Faith No More underwent several line-up changes before releasing their first album, We Care a Lot, released in 1985 and distributed through San Francisco-based label Mordam Records. On the original vinyl release, the band is credited as "Faith. No More" on the album's liner notes, back cover, and on the record itself. Within a year the band signed up with Slash Records. The debut album's title track "We Care a Lot" was later rerecorded, for their follow-up album Introduce Yourself in 1987, and released as their first single. Membership remained stable until vocalist Chuck Mosley was replaced by Mike Patton in 1988.
The writing for the majority of the music for The Real Thing took place after the tour for Introduce Yourself. A demo version of "The Morning After", under the moniker "New Improved Song", with alternate lyrics written and sung by Chuck Mosley was released on the Sounds·Waves 2 extended play with the Sounds magazine. "Surprise! You're Dead!" was composed by Jim Martin in the 1970s, while he was guitarist for Agents of Misfortune who also featured Cliff Burton in the line up. The recording of the song took place in December 1988 following Chuck Mosley's removal from the band and was completed prior to the hiring of Mike Patton, who then wrote all the lyrics for the songs and recorded them the following month over the music.
The recording sessions also yielded several songs that did not appear on the album. Two of them, "The Grade" and "The Cowboy Song", later appeared on the singles and on the UK edition of Live at the Brixton Academy. A third song, "Sweet Emotion", was later rerecorded with different lyrics as "The Perfect Crime" for the soundtrack to the film that also starred a cameo appearance from guitarist Jim Martin, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. The original version was released on Flexible Fiend 3 with Kerrang! magazine issue 258 and, more recently The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection, the greatest hits compilation released to coincide with the band's reunion tour.
After the release of the album, Faith No More developed somewhat of a rivalry with fellow Californian funk rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom they had previously played with on The Uplift Mofo Party Tour. Singer Anthony Kiedis accused Mike Patton of stealing his "style" in the "Epic" music video. He told Kerrang! magazine "My drummer says he's gonna kidnap [Patton], shave his hair off and cut off one of his feet, just so he'll be forced to find a style of his own". In a separate interview, he clarified his comment, remarking "I love The Real Thing, and I liked his vocals on that record. I mean, when I heard the record I noticed subtle similarities, but when I saw that video it was like, 'Wait a second here, what the fuck?.'" Roddy Bottum responded by saying "To me, our band sounds nothing like Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you're talking about long hair, rapping with his shirt off, then yeah, I can see similarities. But beyond that, I can't see any. I haven't talked to them since this whole thing started. We're really good friends with that band and I'd like to think they're doing It ... like as a favour". Mike Patton finally addressed the allegations from Kiedis in 1990, commenting that "It just kind of came out of the blue. It doesn't bother me a bit. I got a real big kick out of it to tell you the truth. I mean, if he's gonna talk about me in interviews, that's fine - it's free press! Either he's feeling inadequate or old or I don't know, but I have no reason to talk shit about him." Later in 2001, Patton also theorized that "I think Anthony, deep down, feels like I'm a better dancer than he is. I think I shake my booty just a little bit fresher than he does. And if he would stop doing drugs I think he could outdance me. Maybe one day we'll have a breakoff, just breakdance."