This song was a major hit for The Hollies in early 1974, reaching number two in the United Kingdom. In the summer of 1974, it 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. In an interview, Parsons noted that Eric Clapton once said that the first note of "The Air That I Breathe" had more soul than anything he'd ever heard.
The 1992 Radiohead song "Creep" uses a similar chord progression and shares some melodic content with the 1972 version of "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 royalties.