Chicago's bass player Peter Cetera wrote this and sang lead. Cetera specialized in ballads, adding variety to the band's sound which featured many more rock-oriented songs, often written by Terry Kath or Robert Lamm.
Cetera's ballads quickly became the band's biggest hits, with "If You Leave Me Now" their most successful song to that point, topping the charts in the US and UK. Of course, their record company wanted more of where that came from and kept pushing the Cetera songs - the big hit from their next album was his tune "Baby What a Big Surprise." The group found a new audience and became much more successful, but they also got earmarked as a soft rock group, which took the focus away from their grittier, horn-heavy songs. This became a point of contention for Chicago's famed section, especially trombone player James Pankow, who recalls constant battles to get the horns higher in the mix from that point forward.
Lyrically, this is a surprisingly simple song, but it does have an unusual structure. Depending on how you look at it, there's either no chorus, or it's all chorus. The song opens with the title line, which is also the hook: If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me
The next line gives Peter Cetera a chance to show off his vocal range, and makes it clear that he is full-on pleading: Ooooh no, baby please don't go
The title then returns, but with another consequence: If you leave me now, you'll take away the very heart of me
The rest of the song is Cetera making his case for why the girl shouldn't leave, in very histrionic fashion. He wrote the words around the melody, which he composed first. Cetera is very good at composing songs that push emotional extremes, and these songs are well suited to his voice, which can reach the notes to accentuate these feelings.
Considering their longevity and success, it's surprising how Chicago has been spurned by both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammys. The band's only Grammy award came for this song, when it won for Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Duo, Group or Chorus.
The song also won the award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), which went to James William Guercio and Jimmie Haskell.
This was the first Chicago single to feature an acoustic guitar lead. It was played by the band's manager, James William Guercio, who produced the track. Guercio is an accomplished musician who before working on this song had toured with The Beach Boys as a bass player. On "If You Leave Me Now," he played the acoustic guitar part as a demo, figuring their regular guitarist, Terry Kath, would put down the proper track when he was available. The band thought Guercio's part sounded great, so they left it on the record.
In the UK, this was Chicago's only #1 hit. In Britain, the group had nowhere near the success they had in America. They wouldn't make the Top 40 on the UK chart again until 1982 with "Hard to Say I'm Sorry."
Jimmie Haskell did the string arrangement on this song along with producer James William Guercio. Haskell had done a lot of work scoring films, and was able to bring a cinematic quality to the sound.
David Haskell from Westlake VillageHi, I am new at this, I believe Jimmie Haskell also did the french horn parts on if you leave me now. He loved french horns and Vince Dereax i think was the main french horn player.
David J. Haskell
Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm Danny Seraphine, drummer* and co-founder of the group Chicago, was saluted with an honorary street named after him at Cornelia and Normandy Avenues on the Northwest side of his home town on Saturday (May 9th, 2015)... * Group’s drummer from February 1967 to May 1990; and was the co-composer of "Lowdown", it peaked at #35 in 1971 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart.
Nealk from ChicagoWe're not talking about hugely challenging parts here, but the question of who laid down the French Horn tracks is an unsolved mystery in the French Horn community. Best available info suggests that they were added in post-production, but that could have been in NYC or LA... a hornist in London claims to have played this but is not sure.... thanks for any help.
David from Orlando, FlThis is my favorite sad song of all time! A combination of well written lyrics, a beautiful musical arrangement, and Peter Cetera's magical voice make this timeless song unforgettable. Though I can see where hard core Chicago fans may moan about the reduced emphasis of the horns that persisted through the 1980's, one factor behind this and other subsequent successes of the band (mostly additional Peter Cetera ballads) was the fans changing musical tastes. While the jazz fusion sound worked incredibly well in the early and mid 1970's, it may not have worked as well in later years with respect to the pop charts. Regardless, I practically live for these sensitive, heartfelt songs, and few work as well as this where I'm concerned. I have probably sung this song to myself more frequently than any other song in history.
Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaThe ONLY Chicago song which STANDS OUT from the rest !
Elliott from Franklin, TnIdk why but lately I have been playing the sadder Chicago songs on my Ipod. This is one of 'em. Guess I am just an emotional trainwreck sometime...well most of the time ):
Tanya from La Verne, CaI will always love this song and Peter Cetera's voice.
Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaThis song remind me of my ex-neighbours whenever they quarrelled.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyThis was their 22nd charted record and 1st No. 1...
Troip from Wegierska Gorka, PolandHahahaha :) it's more like " I just got to have your love and care", isn't it? Hope it helps. Love this song anyway.
Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaI wonder what was meant by "oooh mama I just got to have your lovin hair" towards the fading part of the song.
Joe from Chicago, IlTo Markus: Stockholm, Sweden : are you deaf? Hard To Say I'm Sorry is not close to the same class as other Chicago songs such as You're The Inspiration, Look Away, 25 or 6 to 4, and Does Anybody Really Know Waht Time It Is?!
Henry from Pawtucket, RiIt was a throw in towards the end of producing Chicago X.
Jeff from Austin, TxI prefer Butters' version of this song.
Tommy from Ridley, Pai can remember going to ridley north and slow dancing to this when i was a kid.. .. what a well produced song.. it had so much modern day soul... tom lesko american seance
Markus from Stockholm, Swedentheir best songs came '82 and '84... "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" and "You're The Inspiration"... then of course "If You Leave Me Now" is also in the same class but hey, I mean they have made better songs since then
Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI do think that later dChicago music isn't as good, but that had plenty of good songs in the 70's. I like this one but it isn't my favorite of theirs. It's nothing to be upset about. Calm down Andrew!
Pete from Nowra, AustraliaHey Andrew ??????? you need a good orgasm !!!!!
just take it easy man, take it eaaaaaaaaaaasy
Fiona from Napier, New ZealandButters Stotch's favourite song!
Papa Burgundy from Bridlington, Englandi preferred it when the cherry sang it
Alex from London, EnglandAs I recall, Peter wrote this song after spending time with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys fame, hence the layered vocals and cascading strings.. and the number one hit
Paul from Arlington, TxPeter Cetera's Music is The Greatest... PETER CETERA ALL THE WAY!!!
Andrew from TorontoThe truth always hurts boys!
Paul from Peterborough, EnglandPeter Cetera wrote this song about his faltering marriage. This was a plea to his wife at the time to stay. It didn't work as she promptly left him. That's a fact.
George from Fort Worth, TxJust because you said that, Andrew, this song really is better than you!
Paul Serrato from Arlington, TxThis Song Is Better Than YOU!!!
Andrew from TorontoThis was the beginning of the end for this once great and innovative band after this Chicago became a vehicle for Peter Cetera to showcase his middle of the road pap and launch his solo career much like Genesis and Phil Collins but with less success.
Charles from Charlotte, NcJim Guercio, the band's producer for their first 10 albums, played the acoustic guitar solo.