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"Without You" was originally recorded by Badfinger, but it's mostly associated with the hit cover versions of the song, first by Nilsson in the early '70s, then by Mariah Carey in the mid-'90s. It would be fair to say, then, that Badfinger had no idea of the song's commercial potential when the band used it as a mere album track on its 1970 LP No Dice. As originally recorded by Badfinger, "Without You" was a nice melancholy love ballad, one that, like so many of its songs, had a Paul McCartney-like melody. "Without You" was gloomier, though, than Badfinger's habitual cheery harmonized pop, the desperation peaking on the chorus, where the narrator's proclamation that he couldn't live without his lover anymore mounted in intensity. Badfinger didn't emphasize the drama of the chorus as much as they could have, or pull out all the stops in the track's production -- it was just an album cut, after all. It took Harry Nilsson to fully exploit the song's melodrama, and it was fitting that Nilsson covered it, as, like Badfinger, his music and career had often been compared to and associated with Beatles-lite. Nilsson, with assistance from producer Richard Berry and Paul Buckmaster (who arranged and conducted the strings and horns), made the song over into an orchestrated operetta. In particular, he almost reinvented the chorus, not melodically but by singing it in his operatic range against swelling orchestration. When Badfinger sang the chorus, they sounded resigned; when Nilsson sang it, he sounded almost suicidally desperate. The public responded to his entreaties by giving him a number one single with it in 1972. The record went on to become a commercial radio perennial, not just on oldies stations, but also on adult contemporary and easy listening ones. Its radio exposure multiplied, though in a fashion that annoyed many who had valued Nilsson's interpretation, when Mariah Carey had a big hit with an unimaginative cover version in 1994.


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