The Infinite Jukebox: The Mindbenders’ ‘Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You’

When it comes to the music of the Sixties, I have to admit that Manchester fares very badly in comparison with that lot at the other end of the East Lancs Road, both in quality and quantity. When two of your three major decade-long hit bands include Herman’s Hermits and Freddie and The Dreamers, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on, even before you factor in the Four Moptops.
But The Hollies weren’t the only respectable band from Manchester to have some good strong big hits in the Sixties. Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, both together and as separate acts, scored a few big hit singles, probably the most notable being The Mindbenders’ first and only Top 10 hit, ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, which reached no 2 in 1966, sung by lead guitarist Eric Stewart, who went on to form first Hotlegs then 10cc.
With Wayne (or Glyn Ellis to give him his real name) in the act, the band had two UK no. 2s, one of which was a number 1 in America, but the split occurred during an American tour, with Fontana walking off stage, mid-concert. ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, written by Carole Bayer Sager and Toni Wine, was another American no. 1, UK no. 2 and the band recorded another Sager/Wine song as their follow-up. This was ‘Can’t Live Without You (Can’t Live With You)’. It was considerably less successful, only reaching no 28.
As far as I am aware, I didn’t hear ‘Can’t Live Without You’ until the great days of Sounds of the Sixties and Brian Matthew. It opened my ears to the possibility that there may have been more to The Mindbenders than just ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, and indeed to the possibility that other bands in the Sixties may have had more good songs than they are famous for.
‘Can’t Live Without You’ is a less-smooth song than the big hit, itself hitched to something of a jerky rhythm, and a lower key one all through. It’s of a similar tempo but is nothing like so definite in its intro, as Stewart picks out broken notes over a gentle rhythm track.
But the more withheld sound is better suited to the lyrics of the song, which is a wistful love song, sung to a girlfriend who, in modern parlance, is just not that into him. Stewart is in love, uncategorically, but it’s in no way satisfactory.
When you’re close to me, he appeals, plaintively, you just seem to be not all there. And the reverse obtains, in that when he’s far from her, he just seems to be not all there. Having set up that fundamental dichotomy, Stewart cuts to the chase. Baby I can’t live without you, he pleads, with backing from his bandmates, but equally, he can’t live with her. It’s never going to work out fine.
He loves her, but she doesn’t love him, or she doesn’t love him to the same degree as he does her, and neither of them can bend their feelings sufficiently far in the other’s direction to achieve a satisfactory compromise. It’s Catch-22.
And what can be done about this? Unfortunately, there’s only one solution. Somebody’s going to have to change their mind, or rather their heart. And how realistic is that?
Speaking for himself, Stewart doesn’t give it much chance. How he wishes he was strong enough to just walk away, but if he could – and it’s very clear from the tone of his voice that he can’t – he knows she would just watch him walk away. Walking away resolves the situation, just as much as it would be resolved by her suddenly falling for him, head over heels. Indeed, he asks her for that, knowing it’s wasted breath, but couldn’t you try, just a little bit harder, to love me?
But she can no more love him than he can not love her. He can’t live without her, and he can’t live with her. Impasse central.
And that’s all there is to the song. It’s an expression of helplessness, an unsquarable circle, a wistful wish that something beyond the pair of them could break things down to an answer each can live with. But Stewart knows. He knows it isn’t going to come from her, no matter how much he wishes for it, no matter how much gentle pleading he puts into his voice.
And it can’t come from him, without his becoming someone he’s not, who is not in love with her. And so the song slides away into silence and a future that cannot be defined in any way, in which Stewart is trying to avoid understanding that the only outcome will be heartbreak: his heartbreak.
I hear him and I feel what he feels. I’ve been there enough times before, and if I wasn’t so carefully guarded about what I let my heart get up to through long experience, I could be like that now, one more dreadfully weary time. Maybe it’s that side of it that I respond to in hearing this song and wanting to hear it over and again: maybe, just once, she’ll see me as I see her.
It’s only a minor single, but in the Infinite Jukebox nothing is minor, and this least of all.

4 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: The Mindbenders’ ‘Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You’

  1. Just discovered this song about a week ago. I was watching a clip from the film, “To Sir With Love,” and enjoyed the Mindbenders’ performance of “It’s Getting Harder All The Time” during the school dance scene. Got me to thinking about other songs of theirs that may have fallen through the cracks over the years. Like you, I always love resurfacing a lost gem. This song is one! It’s beautiful and haunting in that British Invasion echoey kind of way. And I like the discordant chord that sustains its heartbreak. Also impressed that the song was written by Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager, who also wrote “Groovy Kind of Love.” I’ll have to check out more of your “Infinite Jukebox” posts. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome. There are nearly 250 so far, famous and obscure, so I hope I can introduce you to other lost gems you haven’t yet discovered.

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