Without You

Album: Nilsson Schmilsson (1972)
Charted: 1 1


  • This gut-wrenching ballad was originally released by Badfinger in 1970 and appeared on their second album, No Dice. Badfinger members Peter Ham and Tom Evans wrote it.

    Ham had written a song called "Is This Love?" but wasn't happy with the chorus. Evans came up with the "I can't live if living is without you" chorus but had no verses for it, so they put the two songs together as one. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Tom - Mishawaka, IN
  • The Badfinger original wasn't released as a single, so most people weren't familiar with it. Nilsson's version, laced with lush orchestration, became a huge hit, climbing to #1 US in February 1972 and staying for four weeks. Nilsson was known as a songwriter and wrote most of the songs he recorded, but two of his biggest hits were covers: "Without You" and "Everybody's Talkin'."

    "Without You" is not the kind of song Nilsson, who died in 1994, would have written. His compositions were far more acerbic, and he took pains to avoid the topic of love (or lack of it).
  • Nilsson first came across this song at a Laurel Canyon party in 1971 and thought it was a Beatles song. Badfinger was signed to Apple Records, The Beatles' label, and their version of "Without You" was produced by Beatles associates Geoff Emerick and Mal Evans. Nilsson also had a Beatles connection: John Lennon helped launch his career when he referred to Harry as his "favorite American group." He and Lennon enjoyed a destructive time together from 1973-1975 that became known as the "lost weekend."
  • Nilsson's version added an orchestra and gave the song a dramatic production. When Nilsson recorded it, he initially played the song slow and dark, accompanied only by piano. Producer Richard Perry recalled to Mojo magazine April 2008 that he had to persuade an unwilling Nilsson to record it as a big ballad: "I had to force him to take a shot with the rhythm section. Even while we were doing it, he'd be saying to the musicians, 'This song's awful.'"
  • This song made a lot of money for a lot of people, but for those most entitled to the windfall, it had tragic consequences. As the song's writers, Peter Ham and Tom Evans should have been set for life, but Badfinger's label, Apple Records, collapsed in 1973 and they never got their due. Despondent over career setbacks and overwhelmed by myriad legal difficulties, Ham hanged himself in 1975. In 1983, Evans followed suit, hanging himself from a willow tree after a bitter argument with Badfinger guitarist Joey Molland about the royalties for "Without You."

    As for Nilsson, he didn't handle success well. Alcoholism ran in his family, and the fame and fortune from "Without You" triggered him to drink. He went into a downward spiral, and his career and health never recovered. Nilsson died of heart failure in 1994 at age 52.
  • Nilsson had released several albums by the time he recorded Nilsson Schmilsson, but he refused to tour, which made promoting him a challenge. In the mid-'60s, he developed a small but fervent following and earned the admiration of many songwriters and musicians in the Los Angeles area. "Everybody's Talkin'" became his first hit when it was used in the movie Midnight Cowboy in 1969. With backing from his label, he pegged the producer Richard Perry to produce his Nilsson Schmilsson album, in part because Perry worked on Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey album. Perry agreed on the condition that Nilsson let him call the shots.

    When it came time to record the vocal to "Without You," Nilsson had reneged on his agreement and was butting heads with his producer. In the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?, Perry said: "About halfway through the album we had a difference of opinion that didn't settle itself easily, so like two proper gentlemen, we decided to have a meeting over high tea at the Dorchester Hotel [wink, wink] to discuss what we were going to do. I said, 'Harry, you do remember when you came to me and asked me to produce you, my only condition was that I would have creative control.' He looks me dead in the face and says, 'Well, I lied.'

    And with that, we realized we were late for the session to do his vocal on 'Without You.' Without another word, we jumped into a taxi, ran down to the studio, and he went right up and sang the vocal you hear on the record."
  • This won the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal in 1973. It was Nilsson's second Grammy; he won the Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male, award in 1970 for "Everybody's Talkin'." "Without You" was also nominated for Record of the Year, and Nilsson Schmilsson for Album of the Year.
  • Early demos of the song didn't have Nilsson's soaring vocal. Nilsson and Richard Perry brought the demo to Derek Taylor, the former publicity head for The Beatles' Apple Corps organization. Taylor had just secured a position as a producer and talent scout with the British division of Warner Bros. and Nilsson wanted his opinion on the rough mix of the track. "They'd made a very good demo, which to me was sufficient to be a hit," Taylor, who went on to produce A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, recalled. "But they wanted to get more power, more power in the top notes, so they went away with it and did what was necessary. Harry burst into terrifically unpleasant hemorrhoids on that top note. Whenever I hear it I always think of hemorrhoids. It somehow doesn't spoil it – though it should."
  • Mariah Carey's version debuted at #1 in the UK in 1994 and hit #3 in the US. Nilsson died of heart failure on January 15, 1994 - the same day Carey's version was released in the US. Later in 1994, Nilsson's version was reissued to take advantage of the renewed interest.
  • The soft rock group Air Supply did a popular cover of this song in 1991.
  • This song was featured in a 2016 commercial for Heinz that first aired during the Super Bowl. In the spot, a pack of dachshunds dressed like hot dogs run toward a group of humans dressed as ketchup, mustard, and other sauces.

Comments: 52

  • Casualobserver from UkIt is from Sergei Rachmaninov’s piano concerto number 2, written in 1901. It was used in ‘Brief Encounter’ as mentioned by others.
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenAir Supply covered this? Please...my ears start to bleed just from my imagining it.
  • Pam from North Little RockThere are no lyrics in the soundtrack, but the music in the movie, "Brief Encounter", is absolutely the same as "Can't Live..." and it was made in 1945 so somebody stole it.
  • Ron Hamilton from Memphis Living in Hollywood, working at CBS Records I bumped into an array of artists of the day. My best man at my to Josie was Sonny, tour security for Alice Cooper. He knew I played baseball in college & got me a spot on " The Hollywood Vamps". Team members were Harry, Ringo, Coop, Davy, Mickey, Peter, Albert Brooks, Bob Brown (Alive Ent), a mgr or two and, self. Josie adopted a Shepherd pub from Venice who sang high C puppy pitch. Named him Nilsson for Harry. A kind, fun loving man, close friend to Ringo and a great ball player. Hey Harry save me a spot in the line up when my time comes.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 12th 1971, "Without You" by Nilsson entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #99; and nine weeks later on February 13th, 1972 it peaked at #1 {for 4 weeks} and spent 19 weeks on the Top 100...
    It also reached #1 in Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom...
    Between 1969 and 1974 he had ten Top 100 records; with three making the Top 10, his other two Top 10 records were "Everybody's Talkin'" {#6 in 1969} and "Coconut" {#8 in 1972}...
    Harry Edward Nilsson III passed away on January 15th, 1994 at the young age of 52...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Alexis from Riverside, CaI H a t e Mariah Carey because people think she sung that song.
  • Dana from Woodbury, MnBadfinger's story should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of entering the music business. The guy who was supposed to look after their finances used their money to finance his lavish lifestyle.
  • Dana from Woodbury, MnI had watched the documentary on him a week ago. He was almost like a precursor to the late Amy Winehouse (God rest her soul): highly talented, yet also self-destructive, but also tried to turn things around at the time of his death.
  • John from Philadelphia, PaThis is by far the best version, hands down. Too bad Harry lost his voice drinking and screaming with John Lennon.
  • Leta from York Springs, PaI was very disappointed that on tonight's American Idol, Mariah Carey gave a shout-out to Harry for writing this song. I think it's a shame when people cover others' songs and don't even know who wrote and originally recorded them. That being said, Harry's version will always be my favorite, I think he was a brilliant writer and performer!
  • Mark from Colorado Springs, CoI was visiting lyrics depot and it said written by Harry Nilsson! I am SO sick of this crap. The song also was NOT written by "Badfinger." It was written by the late Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the group Badfinger! THAT is a fact. ONLY in my opinion...I like the Badfinger version slightly more than Harry's and...sorry but I cannot stand the Pariah Carey version but then her voice always sounds like she's got her foot stuck in a bear trap! Just my opinion though...
  • Mark from Springfield, MoNilsson stole the song from a movie 1945- Brief encounter
  • Joe from Grants Pass, OrThe wolf is Harry's soul animal
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InMr. Nilsson's vocals on this are just devastating.
    A timeless song about loss of a loved one, be it a breakup or (more poignant still because of the finality) death of a spouse.
  • Brady from Niagara Falls, NyThere are a number of Songs that gives one chills, as they hear it
    This one by Mariah and Nelsson are in that catagory.
  • David from Birmingham, AlThe haunting piano work in this song is by none other than Gary Wright of "Dream Weaver" fame.
  • Jam from Miami, FlSorry... forgot. You can also compare Badfinger's and Harry's versions of the songs (along with rare demos and foreign language versions of "Without You."
  • Jam from Miami, FlActually, Harry WAS freaked out by the deaths of Moon and Cass in his flat. Pete Townshend purposely purchased the flat from Harry so he wouldn't have to deal with the place any longer.

    And to Pete in Australia. It's not true that Harry never sang "live." In fact he performed two live (in the studio) shows for the BBC in 1971 and 1973 and appeared on American telelvision singing on numerous occasions. It's true he never "toured," but you can see some of his live performances over at For The Love of Harry (http://fortheloveofharry.blogspot.com/) and also hear a lot of rarities, too.
  • Dawn from Worcester, MaBad Finger's version is the best. When I listen to it now it is almost haunting. Bad Finger was a great band. it is so unfortunate that they are best known for a song they didn't even write.
  • Chris from Geelong, AustraliaThis is a superb song, song superbly, by a superb singer. Harry Nilson was, in my opinion, the man with the perfect voice.
    Sadly, it's the only song which really displays Nilson's full ability.
  • Elmer from Honolulu, Himariah carey's version of this song is the most successful song of carey worldwide.
  • James from Wichita, KsThe movie with Ringo Starr was "Son of Dracula", 1974.
  • John from Jasper, CanadaIt was one evening Harry was playing cards with some friends listening to some records when he heard badfinger's version.Hour or so went by and he had to find out what that certain song was.Rest was history.
    john,jasper alberta Can.
  • Steve from Birmingham, AlSadly, Mama Cass and Keith Moon each died in Harry Nilsson's flat in London. It'd be interesting to find out if he eventually sold the place. But since he hung onto it after Mama passed away, it's safe to assume he wasn't superstitious. Without You, indeed.
  • Norman from Londonderry, IrelandOne of the writers was due to go out with his girlfriend when the other called round to say he had a good idea for a song and they they should go straight away and work on it. The girlfriend gave the go-ahead though she was secretly dissapointed at not getting to go out for the evening. It didn't go completely unnoticed and from this incident the lyric "you always smile but in your eye your sorrow shows" was born.
  • David from Youngstown, OhNilsson was a great songwriter - not just his own stuff, but he also wrote "One," popularized by Three Dog Night on their 1969 self-titled debut album. While he didn't write this song, his version is an amazing and timeless piece of work. He recorded it about 35 years ago and when it's on the radio, it still sounds so fresh, powerful, original and beautiful.
  • Donna from Banning, CaI agree with Dee. This is a most beautiful song. No one can sing it like Harry, try as they might. =^^=
  • Connie from Independence, KsThe first time I heard this song was when I was in high school and when I heard it instantly fail in love with it. I don't know why but every time I hear the song it brings back a lot of memories. In fact I had to sing as a solo in a high school concert. And When I was singing it it was bringing tears to my eyes. And to a lot of people eyes that was in the audiences eyes also. Like I said earlier I dearly love this song in ways that I can't explain.

    grandmagranny67301@yahoo.com better known as Connie Pouncil June 13,2006
  • Rob from Vancouver, Canada"Heart" does a pretty strait ahead version of this as a filler piece in the contract-fulfilling "Magazine" album.
  • Markus from Stockholm, Swedenyeah, that's really very true what some of you say... Harry Nilsson's is good, but Badfinger's version has more of the actual emotion in it... There's something very special with the way they've done it... the slow guitar solos give it and that earnestness and sadness in their voices... it's truly very special
  • Robert from Lancasire, EnglandThe idea that the song brings bad luck has just made me realise I was talking about this song with my dad the day before he died.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumThis is a real beautiful lovesong and nobody can sing it as good as Harry Nilsson. The next time you here it, Pete from Australia, you have to listen very good and maybe you're gonna like it; anyway I just love it.
  • Pete from Nowra, AustraliaNilsons version is a bit stale??????????

    ya gotta be kidding ...... maybe you had the record player speed set at 33 instead of 45?????
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumI agree, Harry Nilsson was a very talentful singer, I don't think another artist could sing this song better than he; Harry Nilsson's version is realy very beautiful and I'm always very touched when I hear him singing this song.
  • Gary from Palatka, FlWithout You was made for Harry to sing. No other artist comes close to Harry's version. This is the man that the Beatles considered their favorite artist. He also had a three and a half octive range. One of the most underated singer/songwriters of all times. I am also a badfinger fan, but not the way the recorded "Without You". Harry's brother, Gary Nilsson. Palatka Fl.
  • Dan from Drexel Hill, PaThe Nilsson version was featured in the movie "Rules of Attraction" in the suicide in the bathtub scene. It's bloody as hell, and it'll make you remember the song forever
  • Robbie from Bristol, England, United StatesThis song is a classic sad love song. Harry's version is very emotional - apparently he cried after recording it. The song is also seen by many as one that brings bad luck for anyone who performs it. Both writers of the song hanged themselves. Harry became an alchoholic and eventually died. Carey performed it and straight after her career faltered and she had many personal problems. perhaps one to stay away from...
  • Falko from Berlin, GermanyPeter Ham promised his girl friend to take her to a party, but Tom Ham told him that he needs help in the studio. Peter decided to help his bandmember. His girlfriend left him and he wrote a part of without you. Finally Tom composed the chorus.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumI only know the version of Harry Nilsson, I just love it. "Everybody's talking", the song from the film "Midnight Cowboy", is great too.
    Harry Nilsson had the opportunity working with a great talent like Phil Spector which was the start of his successful career. A great singer with a lot of talent, I miss him very much.
  • Kika from Nyc, NyBadfinger's version is loads better. It has much more emotion, what i would consider a more earthy and interesting voice, and more interesting lines, Nilsson goes lower in the chorus, where as badfingers goes higher, i like badfingerse more.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InThis may be Badfingers tune, but I doubt many realize that. It will always be Nilsson's song in my book. This was played on AM stations quite a bit as I grew up during the 70's and traveled with my family. They don't write sappy love songs like that anymore. What passes for love songs today is just a bunch of pure garbage.
  • Sam from West Covina, CaBadfinger's version is better because there's some actual emotion in it. Nilsson's version is a bit stale.
  • Candice from Vancouver, CanadaMariah Carey covered this because her mother, an opera singer, used to sing this to Mariah all the time.
  • Frank from Westminster, ScNo offense meant, but Badfinger's rendition of this song is choppy and amateurish. I'm amazed that Harry Nilsson was able to hear it and rearrange it into the power-pop anthem it became. He was an amazingly talanted man.
  • Roundabut1983 from Ithaca, NyI still think Badfinger's original is the best version. You can't beat that organ that gently gathers volume as the song progresses plus the simplicity and emotion in the vocals. Nilsson, although he does a nice job, lacks the "push and shove" of the original.
  • Rich from Elkins, WvNilsson had a great voice....he's gone now...... He was friends with the Beatles..I think he and Ringo made some sort of Dracula-type movie together..George was part of that project too. He had a lot of good music...Several of his tunes are in the movie "You've Got Mail".
  • Gary from Maple Shade, Nj I remember copying some of the lyrics inside of a card...a card that had a photo of the ocean, and the surf. And mailing that card to a girlfriend. I wanted her back so bad. But...didn't work. Way back in 72...I was away at college at the time. (Sept 12 2004)
  • Pete from Nowra, AustraliaNilsson never sang "live"
  • Paul from Greenwood, ScI recall reading a Rolling Stone interview many years ago telling how John Lennon was such a big fan of Nilsson before Lennon's death. Nilsson also well known for the "lime in the coconut" song.
  • Jamie from Worcester, EnglandThis Is so beautiful and it is such a shame the orginal writers killed themselves. I watched a TV programme about it and it said the orginal writer was out at a nightclub with his wife when he rushed home and suddenly he just song it and played it to hear and she just cryed
  • Anton from Hayward, CaCovered by Heart (on Magazine) in 1978. (My favorite version.)
  • Brad Wind from Miami, FlBadfinger's original version was never released as a single in the US -- "No Matter What" was their Top Ten hit from the "No Dice" LP.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Little Big TownSongwriter Interviews

"When seeds that you sow grow by the wicked moon/Be sure your sins will find you out/Your past will hunt you down and turn to tell on you."

Did They Really Sing In That Movie?Fact or Fiction

Bradley Cooper, Michael J. Fox, Rami Malek, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney: Which actors really sang in their movies?

Harry ShearerSongwriter Interviews

Harry is Derek Smalls in Spinal Tap, Mark Shubb in The Folksmen, and Mr. Burns on The Simpsons.

Psychedelic LyricsMusic Quiz

Whoa man! Do you know which band came up with these cosmic lyrics?

Charlie Benante of AnthraxSongwriter Interviews

The drummer for Anthrax is also a key songwriter. He explains how the group puts their songs together and tells the stories behind some of their classics.

Lip-Synch RebelsSong Writing

What happens when Kurt Cobain, Iron Maiden and Johnny Lydon are told to lip-synch? Some hilarious "performances."