Written and originally recorded by Badfinger (1970).
Hit versions by Nilsson (US#1/UK #1 1971) and Mariah Carey (US #3/UK #1 1994).
From the wiki: “Paul McCartney once described the ballad as ‘…the killer song of all time.’
“At the time of writing the members of Badfinger shared residence in Golders Green, London. One evening, in the midst of the parties, songwriting, touring, in Golders Green, Pete Ham and his girlfriend 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 it’s 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.’
“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. Sadly, in parallel to the song lyrics, both Ham and Evans later committed suicide.
“Harry Nilsson, at the time was best known for singing the 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 realizing it was not, he decided to cover the song for his album Nilsson Schmilsson in 1971; it stayed at #1 on the U.S. pop chart for four weeks in early 1972. In 1973, Nilsson won the ‘Best Male Pop Vocal’ Grammy award for the song.
“Mariah Carey’s version, based on Harry Nilsson’s version rather than the Badfinger original, was released as the third single of Music Box in the early 1994, just over a week after Nilsson had died following a heart attack on January 15, 1994. In the U.S. it was promoted as a double A-side with ‘Never Forget You’. Carey said that she decided to cover the song when she heard it in a restaurant (although, when performing the song in Tokyo, she said she listened to it when she was a little girl). Her version has been considered very popular on talent shows. Carey’s ‘Without You’ reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining in the top 40 for 21 weeks, and remains Carey’s biggest hit across Europe. It became her first UK #1 single; it was also her first chart-topper in Italy, but was most successful in Switzerland (with ten non-consecutive weeks at #1) and the Netherlands (twelve weeks at #1).”
Nilsson, “Without You” (1971):
Mariah Carey, “Without You” (1994):