In 1970, it was released by Karen and Richard Carpenter on their album Close to You, and it became their breakthrough hit. The song stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. This song was originally given to Herb Alpert as a follow up to his Number 1 hit, "This Guy's in Love with You", another Bacharach/David composition. Alpert was not thrilled with his version and shelved the recording. He decided to give it to the new act he had signed to A&M Records, The Carpenters, in 1969. Alpert's version finally saw an official release in 2005 on a new Tijuana Brass release called Lost Treasures 1963–1974. Richard had stated that when Alpert introduced the song to him back in early 1970, he was a bit apprehensive about the song. He and Alpert collaborated on the song, and the finished product was a 4-minute, 36-second long song. When A&M Records decided to release it in May 1970, it became A&M's biggest hit since Alpert's "This Guy's in Love with You" from 1968.
"(They Long to Be) Close to You" is Homer and Marge's love song on The Simpsons. The song plays in the background when Homer sees Marge for the first time in "The Way We Was". The song would later appear in The Simpsons Movie, as the first song Homer and Marge dance at their wedding in a video. The affection for this song can also explain Marge's melody choice when buying a musical doorbell in "Maximum Homerdrive" episode (The Simpsons Season 10 Episode 17).
In the 1989 film "Parenthood", Nathan (Rick Moranis) comes to his wife Susan's (Harley Jane Kozak) class and sings the song to serenade her.
In the Red Dwarf episode "Back in the Red", the Cat quotes the song when he says "There's a six-month waiting list for birds to suddenly appear every time that I am near!"
In 1970, Hawaiian singer Al Stroud recorded the song as a demo, with Nick De Caro as the producer and arranger, just prior to the Carpenter's release. Artie Price told Stroud's managers the song would never be a hit.
In 2008, Soledad Giménez covered a Spanish version with the name of "Junto a ti" on her album La Felicidad.
In 2009, Japanese singer BENI covered the song for the Japanese tribute album for The Carpenters. In the same year the Japanese duo Every Little Thing covered the song, inserted in their single CD "Tsumetai Ame."
The song is the lead single from Harry Connick, Jr.'s 2009 album, Your Songs, and it was released exclusively on Amazon.com, on August 25, 2009, by Sony Music. The album is a collaboration between Connick and leading music executiveClive Davis, who recommended "(They Long to Be) Close to You" for the album. Connick sings backed by his big band, a piano, and a string orchestra. The song features New Orleans trumpeter Leroy Jones.Barnes & Noble streamed the song in its entirety, from two weeks before its release, on their website for the Your Songs album. On the single's release date, a music video of the song, featuring pictures and film from the recording of the album, was put up at Amazon.com.
In Open Season 2, the song is parodied by many characters during the final scene.