The song later appeared on the Bee Gees' compilation Their Greatest Hits: The Record. The remixed version was released and remastered in the compilation Bee Gees Greatest in 2007 and marked the return of the Bee Gees to the US Hot Dance Tracks charts after 28 years. According to Maurice, this track was the first song they did while they were recording the other songs for the film. The recording was started at Château d'Hérouville as a basic track only and completed later at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles.
Although Yvonne Elliman had cut her 1976 album Love Me with producer Freddie Perren, who was a major force in the disco movement (Perren had produced the Sylvers' 1976 number 1 "Boogie Fever" and would soon collaborate with Gloria Gaynor on the disco anthem "I Will Survive"), Love Me had showcased Elliman not as a disco artist but rather as a pop ballad singer, notably on the title cut, a Barry Gibb composition which had provided Elliman with an international hit. It was originally intended that Elliman's contribution to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack would be another ballad written by the Gibb brothers, "How Deep Is Your Love".
Meanwhile, the Bee Gees produced their own version of "If I Can't Have You" for the film. However, RSO Records chairman and Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood, who was executive-producing the Saturday Night Fever album, dictated that the Bee Gees themselves record "How Deep Is Your Love" with Elliman being given a shot at the disco-style "If I Can't Have You".
The decision proved a success, as the soundtrack's first single, the Bee Gees' version of the ballad "How Deep Is Your Love", shot to number one, followed to the top spot by the soundtrack's second and third singles, also by the Gibb brothers, "Stayin' Alive" and "Night Fever". Elliman's "If I Can't Have You", produced by Perren, was released as the fourth single off the Saturday Night Fever album in February 1978. The first single off the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack not performed by the Bee Gees, "If I Can't Have You" would become the fourth number 1 hit from the film, reaching the top spot on the Hot 100 in Billboard dated 13 May 1978, ending an eight-week number 1 tenure by "Night Fever". "If I Can't Have You" was the fourth consecutive US number 1 to be co-written by Barry Gibb, and the sixth consecutive to be released on the RSO record label. The B-side of the single was a track from the Love Me album, "Good Sign", a composition by Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager which had previously served as the B-side of Elliman's hit "Hello Stranger".
Far from the success going to Elliman's head or giving her ideas of following up the sudden disco success with a deeper foray into the genre, a contemporary interview by journalist Peter J. Boyer found Elliman dismissive of her number 1 hit, referring to it in conversation only casually as "that current thing from Saturday Night Fever". In spite of the coattail success she's had with "If I Can't Have You", it's a disco song and Elliman decided her broad, husky vocals are best suited elsewhere. "If I Can't Have You" was featured on Elliman's February 1978 album release Night Flight, which apart from that track was produced by Robert Appère and was not disco-oriented. No track from Night Flight was issued as a follow-up single to "If I Can't Have You", Elliman's next single being a rock ballad entitled "Savannah" which failed to consolidate Elliman's potential mainstream stardom. Elliman did return to disco music in 1979 with "Love Pains" which returned her to the Top 40 one more time before she dropped out of the music scene in the 1980s.
"If I Can't Have You" (Yvonne Elliman's version) was also featured in the 1999 film Big Daddy as well as on the film's soundtrack.
The song was covered in 1993 by British singer Kim Wilde and recorded as one of two new tracks on her compilation album The Singles Collection 1981–1993. The single reached number 12 in the UK. It became Wilde's biggest hit of the 1990s and one of the biggest hits of her career in Australia, where it reached number 3. It was released in several extended remixes on the 12" and CD-single formats. The B-side was an exclusive non-album track called "Never Felt So Alive".
Adam Lambert performed the song as his selection during disco week of season 8 of American Idol. Instead of performing the song the original way, Lambert made it into a ballad, which was highly praised by the judges. Jesse Hultberg had already recorded the song as a ballad in 1994.