The album was recorded on 2–4 August 1979, less than eight months after its predecessor, Live at the Witch Trials, establishing at an early stage two key patterns of the group's work, that of high productivity and that of a regular turnover of group members – only Mark E. Smith and Marc Riley remained from the debut album, and Riley had changed his role from bass guitar to guitar. Dragnet is most notable for the arrivals of both guitarist Craig Scanlon and bassist Steve Hanley. Both were just 19 when they joined the group and would form The Fall's musical backbone until the mid 90s. This is the only studio album recorded with drummer Mike Leigh.
The album is somewhat self-referential lyrically, with several songs referencing the music industry; at least two tracks, "Printhead" and "Your Heart Out", quoted or paraphrased reviews of the band's live shows. "Printhead" even verifies this fact within its own lyric. It also had a muddy, inchoate production – Riley has claimed this was a deliberate contrast to the sharp, clean sound of Live at the Witch Trials. It would be their final album for Miles Copeland III's Step-Forward label, with the group signing to Rough Trade Records in early 1980.
The most recent edition of the album (remastered for the first time from the original master tapes) issued via Castle Music in January 2004 added not just the B-sides from the two singles on either side of the album but also some previously unheard alternate takes and breakdowns from the session for the "Rowche Rumble" single.