This song was a major hit for The Hollies in early 1974, reaching number two in the United Kingdom. In the summer of 1974, the song reached number six in the United States on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number three on the Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada, the song peaked at number five on the RPM Magazine charts. The audio engineering for "The Air That I Breathe" was done by Alan Parsons. It proved to be the Hollies' final charting hit in the US.
The 1992 Radiohead song "Creep" uses a similar chord progression and shares some melodic content with "The Air That I Breathe". As a result, Hammond and Hazlewood sued Radiohead for plagiarism and won.
Also recorded by The Shadows in 1975 for their album Specs Appeal but released as a B-side on a single. The title appeared on the CD, as bonus track, on Tasty Plus as well on the Magic Records CD Specs Appeal / Tasty.
Dutch pop quartet Champagne included their version on their eponymous 1977 debut album.
Jorge González, former leader of the Chilean band Los Prisioneros, covered it as Necesito poder respirar (Spanish for "I need to be able to breathe") on his 1999 album Mi destino with the original Spanish lyrics from Hammond's version.