Preston's original version first appeared on his 1974 album The Kids & Me and as the B-side on the 45rpm pressing of his pop hit, "Struttin'". Cocker's producer, Jim Price, created a slowed-down arrangement for Cocker's version, which first appeared on the album, I Can Stand a Little Rain (released later in 1974). In 1975, the Joe Cocker version was released as a single and peaked number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and number 12 on the Easy Listening chart. The Cocker version helped the album become successful and was his biggest hit until his duet with Jennifer Warnes, "Up Where We Belong", which reached #1 in 1982.
Though not officially credited as the song's writer, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and Preston spontaneously collaborated on the words and music to the song at a party. Wilson never sought to reclaim his share of the song's authorship. The song's tone has been related to the style of his solo material.
Television programs have used commercial recordings of the song. Seventies-themed sitcomThe Wonder Years used a recorded version of the song in Season 6, Episode 16, "Nose," where it played at the end of the episode at a school dance where Kevin's friend Ricky loses a girl with a large nose just as Ricky had come to appreciate her.
The song played in Season 5, Episode 9 of Full House.
The film Modern Romance (1981) includes an instrumental version of the song in its opening and closing titles, and also uses Joe Cocker's version to underscore its final scene.
Joe Cocker's version was also used in the film Carlito's Way (1993) and plays during Gail's apartment scene and over the film's end credits.
In the American comedy movie "The Little Rascals" (1994), the song is sung by Alfalfa to Darla on a boat.
In 2016, the song appears in the season one finale of Quantico entitled "Yes", first sung by a drunk Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers) and Brandon Fletcher (Jacob Artist) celebrating their graduation, then leading into the Joe Cocker version for the remainder of the scene.