The Platters first recorded the song for Federal Records on May 20, 1954, but the recording was not released. In 1955, after moving to Mercury Records, the band re-recorded the song (on April 26) and it scored a major hit when it was released in May. In November that year, Federal Records released the original recording as a single (B-side - "You Made Me Cry") which sold poorly. Platters bass singer Herb Reed later recalled how the group hit upon its successful version: "We tried it so many times, and it was terrible. One time we were rehearsing in the car ... and the car jerked. Tony went 'O-oHHHH-nly you.' We laughed at first, but when he sang that song—that was the sign we had hit on something." According to Buck Ram, Tony Williams' voice "broke" in rehearsal, but they decided to keep this effect in the recording. This was the only Platter's recording on which songwriter and manager Ram played the piano.
The song held strong in the number-one position on the U.S. R & B charts for seven weeks, and hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It remained there for 30 weeks, beating out a rival cover version by a white band called The Hilltoppers. When the Platters track, "The Great Pretender" (which eventually surpassed the success of "Only You"), was released in the UK as Europe's first introduction to The Platters, "Only You" was included on the flipside. In the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock, The Platters participated with both songs "Only You" and "The Great Pretender".
In 1974, Ringo Starr covered this song (b/w "Call Me") for his album Goodnight Vienna at the suggestion of John Lennon. This version was released as a single on 11 November in the US,[nb 1] and it became a number six hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and reached number one on the easy listening chart in early 1975. It was released in UK on 15 November.[nb 2] Lennon plays acoustic guitar on the track, and recorded a guide vocal which was kept by producer Richard Perry. Harry Nilsson sings harmony vocals and appears with Starr in the amusing music video filmed on top of the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles. Lennon's vocal version appears on his Anthology box set, in 1998.
English singer Jeff Collins from Enfield recorded the song in 1972. It was popular in Europe, and rose to number 40 in the UK charts, charting for eight weeks.
In 1973, the singer Stein Ingebrigtsen had a number one hit in Norway with a Norwegian version of the song, entitled "Bare du". The lyrics were written by the record producer Arve Sigvaldsen. A Swedish version of the song, "Bara du", also recorded by Ingebrigtsen, became popular in that country. IngebrigtsOen also recorded a German version entitled "So wie du" with lyrics written by Ralph-Maria Siegel.
In the 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City, The Joker, voiced by Mark Hamill, ominously sings the entire song a cappella on a voicemail message sent to Batman, heard during the game's end credits sequence. The original song by the Platters, can also be heard in the sequel Batman: Arkham Knight at two points: first at the very beginning of the game within a diner, and second when Joker is going on a killing spree.
This song was adapted into Cantonese in the Hong Kong movie A Chinese Odyssey. In the song, Longevity Monk tries to convince the character Joker, who he thinks is the Sun Wukong, to protect him on his travels and put on the Monkey King's golden crown. Instead, Joker beats Longevity Monk over the head with a rod.