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

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This story is part of the book:
Mama Mia Let Me Go!
A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

Buy it on Amazon

Is it getting better?

When Bono wrote these words, it was 1991. He has no, U2 are going to break up. Things are not getting better at all.

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

He was very disappointed because U2 was the project in which he had invested all his plans, his future, just like the other members of the band, and sadly it looked like it was going to end up as another example of a short-lived musical project.

But the miracle happened one afternoon, in the form of a melody that arrived by chance, played nervously with strings and instruments in what looked like another unproductive afternoon in the studio.

U2 - One

“Suddenly something very powerful was happening in the room,” Edge said. “Everyone recognised it was a special piece.” The boys looked at each other; this was something new. Music and words slowly flew 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 routine that needs to be broken, because we are suddenly different. One’s lyrics are animated by that feeling of inevitable separation that all the members of U2 felt was 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 realised 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 recognises 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 tone of the lyrics was still rational and analytical, then here the anger and the disappointment start to appear. You feel that they can be weapons with which one can accuse another, but the reality is that you cannot find the words. Destiny wins over you.

There is no one to blame, nothing that can be fixed: you are not angry because of something specific; you are just dissatisfied by a long-term plan that has been 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

The last section lights up these 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 from this song and resumed an adventure that still continues today. They were a step away from their final separation but it was there that they realised 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 version with Mary J. Blige, released in 2006. It was a huge success, becoming one of the best-selling songs for both Blige and U2, managing to overcome even the success of the original.

U2 - One (Official Music Video)

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

This story is part of the book:
Mama Mia Let Me Go!
A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

Buy it on Amazon


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