I’d always thought the song, ‘Without You’, was written by Harry Nilsson.  I mean, he owned that song.  I grew up with his vocals of it as a backdrop to my youth.  At the time I never thought about song origins.  It was just me and Harry and his wonderful song.

About ten years ago I found his Nilsson Schmilsson CD in the used section of Amoeba Records.  I didn’t realize it but the CD was a reissue of his original album and it included some previously unreleased demo tunes.  I did not expect the acoustic rawness captured in the ‘Without You’ demo.

Years later, when YouTube was popular, I was able to look up so many old songs and listen again.  I’d tried finding the Nilsson demo but it wasn’t posted, although I was able to find other oldies such as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put A Spell On You’ and the English version of Francoise Hardy’s ‘I Wish It Were Me’ and even full tracks of Demis Roussos when he was with the band Aphrodite’s Child and produced their psychedelic, progressive rock album ‘666’.

See?  You can still find them on YouTube:

If you’ve never seen this performance before, you’re in for a treat!  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – I Put A Spell On You


Francoise Hardy – I Wish It Were Me


My favorite track from Demis Roussos’ group Aphrodite’s Child – Break


Finally, a few years ago, I found it.  The exact demo version of ‘Without You’ I’d been searching for had been posted to YouTube.

That’s when I found out it wasn’t really Harry’s song after all.  It wasn’t really even one song at all.  Originally, half of it was written by one man about a woman, and the other half was written by another man about another woman.  Those two men merged their songs during a practice session, an attempt to come up with more tracks for their second studio album, No Dice.  Those two men were Pete Ham and Tom Evans, original members of the British rock band Badfinger.  Tom hated the new song and pulled it from the album.  Pete loved the song and put it back in at the last minute.  ‘Without You’ was a mere fill-in track on the album, nothing more.  Then along came Harry.

I spent time listening and learning about the many variations of this song.  It’s a journey within itself.  I don’t have time or space to go into the story of the song ‘Without You’ here.  It has celebration, thievery, heart-ache, suicide, success, renewal and, in its more recent form, popularized dreck.

It’s a stretch to compare the journey of a song to the history of radio station KGO, but it’s funny how it all ends up the same.

It had humble beginnings, just another track for an album.  Two songs turned into one by Pete Ham and Tom Evans.


Just as KGO Radio had humble beginnings, written about in this article by John F. Schneider:


KGO changed from a recorded music format to talk radio in the 1960s.  It became a powerhouse, ranking Number One in its market.

So did Harry with his song:

Harry Nilsson – Without You (the released version, live studio musicians, lush haunting vocals, overlapping chorus, recorded on 16 track with 2 track harmonies – produced by Richard Perry)


Gary Wright, most known for his song ‘Dream Weaver’, played piano in Nilsson’s studio version of ‘Without You’.  In a BBC Radio 2 interview program, Song Stories – The History of the Song ‘Without You’, created by Peter Waterman, in a discussion about the song and its popularity, Wright said that listeners heard in Nilsson’s vocals a man devastated and in great need.  People universally recognized something, true feelings.

Nilsson won the 1972 Grammy for the song and his album, ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’ turned out to be the most successful album of his career.

In 1994 Nilsson died of a heart attack at the age of 52.  Mariah Carey’s version of ‘Without You’ was released a week later.

Mariah Carey – Without You


Mariah belts out that song.  At the time, it was her biggest hit outside the U.S. and reached No. 3 in the U.S. market.  But, to some, her version lacks the heart of Harry.  It is more about Mariah hitting octaves and riffing than performing a tender ballad.  It is a wonderful version, but was recorded in a technological environment of drum machines and digital recording of the ’90s, a programmed sterile sound that doesn’t capture the real emotion of the song.

Now we come to the modern day destruction.  What we accept as entertainment in a world of reality shows.

The Bulgarian show ‘Music Idol’, aired a contestant on the show who sang ‘Without You’, or as she calls it, ‘Ken Lee’:


I know you want to hear more, here’s a longer version:


And, that, my friends is where we end up with the new KGO.  How did it all come to this?  Who gave Ken Lee the keys to the station?  The destruction of this song corresponds nicely, without having to say anything, about the sad, wrenching end of real talk radio as we knew it.

Sometimes we have to sit back and remember what we had.  This is raw but there is heart.  Something we are missing going into this New Year:

Harry Nilsson – Without You (demo)


Goodbye Harry.  We miss you.

Goodbye KGO.  There’s a lot you can learn from a simple song and the disaster that is Ken Lee.  We won’t be looking back at the new KGO ten years from now.  We won’t look back two months from now.  You are on your own, new KGO.  One thing we can do is live without you.

Now, on to the New Year…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s