Writer(s): Bono/U2 (see lyrics here)
Released: February 24, 1992
First Charted: January 4, 1992
Peak: 10 US, 3 CB, 12 GR, 2 RR, 24 AC, 12 AR, 11 MR, 7 UK, 14 CN, 4 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.2 UK, 0.36 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 86.0 video, 459.23 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Inspired by the fall of the Berlin wall, U2 went to Germany to record their album Achtung Baby and “cast off their trad-rock shoes and restyled themselves as post-modern, electro-tinged experimentalists.” TB It has been speculated that the song “One” is about the reunification of the country SF while it is also theorized that the song is about the reunification of the group itself. They bickered over the direction over their sound and even broke up temporarily before achieving a breakthrough with “One.” WK The Edge, the band’s guitarist, said, “It was a pivotal song in the recording of the album, the first breakthrough in what was an extremely difficult set of sessions.” SF
U2’s lead singer, Bono, was initially vague about the song’s theme, but did say in the book U2 by U2 that the song “is not about oneness; it’s about difference.” SF Prompted by a number of fans who told the band they played the song at their weddings, Bono said, “Are you mad? It’s about splitting up!” WK In fact, Bono may have been writing about the Edge’s marital problems (they split soon after the recording sessions) and/or the girl troubles his friend Guggi, an Irish painter, was experiencing at the time. SF The Edge said the song was “a bitter, twisted, vitriolic conversation between two people who’ve been through some nasty stuff” SF but that it’s also about the “privilege to carry one another. It puts everything in perspective and introduces the idea of grace.” SF
In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone, Bono said the song was “about someone I knew who was coming out and was afraid to tell his father.” SF The proceeds from the single were donated to AIDS research. American artist David Wojnarowicz, whose work created controversy for its uncompromising depictions of homosexuality and his own infection by the H.I.V. virus, created the artwork for the single. The liner notes described the depiction of how native Americans hunted buffalo by running them off cliffs as representative of how we are “pushed into the unknown by forces we cannot control or even understand.” WK One of the three videos done for the song focuses on buffalo running in a field.
Bono acknowledged “the best U2 songs seem to occupy this place of contradictions.” TC No matter its meaning, “One” is “a record that is both intensely personal and universal as well.” TC Rolling Stone said it is “a ballad in which Bono wonders whether individuality also means eternal loneliness and comes down on the side of hope.” SS Bono said the song “ironically…went in a totally different direction from everything we’d been working on.” TC It is “a much more simple, stately affair, anchored not by tinkering with the latest studio gadgetry but by an elegant four-chord riff, everyman lyrics, and a magisterial singalong chorus.” TB
Mary J. Blige, Adam Lambert, and the Glee Cast have all charted with versions of the song. Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Gov’t Mule, and Usher have also recorded the song. Half of the band – Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen – joined with R.E.M. members Michael Stipe and Mike Mills to perform the song at the 1993 inaugural ball for Bill Clinton.
In 1992, readers of Rolling Stone voted “One” the best single of the year. In a 2007 pool done by the Irish radio station Today FM, the song was voted the best Irish single ever. SF In 2003, it was voted the best song EVER by Q Magazine. SF More specifically, in a 2006 VH1 poll, the line “one life, with each other/ Sisters, brothers” was voted the UK’s favorite song lyric. SF
First posted 12/29/2019; last updated 3/26/2023.