U2, One: the story of the song and the meaning of the lyrics

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Is it getting better?

When Bono writes these words, it’s 1991. He has no longer inspiration, U2 are going to break uop. Things are not improving at all.

The group experienced a huge success at the end of the 80s and now they are at a critical point, in the Hansa Studios in Berlin, hoping that the inspiration will somehow arrive.

He’s very disappointed because U2 is the project on which he invested all his plans, his future, just like the other members of the band, and sadly it’s going to end up as another example of short-lived music project. Maybe it’s better to not think about what they will say, but you know, it’s what he’s actually thinking.

The miracle happens one afternoon. And the miracle is a melody that came out by chance, playing nervously with strings and instruments in what looked like another unproductive afternoon in the studio.

“Suddenly something very powerful was happening in the room,” Edge said. “Everyone recognized it was a special piece.” The boys looking at each other, this was something new. Music and words slowly flew right there, just when everything was almost gone.

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blameYou 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

It’s the story of a break up. A common plan that needs to be broken because suddenly we are different. One‘s lyrics is animated by that feeling of inevitable separation that all U2 felt coming.

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 started this together. We planned our future together, , then we realized that we were not destined to stay together. Was there anything about me that you didn’t like anymore?

A little anger also emerges: because, hidden in the form of a question, there is the thought of the writer, who feels he has given a lot and not received as much. And at the same time he recognizes that getting lost in memories is useless: it doesn’t help you to start over again.

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?

Well, did I ask too much, more than a lot?

This question is the heart of the song. Can we dare to ask to be happy? If, until this point, the tones of the lyrics were still rational and analytical, here the anger, the disappointment starts to appear. You feel that they can be weapons to be used to accuse the other, but the reality is that you cannot find the words. Destiny wins over you.

There is no one that can be blamed, nothing that can be fixed: you are not angry because of something specific, you are just dissatisfied for a long term plan that is lost.

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

Last verses light up last hopes: perhaps from this new situation we can start again, in a different way, forgetting our old plans; perhaps we can re-emerge from this collapsed house of cards and build something new.

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters and my brothers
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other

U2 started over again exactly from this song and resumed an adventure that continues still today. They were a step away from the final separation and there they realized that they had to stay together; they were still able to create something beautiful again.

Sony ranked One fifth among the most popular songs of all time. The song has been the subject of covers by Johnny Cash and Joe Cocker.

This is the version with Mary J. Blige, released in 2006: a huge success, becoming one of the best-selling songs for both Blige and U2, managing to overcome even the success of the original.

One will become the main single extracted from Achtung Baby. According to a survey conducted by the VH1, it’s the British song with the best lyrics ever.

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