RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #117: One by Metallica.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #117: One by Metallica.

I am not a heavy metal fan per se but, as I have stated in these posts before, sometimes, that driving energy is exactly what the doctor ordered and I like it a lot. This sentiment is very true of today’s song, “One” by Metallica. I think that the musical construction of this song is amazing, the musicianship being displayed by the quartet of James Hetfield, Kurt Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich is top-notch and, most importantly for me, the concept or idea that this song is built around makes for excellent storytelling. “One” won the Grammy Award for being the Best Metal Song the year it was released. As well, the official video for “One” has been downloaded/streamed over 100 million times and is generally regarded as one of the finest heavy metal videos ever made. So, let’s take a few moments and do a deep dive into one of my favourite songs of all-time, “One” by Metallica. Here goes.

The concept for the song, “One” comes from a movie about WWI called, “Johnny Got His Gun”. The story revolves around the idea of experiencing a “lottery odds” event in your life. Many people claim that there is such a thing as “true love” which means that there is someone in the world who is the “one” for you and you are the “one” for them. The flipside of that experience is having something horrendous and unimaginable happen to you. That is the case in “Johnny Got His Gun”. In that story, a young soldier finds himself trapped in No Man’s Land and is hit by a mortar round. As a result of that blast, the soldier loses part of his jaw and is unable to speak. He is blinded, as well. Finally, his limbs are destroyed, too. Against all odds, he comes to in a hospital bed; eyes bandaged, immobile but, very much still alive. What unfolds then is how this soldier comes to grips with the reality of his situation. His immediate problem is being unable to communicate with the doctors and nurses in the hospital. He quickly realizes that he has, for all intent and purposes, become buried alive within his own body. At that point, he cannot see a future for himself and the rest of the story revolves around how he seeks to let someone, anyone know that he remains a sentient being but that he cannot face the prospect of going on living as he is and will always be forever more.

As odd as this will be to hear, “One” by Metallica is constructed on a foundation of classical piano. The song is played by guitar and drums but, the pounding beats change in tone and in intensity, much the same way operatic classical scores do. It will not be surprising then, that one of the things that has lifted “One” out of merely being a metal song, is how adaptable it is to being paired with classical artists. One of the videos I will show you involves Metallica playing “One” with classical pianist, Lang Lang, in which Metallica swap out some of their guitar parts in excahnge for Lang Lang’s piano notes. I will, also, share a video that is strictly a piano cover to show you how the entire song is based upon classical piano scores. But, for now, the original version of “One” is constructed with layers of guitars, weaving in and out of each other. The purpose of their notes is to, at first, create the sound of a war zone, with machine gun fire being created by the staccato notes of guitarist Kurt Hammett. The guitars and drums create a frantic mood, while James Hetfield’s lyric’s give voice to the frightened thoughts of the soldier trapped helplessly within his own mind and body. It is a story of life against all odds and of the search for release through death; all expertly told through song and sound.

The song, “One” lasts for over seven minutes and is told in three parts. It is fairly easy to note the transition periods in “One” and, as such, to know where you are in this soldier’s story: the stating of his condition, the realization of what that means for him going forward and finally, the search for help to end his suffering. As rock songs go, “One” is fairly operatic in scope and tells a story unlike any other song I know.

So, let’s get down to it. I will start with the official video that combines live action playing by Metallica with scenes from a black and white movie based on the movie, “Johnny Got His Gun”. Then, I will play the live concert version that the band plays with Lang Lang in China. From this video, you will be able to start to see how this metal song has classical music roots. Finally, I will play a full piano cover of “One”. Look past the beautiful, leggy blonde who is at the piano and watch her as she does a fabulous job replicating the entire song on piano. From her rendition, it is easy to see the entire classical base that “One” was constructed upon.

Overall, “One” is my pick for the best metal song of all time. I love the story idea and the wonderful playing by the boys in the band. So, without further delay, here is “One” by Metallica. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “One” by Metallica, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “One” by Metallica and Lang Lang, can be found here.

The link to the video for the instrumental piano version of “One”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Metallica, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #64: One by U2.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #64: One by U2.

“One” by U2 is one of the most beautiful sounding songs in this countdown. It presents as being very inspirational and uplifting. When it was released, U2 directed that all proceeds from the sale of this song go toward organizations dedicated to education about and, eradication of, the disease called, A.I.D.S. As such, the music-buying world has always cast a favourable eye toward “One” and, by extension, the band, itself. In fact, the song was so warmly received by the public that for awhile, “One” was actually the most-requested song for newlyweds to dance to on their wedding day. The only flaw in this grand vision for “One” is that it is all wrong. The truth of the matter is that “One” is a song about individuality and difference and the struggle/obligation to continue to help each other. It is not a song about love and romance. It is a song that almost caused U2 to break up, themselves. Overall, according to Bono, himself, “One” is one of the most misunderstood songs ever released. Here is the story of “One” by U2.

The song, “One” comes from a stellar album by U2 called, “Achtung, Baby!”. By the time the band came to record this album, they had been together for almost fifteen years. As often happens to artists and bands after awhile, a division began to appear within the group when it came to what their musical focus should be, going forward. Some of the guys wanted to stay the course and to continue to explore the type of music that had made them successful while, others in the band wanted to abandon that tract and start exploring a more dance-oriented, electronic-industrial type of sound because that was the new wave of music in the 1990s and to go in this direction, it was felt, was to stay relevant to the times.

So, amid this backdrop, the members of U2 travelled to Germany to begin work on their new album. They chose Germany because that country had recently gone through the political process of reunification. If you remember your History then, you will know that Germany was divided into two sections that were simply referred to as East and West Germany. The two halves of the country were divided by a wall and by competing ideologies; with Communism in the East and Capitalism in the West. Anyway, long lesson short, in the mid-1980s, The Berlin Wall came down. Russia began adopting Democratic reforms. For a brief moment in time, it seemed as though tensions in the world were easing and people would be able to enjoy a freer way of living.

So, because of the positive energy flowing through the country, U2 thought Germany would have an exciting atmosphere in which to be creative. So, off they went. Unfortunately, the baggage they brought with them was more than merely their suitcases. The conflicting visions for their future coming from within the band made it difficult to come together in a cohesive fashion necessary to creative in a collaborative setting. Days went by without anything productive being accomplished at all. As drummer Larry Mullens admitted, it was the worst of times for them all as a group. He sincerely thought that they might be approaching the end of the line, just as The Beatles eventually did, too.

Then, a fortuitous break happened out of nowhere. The band had been working on a song that eventually turned into “Mysterious Ways” but, were growing frustrated with each other as the process went along. The sound engineer suggested the band take a break and re-group later. While each of the four members was stewing in his own juices, thinking of what to do, guitarist, The Edge, began strumming his guitar just to calm himself down. As he strummed away, he was actually playing the opening notes to, what was to become, “One”. At that moment, that song hadn’t been thought of nor discussed. It was not a twinkle in anyone’s eyes. But, there was The Edge, playing the famous opening notes to a song that, when finished, would rank as one of U2’s best songs of all-time.

Obviously, I wasn’t there in the studio to see what happened next but, from all reports, those opening notes acted like a magic elixir. Almost at once, the band recognized the beauty of what they were hearing and, according to Bono, the rest of the song fell together effortlessly. In all, he said that he had the basis for the lyrical content of the song written within half an hour. The remainder of the musical structure flowed out of what The Edge had conjured up and, before anyone really realized what had happened, “One” was pretty much done.

Now, as I said off of the top of this post, there is a fair degree of confusion as to what “One” is really all about. U2 have not been helpful in shedding any definitive light on the subject, either. In fact, it is apparent that having the song be open to differing interpretations suits the overall theme of the song well. The most that Bono would say is that it is not a song about coming together but more, it is a song about appreciating and respecting differences. He stated that the key line in the song is when they sing about, “We get to carry each other”. Bono stressed that the little word “get” changes the whole song because if it were “got”, instead of “get” then, “One” would be a preachy song about being obligated to help when, the preferred route is to give a message that stress what a privilege it is to be kind and compassionate. Wanting to be a good global citizen means more than forcing people to behave.

Further to the open-ended nature of “One”, there are actually three separate videos for the song, too. In one video, the band doesn’t appear much at all. Instead, it is a film about buffalo plunging mindlessly off of a cliff because their actions are fuelled by irrational fears. The second video features the band in full drag attire. The third video, which is the one most people will be familiar with, shows Bono sitting alone in a nightclub, cigarette dangling, singing by himself while the band waits somewhere in the distance. It is a stylish, noir-type video which presents, visually, as well as the song sounds, aurally. For you fine folks, I will link to all three. You may watch all of them or some of them or, if you so desire, none of them. Your choice.

In any case, the song, “One” helped raise millions of dollars for A.I.D.S.-related charities, selling over fourteen million copies alone, worldwide. The album, “Achtung, Baby!” sold over forty million copies, making it one of U2’s biggest selling albums ever and, further to that, it helped to fortify the band as a musical unit. In the time since “One” was released, U2 have had s string of hits such as, “Mysterious Ways”, “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, “Lemon”, “Beautiful Day”, “Elevation”, “Walk On” and many more. Their concert tours have been among the largest grossing of all-time, too.

So, without further delay, here are three videos for one song about acknowledging our differences and appreciating our uniqueness. It is not a love song. It is “One” by U2. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “one” by U2, can be found here. (*Buffalo version).

The link to the video for the song, “one” by U2, can be found here. (*Band in Drag version).

The link to the video for the song, “one” by U2, can be found here. (*Nightclub version).

The link to the official website for U2, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting the best bands and artists. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.