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.
The 1992 Radiohead song "Creep" uses a similar chord progression and shares some melodic content with the 1972 song "The Air That I Breathe". As a result, the song's publisher sued Radiohead for copyright infringement and a settlement was reached in which Hammond and Hazlewood were given co-writing credits as well as a portion of the song’s royalties.
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.