"Without You" is probably one of the most covered songs of all time, right up there with "Always On My Mind". Artists as varied as Mariah Carey to Clay Aiken have covered this song, and I am sure there is some post-modern pop-punk cover floating around somewhere out there.
So who sang it best?
The original singers/songwriters of this song, better known for their song "No Matter What". Their version is a bit clipped and has an unexpected intensity. The most unique version of any I've heard. Unfortunately for this group, Harry Nillson discovered the song on their album and covered it the following year...it became a huge #1 hit and most people remember the Nillson version. Even more sadly, the two main songwriters of the group later committed suicide due to financial struggles and other problems. Gives their version a new poignancy that is heartbreaking.
Harry Nillson (1971)
Nillson's is perhaps the most emotional version of this song. When I hear this, I really do believe that Nillson will not live, if living is without you. By far and away the most tortured version of "Without You". It is easy to see why this became such a worldwide hit. Nillson performs a more sweeping and drawn out version than Badfinger, extending the words "live" and "you" for extra drama. Certainly a classic.
Mariah Carey (1994)
Mariah has a stunning voice, which she has chosen now to overshadow with guest appearances by a variety of rappers, whispering every word, and relying on thin material. But in the day, she was a superstar and her trademark was ballads like these. She does a beautiful job with the song, and probably has recorded the best known version of "Without You".
Kelly Clarkson (2002)
This cover of "Without You" may have been what propelled Kelly Clarkson to win the first season of American Idol, and become one of the most famous idols in 7 seasons. Her version is almost perfect and shows off her incredible voice. She also allows a sense of vunerability in the song that Mariah did not.
Clay Aiken (2006)
Clay does an OK job with the song, it is obvious he has a good voice. But there is something missing. I don't think Clay has as strong of an emotional connection with the song as some other artists, and it shows. His version is a little muted, he doesn't take as many vocal risks with the song as I would have expected. Clay is a very talented singer, just look to his cover of Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me", but this version just isn't doing it for me.
Carly Smithson (2008)
Another Idol performance. Although Smithson was one of my favorite contestants, and undoubtedly should have been Top 3 (we know she wasn't going to overcome Cook and Archuleta), this performance was a disappointment on Mariah Carey night. Even Jason Castro was superior (that hurts me to say!) Carly could have done so much better, she sounds as though she is straining a bit and doesn't do anything very memorable with the song.
And just for fun....
Valentina Hasan - "Ken Lee" (2008)
The infamous video where the singer (a contestant on Music Idol) clearly does not have a strong knowledge of the English language....the subtitles are hilarious! Instead of "I can't live", she sings "Ken Lee"...HAHAHA.