In this song, Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong, who sings lead on the track, recalls his time in the Salvation Army rehab unit. Armstrong went on the upswing after forming the band Operation Ivy in 1987, but when they split two years later, he developed a debilitating drug and alcohol problem that he kicked in the Salvation Army program. In 1991, he and his Operation Ivy bandmate Matt Freeman, who also dealt with addiction, formed Rancid.
This was released on Rancid's second album, Let's Go, in 1994. The band was pure punk, emerging from the Gilman Street scene that was suddenly hot thanks to Green Day. MTV took notice, put the "Salvation" video in rotation, and the group began to entertain offers from major labels - they were signed to the independent label Epitaph.
As a joke to see how far the labels would go to sign the band, Rancid convinced an A&R rep from Epic to shave his head into a blue Mohawk. Madonna even sent the band nude pictures of herself in an attempt to lure them to her label Maverick. Rancid stuck with Epitaph, which also had The Offspring and NOFX.
Video game developer Harmonix created a cover version of "Salvation" for the Xbox 360 game Guitar Hero 2.
This song appeared in the pilot episode of the teen TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but the song didn't make it into the actual first aired episode of the show.