If I Can't Have You

Album: Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack (1977)
Charted: 4 1

Songfacts®:

  • This song was Elliman's biggest hit. It was written by the Bee Gees, as was much of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The Bee Gees were the first to record the song, and used it as the B-side of their "Stayin' Alive" single.

    The song is a great example of lyrical dissonance, as the upbeat disco groove accompanies a lyric of loneliness and despair. The singer has lost her (or his - note how it's gender-neutral) love, and wonders if she can find the strength to go on.
  • Elliman got her start as a backup singer for Eric Clapton and performed on many of his '70s hits including "I Shot the Sheriff." This song made her the first Asian/Pacific Islander to have a #1 hit - she hails from Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • The huge success of this song resulted in Elliman being remembered as a disco artist, but this style of music was an exception to the medium-tempo ballads that she specialized in, and which comprised the bulk of her recordings. She sang the role of Mary Magdalene in the original album Jesus Christ Superstar and in the subsequent Broadway and film versions, and achieved her first hit single with the ballad "I Don't Know How to Love Him." This performance led to a 1974 Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, making her the first Pacific Islander to be nominated for a Golden Globe in acting in a leading role. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Kain - Charleston, SC, for all above
  • This song was produced by Freddie Perren and recorded at his Los Angeles studio: Mom & Pop's Company Store. Perren was a former Motown producer who found success in the '70s producing Peaches & Herb and a number of disco artists. Saturday Night Fever producer Robert Stigwood commissioned him to record some songs for the soundtrack, which ended up being this track and "More Than A Woman" by Tavares. On both tracks, Perren used his favorite session musicians: Scott Edwards on bass, Bob "Boogie" Bowles on guitar, James Gadson on drums, and Sonny Burke on piano.

    In our interview with Scott Edwards, he explained how these musicians contributed to the songs: "Most of the hits were stuff that we came up with ourselves. We'd have a basic chord chart, because at the time the people who were arranging had good ideas for the strings and horns. But as far as the rhythm section, most people, if they were smart, they left the rhythm section alone. Because to get the drums and bass to really lock and still be functional, you really can't control them too much if you're not a drummer or a bass player yourself."
  • Kim Wilde recorded this song in 1993, taking it to #12 in the UK and #3 in Australia.

Comments: 17

  • Denise from California If anyone Hawaiians out there can tell me what is she singing in between the end of the 1st and 2nd verse?
  • Bob Raduenz from 55330I had not realized that "If I Can't Have You" hit for Yvonne Elliman, was written & performed by the BEE GEES until I heard it on North coast hits radio in Cleveland 0hio. What a find, faultless song as shown by success by various artists..BRAVO!
  • Kenneth from Utica, Nywhat are those words she sings in between the end of the chorus the 1st time & the 2nd verse? I can't make them out!
  • Urbanomad from Cary, Nc, UsaFrench Horns
  • Eduardo Chavarria from San Jose, Costa RicaI've read there were no brass instruments in the recording of this beautiful song. There is, however, a sound that resembles a trombone (aprox. at 0:09, at 1:15, and again at 2:09 on the video.) Could it be achieved by producer Freddie Perren, who played synthesizer? Or is it another instrument that is resembles? On the video, there is a guy who seems to be playing a sax, but I don't think that is a sax sound.
  • Bruce from San Jose, Calif.This song was on the radio when I had my first (ahem) “experience” with a lady I was 17, and she was 23)...She was in it for just a fling, but I was still in “puppy luv” with her for months afterwards and this song, “If I can’t have you, I don’t want Nobody baby” really matched my desperate feelings of unrequited love for her...
  • Eric from Florida Does anyone know if the horns so prominent in the song are trombones or French horns?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 11th 1978, Yvonne Elliman performed "If I Can't Have You" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #63 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and thirteen weeks later on May 7th, 1978 it would peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} and spent 22 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on May 6th, 1978 it also reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on the Canadian RPM Singles chart {peaked at #9 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart}...
    Between 1971 and 1979 the Hawaiian songstress had seven Top 100 records; her next biggest hit was "Love Me", it peaked at #14 in 1976 {her covered version of "Hello Stranger" did peak at one position lower at #15 in 1977}.
  • Terry from Va.beach, Vadang she was hot back in the day...
  • Jim from Kennett Square, PaI know this song was written by the Brothers Gibb, and its a terrific song too. But when I click to view the lyrics, at the bottom of the page it says this song was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Could we give credit where credit is due please? Many thanks!
  • Grant from Tampa, FlGreat singer, and she was lucky enough to get it on with Clapton when she was a back-up singer in his band. I think he talks about it in his book. She's one of his legendary thousand women.
  • Gary from Watford, United Kingdoma backing singer in the eric clapton band at the time along with marcy levy, a great solo effort though.
  • Joe from Chicago, IlI have it on CD, too.
  • Jeff from Austin, TxThis song is so dramatic!! The Brothers Gibb have to be in the top 5 all time songwriters.
  • Dale from Santa Fe, NmHer 2004 album, Simple Needs, has a picture of her on it.
  • Tom from Dozier, AlI heard the Bee Gees version of this on the B side of "Stayin' Alive". I like their version the best of the two.
  • Darrell from EugeneI have the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack on vinyl, 8-track, CD and cassette, and I bought all of them new except for all four of my back-up 8-tracks (I still drive a huge land-barge with an 8-track player every day). By the way, Yvonne was beautiful at that time... wonder what she looks like now?
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