer Joe Strummer regarded the song as a filler track, and wrote it just before the band went into the studio to record the album. Despite this, some effort has gone into recording it - note the usage of phasing effects on the guitars. "Simon Humphrey (the Clash's recording engineer) came up with that, someone said something about phasing and he said 'let's put some on and see what it sounds like,'" noted original drummer Terry Chimes in a 2002 interview.
This is incorrectly assumed to be the only song on the Clash's first album that the band never played live. The song was regularly played on their White Riot and Get Out of Control tours in 1977/78.
"Cheat" was covered in the late 1990s by the US Punk band Rancid, who were longtime fans of The Clash, for the Burning London tribute album to The Clash.