The bulk of the information for this post comes from Dan Matovina's "Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger." Matovina's published account is not universally accepted as being accurate, as some posts below will indicate. For the other side of the story, see the comments after this post. As with every story, there are multiple sides that often conflict in details with each other.
From Matovina's perspective --
The story is that Pete Ham had written a new song but was not satisfied with the chorus. Tom Evans was writing a new song and while liking his own chorus was dissatisfied with the verses. Ham and Evans combined their efforts into one tune that incorporated the best parts of the individual songs.
This marriage of melodies produced the biggest royalty generating composition in the band’s history as two covers of the song were number one hits for Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey. ASCAP estimates that 180 artists have covered this song.
Not only was it their biggest composition, the song inspired one of the band’s biggest problems and that was the sharing of royalties among all members. It also was strangely prophetic as both writers ended up committing suicide by hanging – they couldn’t live due to financial issues that ultimately surrounded this and other recordings.
Pete Ham died in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983. Ham killed himself over problems regarding their financial manager, Stan Polley. This was evident in his suicide note; Ham closed out the tome by stating, “PS Stan Polley is a souless bastard. I will take him with me.”
Faux Live Version with Pete Ham singing lead
The greed associated with Badfinger began with Nilsson's recording of "Without You." Nilsson's early success with the song was noticed by guitarist Joey Molland who suggested a royalty arrangement that would benefit all of Badfinger including Bill Collins. Although the arrangement would not go into effect until after Pete’s death, it may have ultimately led to Tom Evans' demise.
In the early 1980s, guitarist Molland, drummer Mike Gibbins, and manager Bill Collins began pressuring Evans to concede to a loosely agreed upon distribution of royalties. While all of the band agreed upon the arrangement prior to Pete Ham's death, it never was put into effect.
Molland and the others were now looking at cashing in on the success of “Without You” and the Pete Ham composed hit singles. After Evans and Molland had a heated telephone conversation, Tom hanged himself in his garden the following mornign.
Rare Recording with Tom Evans Singing Lead
Following Evans' death, Molland, Gibbins, and Collins began pressing the heirs of Pete Ham and Tom Evans about the song royalty arrangement. The three surviving members claimed that the arrangement was to be 25% for a song’s writer and the remaining 75% was to be split five ways among all four members of Badfinger and Bill Collins who legally was a full, but not performing, member of the band.
The Ham and Evans heirs conceded that a loose verbal agreement did exist; however, they contested the percentage amounts. Under the Molland, Gibbins, and Collins arrangement, a single songwriter would only have 40% of a song he had written as a single author. For compositions like “Without You,” Ham and Evans each would receive only 27.5%.
Harry Nilsson’s beautiful demo recording
The heirs of both writers of “Without You” claimed that the royalties were to be divided with the song composers receiving the lion’s share at 50% and the remaining 50% was to be divided five ways. This arrangement gave single authors a total of 60% share of the royalties and in the case of “Without You,” the estates of Ham and Evans would each receive 35% of the songwriting royalties. Other royalty issues concerning publishing royalties and royalties for sales from LPs on the Apple Record label also arose during this period.
Harry Nilsson’s Hit from Nilsson Schmilsson
After much litigation, the courts upheld the 50% arrangement with the remaining 50% to be divided among all five members. While Ham's and Evans' estates were the legal victors, the arrangement meant that the larger royalty payments were to be divided across all members rather than the official songwriters.
To add insult to injury, both estates were required to pay Molland, Gibbins, and Collins back royalties from where both writers were paid each 50% on the performance royalties of “Without You” and other compositions. Pete Ham's estate took the larger hit. Although "Without You" remains credited to Pete Ham and Tom Evans, ASCAP's royalties schedules includes the names of all five, who were now receiving royalty payments, as coauthors.
Mariah Carey’s #1 Version
Due to Mariah Carey’s success in 1994, ASCAP had planned to honor the songwriters of “Without You,” as it had became one of the top fifty songs that was played in the previous year. Carey’s version that was released a few days after Harry Nilsson death from cancer had outsold Nilsson’s version which was the “Song of the Year” in 1972.
Because of the five Badfinger members were being honored rather than the actual composers, Pete Ham’s daughter Petera opted not to travel to the US to accept her father’s award. Marianne and Stephen Evans, Tom’s widow and son, both attended but found out at the last moment that Molland, Gibbins, and Collins were attending and intended to accept their awards for the song. Wanting this corrected, Marianne Evans contacted ASCAP, however, the performing rights society upheld that their records had all five as coauthors and all five would be honored.
Joey Molland Singing Lead
During the ceremony Molland stole the show by holding up his award for which he had been collecting royalties, yet had not participated in the composition process. It gave the appearance that Molland was the primary author. This further drove a wedge between former bandmates and their families.
Obviously, none could live without the royalties of a song that was created only by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Currently, Molland is the only living member of the five-some. Collins died in 2002 and Gibbins in 2005. Their estates, as well as those of Ham and Evans, continue to receive royalties from "Without You" and will do for some time.