As teenagers inspired by the eruption of the American and British punk movement, the Wallis brothers and Adams began writing songs together around 1978. Several songs that became fixtures of Ruin's performances date to this early period, including their revved-up covers of Leonard Cohen.[a] In what became a hallmark of Ruin, the early Wallis-Adams songs, while loyal to the hyper-rhythms and aggressive delivery of early punk and later hardcore, were just as likely to evoke the melancholia of American folk music or the frantic jam quality of psychedelic rock. Incoming bassist Cordy Swope added elements of 1960s British invasion and American underground art rock to the band's mix of styles. This eclecticism became a defining feature of the Philadelphia underground music scene of the 1980s and beyond, an environment that contributed to Ruin's success. American author and urbanist Adam Greenfield noted: "Philadelphia threw nothing but curveballs. McRad, The Dead Milkmen, Pagan Babies, Scram: none of them quite fit the template, somehow. They were too weird, too goofy, too unpredictable, too hard to fit into the categories that were already then beginning to solidify."
According to Pulitzer Prize-nominated rock critic Ken Tucker, by 1984 Ruin had established itself as "one of the most promising bands" in the Philadelphia region, "an ambitious group unto something new—a striking synthesis of rock styles." By 1986, Ruin had become "one of the most beloved bands in the history of Philly," according to Maximum Rocknroll's Stacey Finney. WKDU DJ Mike Eidel has gone as far as to call them "the best Philly band ever."