Ride the Lightning was released on July 27, 1984 by Megaforce Records and re-released by Elektra Records on November 19, 1984. It has sold over 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been certified 5x Platinum by the RIAA.
In July 1983, Metallica released their debut studio album, titled Kill 'Em All through Megaforce Records. On February 20, 1984, the band began work on their second album, titled Ride the Lightning, at Sweet Silence Studios, Copenhagen, Denmark. The album was produced under Flemming Rasmussen, founder of Sweet Silence Studios, who also went on to produce the band's following two albums, Master of Puppetsand ...And Justice for All. Metallica finished recording Ride the Lightning on March 14, 1984, and the album was released through Megaforce on July 30, 1984. On September 12, 1984, Metallica signed with major label Elektra Records who re-released the album on November 19, 1984.
Ride the Lightning is the last Metallica album to credit former lead guitarist Dave Mustaine with co-writing any songs. Mustaine was kicked out of the band in 1983, prior to the recording of Kill 'Em All. He is credited on the title track, "Ride the Lightning", and instrumental track "The Call of Ktulu". The album is also the first for which lead guitarist Kirk Hammett is given writing credits.
In 1984, the French record label Bernett Records misprinted the color of the album cover in green, rather than blue. 400 copies with the green cover were pressed. Because of their rarity, this misprint caused these green albums to become a guaranteed collectors item.