This was originally a hit in Roxette's native Sweden and became an international hit when an American exchange student returned from Sweden and urged the Minneapolis radio station KDWB to play the song. Even though it hadn't yet been released in the United States the song spread on cassette copies to other American radio stations. Eventually it became a #1 in Australia and Japan as well as the United States.
The duo said of the song:
Marie Fredriksson: "This is still one of my all time favorites, maybe the best thing we've ever done - it sticks out as much now as it did then."
Per Gessle: "Our first American #1 and of course the Big Break. It topped the charts in some 30 countries but at the time I just thought it was a throwaway."
Marie Fredriksson: "I couldn't sing it, it suited Per perfectly. But he didn't believe in himself as a singer in those days."
Per Gessle: "'Walking like a man, hitting like a hammer'... the first two verses are guide lyrics, words just scribbled down to have something to sing. Couldn't come up with anything better, so we kept them. Everybody gets lucky sometimes."
The name Look Sharp!
comes from Joe Jackson
's 1979 album of the same name. Per Gessle liked the title and decided that Roxette should use it for their own album.
Gessle gave Billboard magazine the story behind the song: "I wanted to write a ZZ Top-type of song. It turned out to be something totally different in the end, which is always the case. I never really thought it would be a big song. I had it around for a couple of months before I played it for Marie and Clarence Ofwerman, our producer. They both said, 'This is the best thing you've done in ages - you have to record it.'"
Gessle on the original demo
: "I was trying to mix a 'dance-vibe' with powerful guitars. A little bit like ZZ Top a la 'Gimme All Your Lovin'
.' It was written for Marie but it sounded terrible when she tried it out. She needs 'bigger' melodies so you can hear her fab voice properly! We always, by instinct, went for singles where Marie did the lead vox. When we heard about the airplay in the US we instantly thought it was 'Dressed For Success
' or 'Listen To Your Heart
' that started to happen. Big surprise to all of us that it was 'The Look.' Badabam!"
In the liner notes of Roxette's 1995 compilation Don't Bore Us, Get To The Chorus!, Gessle noted the first two verses were written as dummy lyrics, "words just scribbled down to have something to sing. Couldn't come up with anything better, so we kept them. Everybody gets lucky sometimes."
This was used in a 2018 Toyota Camry ad
as the anthem for a confident working woman who hits the road after her shift.
This was used on several TV shows, including Baywatch ("The Cretin Of The Shallows," 1989), Clueless ("Cher, Inc." 1996), Ghost Whisperer ("The Woman Of His Dreams," 2006), Cold Case ("Lonely Hearts," 2006), and Scream Queens ("Scream Again," 2016). It was also referenced in the 2008 Family Guy episode "Baby Not On Board."
The video caused some controversy for showing Fredriksson playing the guitar while sitting on a toilet (fully clothed, with the lid closed). "It was banned in some places in the United States and they didn't want to play it because of that," Gessle told the music blog I Like Your Old Stuff
. "I think there's actually a version without that scene in it, because some countries didn't want to play it. It's crazy."
Roxette recorded a new version in 2015 to promote the Swedish fashion brand KappAhl.
The song was created out of Gessle's attempt to learn how to program a synthesizer. He thought their previous album, Pearls Of Passion
, sounded dated and wanted to move Roxette into a more modern, digital sound with Look Sharp!
His ideas initially clashed with producer Clarence Ofwerman who wanted to continue in the same vein and use his favorite musicians. In a twist of fate, their regular engineer broke his leg and his replacement was experienced in programming and sequencing. Gessle told the Dutch music program Top 2000 a gogo
in 2019: "He and I and Clarence, eventually… we wanted Roxette to go into the computer world."
Gessle was against releasing this as a single because the Roxette formula had him writing the songs and Marie singing them. "It didn't really make sense in my world to release that as a single," he said.
The Roxette sound was born in a Swedish studio with Swedish musicians, and Gessle wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, when EMI wanted the duo to relocate to New York or Los Angeles to become part of the international music scene, they refused. He told Top 2000: "If we moved to Los Angeles, we would have sounded like Richard Marx or what was happening at the time in the States, and the unique sound of Roxette - if you listen to Roxette today it sounds very special from the competition. It's because it was made here, out of Sweden."