One

This song may well be an anthem to end all anthems; whilst initially becoming a defacto one for AIDS, seeing as it was effectively a charity single for said cause, it kind-of morphed into a sort of 9/11 anthem ten years later, and is apparently a popular wedding choice for the undiagnosed deaf. It was voted the best song of all time by Q Magazine (pah) and as having the greatest lyrics of all time (One life, with each other/Sisters, brothers) by a VH1 poll. It is, in any event, often roped in with “Streets” and “With Or Without You” as the primary nominations for U2’s Greatest Song (well, not here it ain’t, but the point stands), and it’s also credited as The Song That Saved U2. Clearly the band are grateful – it’s been played at every concert since its introduction, and more so than “Streets” and “40” (both of which have had their setlist omissions), the band are seemingly obliged to at least do an insipid runthrough of it at every single gig they will ever do. So…no baggage, then.

The music (and the lyrics, if we’re honest) are now incredibly familiar, as is the making-of story – band moves to Berlin, band struggles with bleeps, strange noises and uninspired bits of material, Edge in particular struggles with two chord progressions (Am/D/F7/G and C/Am/F7/C by the looks of things), the suggestion arises to put the two together, et voila, the song suddenly appears, band is saved. The music has an austerity to it – Adam in particular stands out as oddly placed to do this sort of song, although Larry’s previous experience which, well, not outright bashing (I’m thinking “Love Rescue Me”) makes him adept enough to undertake a suitably understated part. But this isn’t ultimately about music – all an anthem ever needs is for the music to be there, and to rise as it does at the end, hints of traditional U2 in the gleaming but steady (walking treble?) notes (no 3/16th delay making all that slightly jangly contour to the melody).

And lyrically, because this must be utterly nailed into the minds of everyone who cares – it’s not to be played at a wedding. This should be painstakingly obvious – We hurt each other/Then we do it again is immediate evidence for it. The song is also as bitter as it is prepared to offer an olive branch, the turns of phrase particularly designed to twist the thorn into the antagonist’s side – the most brilliant one being Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head? Yet, as the band point out, the key line is We get to carry each other. There’s awareness of cruelty, atrocity even, but despite this knowledge there’s a willingness to reach out and embrace others all the same.

It is, essentially, managing to detail the best and worst of humanity, suggesting a wider context but also being in the deeply personal. All of this ultimately renders “One” neither too specific nor too universal, and overall it’s a song that manages, more often than not, to temper its extremities, although I can’t place “One” at, well, the number one position in the U2 canon because there maybe aren’t enough musical extremities to temper. Still, the song’s regarded as a classic, and it’d be hugely controversial not to declare it otherwise; luckily, to deny it classic status would be insincere.

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~ by 4trak on October 2, 2008.

One Response to “One”

  1. rumour has it this song was not written by u2 at all.

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