The song originally came off from another song, a gospel hymn, "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray", recorded and released in 1961 when they were still known as The Womack Brothers. Sam Cooke produced that session as well as the sessions for "Lookin' For a Love". Following the release of "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" and convinced that 17-year-old Bobby Womack would "go places", Cooke hired his staff writers J. W. Alexander and Zelda Samuels to rewrite the song as a doo-wop dance number, basing the song's chord structure on the melodic motif found in "Pray".
When the brothers were presented with the song, they protested initially fearing a backlash from their minister father, Friendly Womack. However, Cooke convinced them that the song would be a hit and guarantee the Womacks some financial success as well as commercial. Like "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray", the song featured Bobby on lead. Prior to its release, Cooke suggested a name change, thinking the change would do wonders for their career as it had done for him. Cooke settled on The Valentinos and released the song that spring.
After its success, the group opened for James Brown where they won fans. In 1971, rock band the J. Geils Band covered the song as one of its first releases and the song became a top 40 hit for them, peaking at number thirty-nine. In 1973, Bobby used "Lookin' for a Love" as a warm-up song to help loosen up his vocal cords during a recording session. Womack recorded one take of the song - with his brothers again providing background vocals - but had no plans of putting it out as a single. However, after some convincing, he released the song in early 1974 and the song went on to be his most successful single to date, and was his second number-one single on the Hot Soul Singles chart (after "Woman's Gotta Have It" in 1972, which only got to #60 on the Hot 100) and his first and only top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at #10. It also reached #8 on the Cash Box Top 100. The single was later certified gold by the RIAA for sales of one million copies. This resulted in the song later selling more than two million copies. The song's success came bittersweetly, however: the song's background vocalist Harry Womack later died from stab wounds from his girlfriend the week before it hit number-one.