This is one of my top U2 songs… it was on the album Achtung Baby released in 1991. the song peaked at #10 on the Billboard 100 in 1992. Johnny Cash covered it on 2000’s American III: Solitary Man,..the video is at the bottom of the post.
The Edge talks about when they came up with it: Suddenly something very powerful happening in the room. Everyone recognized it was a special piece. It was like we’d caught a glimpse of what the song could be. It was a pivotal song in the recording of the album, the first breakthrough in what was an extremely difficult set of sessions.
The band wrote this song in Berlin after being there for months trying to record Achtung Baby. The Berlin Wall had just fallen, so the band was hoping to find inspiration from the struggle and change. Instead, they found themselves at odds with each other and unable to do much productive work.
Most of the song was written in about 30 minutes and it rejuvenated the band creatively. When they left Berlin, they had little to show for it except for this song, but they were able to complete the album back home in Ireland with this song as the centerpiece of the album.
Achtung Baby peaked at #1 on the Billboard Album Charts in 1991.
This was voted best single in the 1992 Rolling Stone reader’s poll. U2 also won for best album, band, and comeback of the year. In 2003, it was voted the best song ever by Q magazine.
This song can be interpreted in many ways. Bono, who wrote the lyrics, has always been a bit vague, saying it is “about relationships.” Here are some interpretations:
1) The song could relate to the reunification of Germany, where the band recorded it.
2) It could be about the dissolution of The Edge’s marriage to Aislinn O’Sullivan. The couple was having problems in their relationship and split soon after the sessions. Bono was the best man at their wedding.
3) It could be about the band putting their differences aside and coming together to make the album.
4) Bono may have been writing about his good friend, the Irish painter Guggi, who was having girl trouble.
5) The song could represent a conversation between an AIDS victim and his father.
Proceeds from the single were donated to AIDS research, which was stated on the liner notes of the single. Also printed on the notes was this statement: “The image on the cover is a photograph by the American artist David Wojnarowicz, depicting how Indians hunted buffalo by causing them to run off cliffs. Wojnarowicz identifies himself and ourselves with the buffalo, pushed into the unknown by forces we cannot control or even understand. Wojnarowicz is an activist artist and writer whose work has created controversy recently through its uncompromising depiction of the artist’s homosexuality, his infection by the H.I.V. virus and the political crisis surrounding AIDS.”
The Edge came up with the guitar track while working on “Mysterious Ways.” Once he came up with this guitar part, they quickly started writing “One.”
Three different videos were made, each interpreting the song differently. The first, directed by Mark Pellington, shows a buffalo running in a field. The second, which was mostly seen in Europe, featured U2 in drag. The third, shown mostly in the US, is built around Bono reflecting over a cigarette.
Director and photographer Anton Corbijn was at the helm for the video that featured the band in drag. He told The Guardian September 24, 2005: “I had been working with U2 as a photographer for 10 years at this stage and we’d had our ups and downs. I’d done one video for them in 1984 for ‘Pride.’ It was a disaster and no one ever saw it. It took them eight years to give me another chance. I really wanted to put a lot of effort into it to prove myself to them as a director. I even hand-painted the cars that appear in the video myself. I themed the whole thing around the notion of ‘one’ although I don’t think that’s what Bono was actually singing about. That’s why I filmed it in Berlin because the wall had just come down. And I filmed the band performing in a circle like a single unit. I showed Bono’s dad at one end of a seesaw to suggest that on your own you are not always balanced. I liked Bono’s father very much but they had a very complex relationship.
I think it meant a lot for them to appear together. These were all my own ideas but U2 are very much a band who like to meet up and talk about things. There are always a lot of meetings with them! But they cleared all the ideas, including the one about them appearing in drag. Later though, they decided that some of the proceeds from the single would go to Aids charities. They became nervous that the drag element in the video might link Aids to the homosexual community in a negative way. So they dropped the video and got someone else to film something.
It was so painful for me at the time. They replaced it with a video of Bono in a bar surrounded by models, which I particularly didn’t like. But once the song had died in the charts a few months later they got MTV to start running my video instead. That’s why I like working with U2: they have stayed very loyal to me, which is rare in music.”
According to The Guardian, Bono’s father, Robert Hewson, appeared in the song’s video. He later complained to his son that he hadn’t been paid.
In 2005, Bono got involved in the “One” campaign, which tried to convince the US government to give an additional 1% of its budget to help poor regions in Africa. On the Vertigo tour, fans who signed up had their names displayed on video screens when U2 played this.
Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen performed this at the “MTV Rock n Roll Inaugural Ball” for Bill Clinton in 1993 with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills from R.E.M. The impromptu group became known as “Automatic Baby,” a combination of album titles Automatic For The People and Achtung Baby.
The “buffalo” video directed by Mark Pellington was comprised of projections he made for the Zoo TV tour. In a Songfacts interview with Pellington, he explained: “They had made a video for the song already – that Anton Corbijn had done – of them in drag, and they weren’t really crazy about it. So, they released mine, and it was out there for a while. It was a very ‘anti-video’: no band, a slow art piece. And they made a third version of the video with Bono singing in a bar.
It always was interesting to me to have more than one video for a song. I don’t know why bands don’t do that more.”
Pellington later worked on the 2007 film U2 3D.
On the Popmart tour in Mexico City, while the Edge played the intro Bono said, “This one goes out to a mate of ours, a great mate, a great singer, we’re sorry, we’re sorry, for Michael Hutchence.”
On their 2001-2002 tour, a list of victims of the September 11 attacks was projected on a screen while they performed this.
In 2006, after Bank of America merged with MBNA, BoA held a corporate conference where Ethan Chandler, who managed a New York branch, performed a new version of this song celebrating the merger. Sample lyric: “And we’ve got Bank One on the run. What’s in your wallet? It’s not Capital One.” Thankfully, someone leaked the video and it ended up on YouTube, where you can see it in all its glory. Watch for the standing ovation at the end.
Mary J. Blige sang this with Bono in 2006 for a benefit for victims of hurricane Katrina. Blige then recorded it with Bono and U2 for her album Reminisce.
In a March 2007 poll carried out by The Tony Fenton Show on the Irish radio station Today FM, this was voted the Best Irish Single Ever.
Bono explained the meaning of this song to Rolling Stone in 2005: “It’s a father-and-son story. I tried to write about someone I knew who was coming out and was afraid to tell his father. It’s a religious father and son… I have a lot of gay friends, and I’ve seen them screwed up from unloving family situations, which just are completely anti-Christian. If we know anything about God, it’s that God is love. That’s part of the song. And then it’s also about people struggling to be together, and how difficult it is to stay together in this world, whether you’re in a band or a relationship.” >>
The line “One life, with each other, sisters, brothers” was voted the UK’s favorite song lyric in a 2006 poll by music channel VH1.
Anyone thinking of using this at their wedding might want to reconsider. “‘One’ is not about oneness, it’s about difference,” Bono points out in the book U2 by U2. “It is not the old hippie idea of ‘Let’s all live together.’ It is a much more punk rock concept. It’s anti-romantic: ‘We are one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.’ It’s a reminder that we have no choice. I’m still disappointed when people hear the chorus line as ‘we’ve got to’ rather than ‘we get to carry each other.’ Because it is resigned, really. It’s not: ‘Come on everybody, let’s vault over the wall.’ Like it or not, the only way out of here is if I give you a leg up the wall and you pull me after you. There’s something very unromantic about that. The song is a bit twisted, which is why I could never figure out why people want it at their weddings. I have certainly met a hundred people who’ve had it at their weddings. I tell them, ‘Are you mad? It’s about splitting up!'”
The Edge offers his take: “The lyric was the first in a new, more intimate style. It’s two ideas, essentially. On one level it’s a bitter, twisted, vitriolic conversation between two people who’ve been through some nasty, heavy stuff: ‘We hurt each other, then we do it again.’ But on another level there’s the idea that ‘we get to carry each other.’ ‘Get to’ is the key. ‘Got to’ would be too obvious and platitudinous. ‘Get to’ suggests it is our privilege to carry one another. It puts everything in perspective and introduces the idea of grace. Still, I wouldn’t have played it at any wedding of mine.”
This was featured in the trailer for the 2000 Nicolas Cage movie The Family Man. It was not used in the movie itself.
Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame
You say one love, one life (One life)
It’s one need in the night
One love (one love), get to share it
Leaves you darling, if you don’t care for it
Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s too late, tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other
Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head
Well, did I ask too much, more than a lot?
You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got
We’re one, but we’re not the same
See we hurt each other, then we do it again
You say love is a temple, love is a higher law
Love is a temple, love is a higher law
You ask me of me to enter, but then you make me crawl
And I can’t keep holding on to what you got, ’cause all you got is hurt
You got to do what you should
With each other
Sisters and my brothers
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
One love, one life