The Ramones were paid a total of $25,000 for appearing in the film, and had to play shows in southern California to help pay their hotel bills. During the 21-day shoot, Dee Dee Ramone got arrested for fighting with a roadie, overdosed in jail, and wound up in Cedars Sinai Hospital with a $3,000 medical bill.
Originally, Todd Rundgren was to star as the musical act, but both sides could not come to an agreement. Next, Cheap Trick was contacted, but a similar situation happened. After that, talks were conducted with Warner Bros. Records, where Allan Arkush had a connection, to decide on which band they should use in the film. The first suggestion was Devo, but Arkush decided that they had too much of their own concept. Another band considered for the movie was Van Halen, but Warner execs warned Arkush that they were raucous and would be difficult to handle. Finally, an exec name-dropped the Ramones, who recorded for Sire Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records. Arkush, being a huge fan of the band, agreed. To this day, Rundgren regrets passing up the role he was offered.
P.J. Soles had never heard Ramones before being cast in the film. She was given their music to listen to but she admits that she did not like it initially. But after her enjoyment of working with them, she became a fan of theirs.
The high-school was portrayed by the non-operational Mount Carmel High School in South Central Los Angeles which had been closed-down since 1976. The building of the school blown-up at the end is the school which was scheduled for demolition. The explosion was five times bigger than it was supposed to be, and since the filming was at 3am, a lot of frightened neighborhood residents charged out of their homes, not knowing what had happened.
When The Ramones are backstage after the concert and Riff gives them her song, in the background on the wall is a picture of Cherie Currie, formerly the lead singer of The Runaways. The Runaways and The Ramones toured together.
The romantic theme song heard under the credits, "Did We Meet Somewhere Before?" is sung by Paul McCartney and Wings. McCartney wrote it as the theme to Heaven Can Wait (1978), but Warren Beatty decided not to use it. Allan Arkush, the director, then swung a deal whereby he was able to use the song for only $500 provided McCartney did not receive screen credit.
P.J. Soles purchased her own wardrobe because the film's budget was so low that they could not afford decent clothes for her. She spent her entire salary, $2100.00, on her clothes. The red satin jacket was $300.00 from Fred Segal. According to Soles, Rod Stewart was at the store and wanted to buy the jacket but she had claimed it before him.
On the last day of shooting, Allan Arkush was hospitalized for exhaustion, and Joe Dante was tapped to direct the remaining scenes, which were the scene in the gym where P.J. Soles sings her version of "Rock 'n' Roll High School", the long take in the bathroom, and the scene involving the telephone booth.
The origins of the film's plot were seeded in an old favorite story told to co-writer Joseph McBride by his father, the Milwaukee Journal's Raymond E. McBride, who held a walkout at the Central High School in Superior, Wisconsin during the 1920s.
The movie's main poster was designed in a similar vogue to the one used for Animal House (1978) a year earlier. That movie had been a box-office hit. Instead of a fraternity house exploding with action and characters, this movie did the same except it was a high school main building instead.
The movie spurred just the one sequel which was made and released around twelve years later. Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever (1991) didn't garner theatrical releases and was a straight to video movie debut.
Allan Arkush tried for several years to get the film produced under various rough draft titles: "High School Spirit of '76", "Heavy Metal Kids", "Girls' Gym", "California Girls", and "Disco High". After Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick and Tom Petty declined the project, Arkush settled on the Ramones for the band in the film.
While technically it otherwise has no connection to "Rock 'n' Roll High School" (and takes place in the 50's), actresses PJ Soles, Dey Young, and Mary Woronov reunited for the 1994 remake of "Shake, Rattle, and Rock". The characters they played in that film are named Evelyn Randall, Kate Rambeau Sr., and E. Joyce Togar (respectively).