RCA Records was unsure if America was ready for the sexual androgyny of "Boys Keep Swinging", the lead-off single from Lodger in most territories, and "Look Back in Anger" was issued instead. The B-side was another track from Lodger called "Repetition", a story of domestic violence. The single failed to chart.
"Look Back in Anger" has a mixed reputation among Bowie commentators. NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have described it as "probably the low point" of the album, while Nicholas Pegg considers it "one of Lodger's dramatic highlights".
Bowie performed the song on his 1983 "Serious Moonlight" Tour (it is the opening number on the Serious Moonlight (1983 film) film) and reworked it in the mid-90s as a heavy rock song for the "Outside" and "Earthling" tours.
David Mallet directed a music video for the song, featuring Bowie in an artist's studio. The scenario was based on the conclusion of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, as a self-portrait of the protagonist grows more handsome while he himself physically decays.
In 1988 Bowie recorded a "new, brutal version of the song" with Reeves Gabrels on guitar and Erdal Kizilcay on bass and drums; it was the first arrangement Bowie and Gabrels collaborated on, taking place shortly before the formation of the band Tin Machine. The recording was issued as a bonus track on the Rykodisc CD release of Lodger in 1991.