Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

A love ballad marked by sadness and death. Thirty years since the success of Mariah Carey’s “Without You”.

Mariah Carey she loved the song Harry’Nillson’s ego from an early age. The recording accompanied her very often – no wonder, after all, the great hit sung by the American artist was often played on radio stations around the world. The young star, while preparing to record the album “Music Box”, remembered the ballad after hearing it coming from the speakers in the cafe and decided to include it in her repertoire. Since the early 1990s, Carey has been successful, mainly on the American market, topping the Billboard charts many times. Europe, especially Great Britain, was not so enthusiastic about the singer’s work, and she hoped that this would change with the release of the new album.

Initially, “Without You” was not planned as a single promoting the album. Mariah Carey had enough of her own songs with which she wanted to conquer the music market. The first one was “Dreamlover”, written together with Dave’em Hall (number one in the USA and only ninth place in the British Isles), another ballad “Hero” enriched with compositional talent Walter Afanasieff it also did not bring the desired success. Only “Without You”, released at the end of January, turned out to be a hit. A month after its premiere, on February 19, 1994, the hit topped the UK Chart, where it remained for four consecutive weeks. Twenty-two years earlier, on the same day, the version sung by Nilsson, who died exactly a week before the premiere of Mariah Carey’s version, topped the American Billboard Hot 100.

Born in New York Harry Edward Nilsson III he was an extremely talented singer, songwriter and music writer. He often liked to experiment, which resulted in the album “Aerial Pandemonium Ballet”, considered the first album with remixes before it became fashionable in the late 1970s. The musician did not want to reissue his previous albums, he came to the conclusion that they were poorly recorded. So he went back to the studio and remixed them, improving the sound. Do you like mashups? One of the first stories was a rearranged piece The Beatles “You Can’t Do That”, in which Nillson included 18 quotes from other songs of the famous Liverpool foursome. John, Paul, George and Ringo they were very impressed with this version, which resulted in the beginning of a long-lasting friendship between the musicians. Although Nillson’s albums were not yet topping the charts in the late 1960s, his songs were successfully recorded by other artists from The Monkees in the lead.

A big problem for the talented musician was the fact that he achieved his greatest commercial success thanks to compositions that were not his. First in 1969, thanks to a song Fred Neil “Everybody’s Talkin”, which appeared in the cult film “Midnight Cowboy” John Schlesingerwith excellent acting performances Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, and two years later with “Without You”. Ironically, everyone thought they were his works and not covers of other artists’ songs, which, despite the recognition he received, frustrated him even more.

Just as Mariah Carey remembered an old hit in a cafe, Nillson heard it by accident during one of the parties. The quiet guitar ballad resembled one of The Beatles’ compositions, so they were preparing to record a new album with the producer Richard Perrythe musician asked his friends from The Beatles for permission to use their song.

Badfinger, the original authors of the hit, were not famous musicians from Liverpool, although they were often called the young Beatles in the press in the 1970s. The band’s sound was sometimes reminiscent of Liverpool’s recordings because they were fronted and produced by Mal Evans and Peter Asher With Apple Recordsand individual members of the famous group often provided production support to the Welsh band on numerous occasions. Paul McCartney he even gave them and produced the recording “Come and Get It”, which became their first major hit. This somewhat forgotten group had a few nice songs in the early 1970s that made a lot of noise on the charts. However, it was not the song “Without You”, which they did not take very seriously and although it appeared on their popular album “No Dice”, it was not released as a single.

The famous composition was created completely by accident. Pete HamBadfinger’s vocalist and guitarist, wrote a song titled “If It’s Love” but couldn’t find a strong chorus. TomEvans, bassist and vocalist, had a catchy chorus with the words: “Can’t live if living is without you” but was unable to develop the idea. Both musicians combined their concepts into one song and “Without You” was born. Both authors were not convinced of the final effect, and pressing publishing deadlines did not allow them to properly finish the recording in the studio. As a result, the hit Badfinger sounded a bit rough, more like an unpolished, good demo and only closed the first side of their album.

The group’s musicians found out how perfect their composition could sound several months later, when Harry Nillson appeared in the Apple Records studios and started recording his version. Initially, the musician, who avoided love themes in his work, wanted the song to be a dark, heavy piece accompanied only by the piano. After many arguments in the studio, Richard Perry had his way and enriched the recording with parts of string instruments. They gave the entire composition lightness and at the same time strengthened the poignant message of sadness after loss embedded in the text.

After the session, Nillson invited Badfinger musicians staying in the neighboring studio to listen to the effects of their work. Pate Ham and Tom Evans said they now understand what their song was missing. “Without You”, released on the album “Nilsson Schmilsson”, became a hit just a few weeks after its premiere in 1971. The recording won Nillson’s second Grammy Award and was number one in America, Great Britain and most of Europe. The song became a timeless hit, and only Mariah Carey’s version made later generations associate it more with the popular singer than with Nillson. The creators of the hit Ham and Evans also received recognition. They received the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for best song, musical and lyrical, in 1972. However, that’s where the good times ended for Badfinger and Nillson.

After the success of the hit, the latter began to lose control over his addictions, which resulted in an uninterrupted string of parties filled with alcohol, illegal substances, fleeting sex and a whole host of scandals, which he indulged in in the company of his friend. John Lennon. This period of the famous Beatle’s life is known in history as “The Lost Weekend”. Over the years, Nillson’s work no longer enjoyed such popularity, his voice was no longer a perfect instrument, his ideas became distant from the pop style, and the musician himself was increasingly in poor health. The congenital heart defect made itself felt in February 1993, when the artist had a heart attack. Until the last moment he tried to work on the last album, which unfortunately he did not finish. He died at the age of 52.

“Without You” became a symbol of yet another tragedy. Badfinger have been unlucky when it comes to the decisions they have made regarding their career. Despite the great success of their composition, Ham and Evans were not paid royalties for the hit due to the bankruptcy of Apple Records. Their manager turned out to be a fraud who embezzled most of their income and at the same time enslaved them to precise contracts that prevented the musicians from giving concerts. Devastated Pete Ham committed suicide in 1975, Tom Evans repeated his friend’s tragic feat in 1983. In the background of both tragedies, there were financial problems and quarrels over the division of owed money. The group’s story was described years later by their friend and long-time sound engineer Dan Matovina. The famous hit returned in the book’s title: “Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger”.

The memorable, moving ballad is still one of Mariah Carey’s greatest hits and a hallmark of her talent, as well as a showcase of her vocal skills. Although Valentina Hasan became recognizable around the world after her performance in a not very positive way, becoming an Internet meme, she did not give up. The creators of the Bulgarian program “Idol” invited the girl to vocal workshops and a few weeks later she appeared in the program again, performing the famous recording. She was also able to perfectly distance herself from the whole situation, ending her performance by singing the famous words “Ken lee tolibu dibudouchoo” in the final chorus, which of course aroused applause from the audience gathered in the studio.