The Meaning and Story Behind “Look Away” by Chicago and the Future Hall of Fame Songwriter Who Wrote It

Some songs are likely bigger hits than you remember. You might recall “Look Away” by Chicago as a somewhat ubiquitous power ballad from the late ’80s. But did you know that it was the top Billboard hit for the entire year of 1989?

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What is “Look Away” about? Who wrote it? And how did it help extend Chicago’s impressive run as resilient hitmakers? Let’s take a look back at this powerhouse single and everything behind its making and meaning.

A Hard Band to Break

They started as the Chicago Transit Authority before simplifying to Chicago, and they immediately found success at the dawn of the ’70s with a jazz-rock-prog fusion sound further distinguished by a prominent horn section. But as the decade wore on, the band often ceded the spotlight to lead singer Peter Ceterra on tender ballads, many of which went on to become Chicago’s biggest singles.

While many other bands popular in the ’70s tripped up a bit entering the decade, Chicago just kept rolling with big hits, especially when they hooked up with David Foster, a producer with the Midas touch. But their continued success was threatened when Ceterra decided to go solo after Chicago 17, the band’s best-selling album.

Luckily, they had more than enough options to go around on the vocal front. Jerry Scheff entered the fold in 1986 and immediately paid dividends, trading vocals with Bill Champlin, who had joined in 1981, on hits like “Will You Still Love Me?” and “If She Would Have Been Faithful…”

Chicago had always used songwriters outside the band to occasionally complement the songs the members created. In 1988 on Chicago 19, they employed Diane Warren, who had been churning out hits for a few years, but hadn’t yet ascended to the status where just her name in the credits practically guaranteed a big smash. (Warren would go on to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and receive its highest honor, the Johnny Mercer Award.)

But Warren’s work on that album helped change that. First there was “I Don’t Want to Live Without Your Love,” written with Albert Hammond, which hit the Top Five as the first single from Chicago 19. Then came “Look Away,” which she wrote by herself and became a runaway sensation upon its release in September ’88.

As a matter of fact, probably the only person in the country who didn’t realize “Look Away” was a big smash was Champlin, the guy who sang lead on it, as he explained in a 1989 interview with The Telegraph (as reported by

“Everybody said, ‘I hear your song every day. I go, ‘What song?’ I was kind of oblivious to the whole thing, busy working on new stuff. That’s what happens: As everybody else gets aware of what you’re doing, you’re usually about five or six tunes past it.”

What is the Meaning of “Look Away”?

“Look Away” details a situation that many of us have experienced: the moment when we realize a former flame has moved on to somebody new. When you called me up this morning, told me ’bout the new love you found / I said I’m happy for you, I’m really happy for you, the narrator begins, but the defeated note in Champlin’s voice lets us know it might be false bravado.

Later on, he admits that he’s hurting: I tell you I’m fine, but sometimes I just pretend / Wish you were holding me. Then he reveals that he was partly to blame for this situation: I know I wanted to be free / Yeah, baby, this is how we wanted it to be. Each time the chorus arrives, he asks for a minor bit of mercy, that she simply look away when they cross paths: Don’t look at me / I don’t want you to see me this way.

Chicago’s run of hits ran out when the ’90s arrived, but 20 years of Top 10 hits is something that few bands have ever achieved. Give credit to their adaptability, the wonderful voices they had at their disposal, and their ability to spot a hit like “Look Away” when they heard it.

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Photo by Jerry T. Lai/Getty Images

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