‘The killer song of all times’
February 23, 2021
Paul McCartney once said of this ballad that it is ‘the killer song of all times.’ Pretty high praise from someone who’s written more than a few great songs himself.
Since its release by the group Badfinger on their 1970 album ‘No Dice’, Without You has been recorded by over 180 artists. Of those Harry Nillson’s version was the most successful, sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks from February 19 to March 11, 1972.
The song was borne through the work of two of Badfinger’s members: Pete Ham and Tom Evans. The Infallible Wikipedia shares how the song was written:
“Pete Ham wrote 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 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 Ham wasn’t happy with the chorus.
Evans’ relationship with his future wife Marianne influenced his lyrics:
One evening he [Evans] went to her [Marianne’s] 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 included ‘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 [with] 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 the first side of their 1970 album No Dice. 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.”
The lyrics and the melody are an amazing combination of a soulful, unforgettable tune, and lyrics which capture the pain of heartbreak.
In the writing of this article, I ended up listening to the ten most successful versions of the song. It was recorded by several country artists, as well as R&B favorite Ruby Winters and, more recently pop Diva, Mariah Carey. Pop Groups Heart and Air Supply each have versions.
And all, in my opinion – including the original Badfinger rendition – pale in comparison to Nillson’s version; when he sings the song, seems to really mean it. Now, I suppose that my love of that interpretation can be traced back to the fall of 1971 when pop radio was a huge part of my life.
I remember listening to this song as well as hearing it played at the various dances I attended. Who wouldn’t want to dance with that cute guy you had a crush on while the words ‘Can’t live, if living is without you’ seemed the most romantic thing you’d ever heard? Exactly.
For teenagers, it seems, everything is MORE. Feelings are more intense. First love is more intense. First breakup is more intense. Without You captured all of that in one heart-wrenching song.
From the perch of a different time of life, however, one comes to understand that along the way that first love usually fades and others follow. That first breakup – which at the time does seem like the end of the world – starts to be not quite so life ending.
The intense feelings give way to other needs: to eat, to work, to live life. And, for most people, one eventually understands that, as cliché as it may sound, life does go on.
Being a teenager was emotionally exhausting if for no other reason than most teens hold the erroneous belief that NO ONE EVER has felt the same way as them. But it’s simply not true.
If someone had told me this at the time I probably wouldn’t have believed them. Of course no one had ever felt like I felt. In my arrogance I was certain that I had a monopoly on heartache and disappointment.
It was only some decades later that I belatedly came to understand that everyone has problems in life. Or, as I frequently say, Everyone has ‘stuff.’ I might have used a different, not as benign word but, since this is a family friendly blog, I’ll leave it as stuff.
Whatever ‘stuff’ you are facing my friends, I wish you the strength to get through it.
A few links: