The Air That I Breathe Original
The Air That I Breathe originally written in LA
In 1972 songwriting duo Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood wrote “The Air That I Breathe” shortly after they moved to Los Angeles. The song’s protagonist doesn’t need anything besides the love of his girlfriend. Hammond recorded the “Air That I Breathe” original on his 1972 album It Never Rains in Southern California. In 1974 the song became a major hit for English rock group The Hollies.
Inspired by girls, loneliness and LA smog
The story behind the “Air That I Breathe” original is poignant. Hammond had moved to LA to be with a girl he’d met. The song is about her, and yet it’s not.
I just fell in love with a girl. We had some kind of short affair. I just fell in love so bad, I guess I needed to be with my family. I was so lonely in Los Angeles.”Albert Hammond, from the book Behind the Hits
“The Air That I Breathe” is inspired more by loneliness than love. It’s also inspired by LA smog, hence the line “the air that I breathe”.
Albert Hammond’s contributions
Albert Louis Hammond OBE was born in London in 1944. His family came from Gibraltar and they returned there after the War. Hammond kicked off his music career with the Gibraltan band the Diamond Boys. Although the band experienced limited commercial success, they played an important role in introducing rock ‘n’ roll music to Spain. Along with Spanish rock pioneers like Miguel Ríos, the Diamond Boys performed at the first nightclubs in Madrid to stage modern bands. Here they are singing “Popotitos” in Gibraltar.
Hammond went on to collaborate with songwriters like Mike Hazlewood, John Bettis, Diane Warren, Holly Knight and Carole Bayer Sager. He wrote commercially successful singles for artists including Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Leo Sayer, Tina Turner, Glen Campbell, Julio Iglesias, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Tyler, Ace of Base, Air Supply, Heart, the Carpenters, the Hollies and Westlife.
As a solo artist, Hammond’s biggest and only US Billboard hit was “It Never Rains in Southern California” which reached number five in 1972.
Hammond has significantly contributed to the music industry, as has his son, Albert Hammond Jr, who is the Stroke’s lead guitarist.
Hammond’s Air That I Breathe original
Hammond’s “The Air That I Breathe” original has more of a stripped-back folk sound than the Hollies version, although the chorus ramps up. It’s a delicate and beautiful ballad.
Hammond also recorded a Spanish version of “The Air That I Breathe” in 1975.
The Hollies, known for their three-part vocal harmonies, formed in Manchester in 1962. Friends since primary school, Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, formed the band, adopting the Merseybeat sound. The Hollies were one of England’s leading rock groups from the 60s until the mid-70s.
Like the Rolling Stones, the Hollies are one of the few early 60s English groups who haven’t disbanded and continue to record and perform, although Nash left the group in 1968 to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Hollies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Hollies Air That I Breathe
“The Air That I Breathe” was one of the Hollies’ last hits. It appeared on their 16th album, Hollies, released in 1974. Alan Parsons did the audio engineering.
In an interview, Parsons observed that Eric Clapton once said the first note of “The Air That I Breathe” had more soul than anything he’d ever heard. It is a beautiful song. Lead singer Clarke has a strong and flowing voice, and the build up to the prog-rock sounding chorus is perfect.
“The Air That I Breathe” reached number two in the UK and number six in the US.
Creep v Air That I Breathe
You 90s kids might recognise “The Air That I Breathe” chord progression from another song. Radiohead’s 1992 “Creep” uses a very similar progression and shares some melodic content. So much so that the song’s publisher sued Radiohead for copyright infringement. They reached a settlement in which Hammond and Hazlewood were given co-writing credits as well as a portion of the royalties for “Creep”.
Check out this mashup of “Creep” and “The Air That I Breathe” by Bristol band Moon Loungers. The songs are indeed very similar.
KD Lang version
Another lovely cover of “The Air That I Breathe” is this slow blues version by Canadian singer KD Lang, from her 1997 album Drag.
You can read about more unknown original ballads here.