"Without You" is a song written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of British rock group Badfinger, and first released on their 1970 album No Dice. The song has been recorded by over 180 artists, and versions released as singles by Harry Nilsson (1971) and Mariah Carey (1994) became international best-sellers.
Paul McCartney once described the ballad as "...the killer song of all time."
Writers, Ham and Evans received the 1972 Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.
First recorded by the rock group Badfinger, the song was composed by two of its members. Two streams, referring to real events in the songwriters' lives flowed together to create the song. Pete Ham had written a song originally titled "If It's Love" but it had lacked a strong chorus. At the time of writing the band shared residence with the Mojos at 7 Park Avenue in Golders Green. One evening, in the midst of the parties, songwriting, touring, in Golders Green, Ham and his girlfriend Beverly Tucker were about to go out for the evening. But just as they were leaving Tom Evans said he had an idea for a song – Ham said, 'Not tonight, I've promised Bev.' But she thought he would be wondering if he had done the right thing later, if he went out, – she told him – 'Go into the studio, I'm fine about it..' He said, " Your mouth is smiling, but your eyes are sad." The song Ham wrote that night was called 'If its Love' and has the verse "Well I can't forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrow, I had you there but then I let you go, and now it's only fair that I should let you know..if it's love.." But Pete wasn't happy with the chorus."
Events in Evans' love life would lead to the completion of the track. While Evans was touring in Cologne he had met the woman who would become his future wife, Marianne. She moved to London. It was a sparky relationship. "One evening he went to her friend Karen and told Karen, 'She's left me. I need her back. I can't live without her.' He flew to Bonn to find her – he wrote a song called 'I Can't Live'. Its chorus; "I can't live, if living is without you, I can't live, I can't give any more." And so the merging of the two songs, Ham and Evans created the hit. Ham's verse, 'warm, sweet, sentimental' and Evans' chorus, – 'intense, dramatic, heartbreaking.'" Both Ham and Evans said they did not consider the song to have much potential at the time Badfinger recorded it, and the track was slotted to close Side A of their 1970 No Dice album. Badfinger's recording of the song, which is more brusque than its successors' versions, was not released as a single in Europe or North America. In parallel to the song lyrics, both Ham and Evans later committed suicide.
Harry Nilsson, at the time was best known for his hit "Everybody's Talkin'" and for composing such hits as Three Dog Night's "One", heard Badfinger's recording of "Without You" at a party, and mistook it for a Beatles song. After realising it was not, he decided to cover the song for his album Nilsson Schmilsson in 1971; it stayed at number 1 on the U.S. pop chart for four weeks, from 13 February to 11 March 1972. The song also spent five weeks atop the U.S. adult contemporary chart. In the UK, the song spent five weeks at number 1 on the British pop chart, beginning on 11 March, and sold almost 800,000 copies. It went to Number One in several other countries, including Australia (for 5 weeks), Ireland (3 weeks) and New Zealand (2 weeks).
The single was produced by Richard Perry, who later explained, "It was a different record for its time. It was a big ballad with a heavy backbeat, and although many artists have cut songs like it since, no one was doing it then." Gary Wright, then known as a member of the British group Spooky Tooth, and later a successful solo artist in his own right, played piano on the recording. Also featured are Klaus Voormann (bass), Jim Keltner (drums) and Tom Plovanic (acoustic guitar). The string and horn arrangements are by Paul Buckmaster. In 1973, Nilsson won the "Best Male Pop Vocal" Grammy award for the song. While Nilsson rarely gave live concerts, he did perform the song with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in September 1992.