"One" - U2


Track Listing:

Background Information

Released February 24th, 1992, “One” was the third single from Achtung Baby. It has become one of U2’s most recognized songs. The genesis of “One”—and its key role in helping U2 find its footing during the early Achtung Baby recording sessions at Hansa Ton Studios in Berlin—has been well-documented. There was significant conflict between band members at the time, with U2 struggling to find a musical direction and even entertaining the idea of calling it quits. “One” was seen as a breakthrough during this tumultuous period, with lyrics inspired both by the band’s difficulties and by the German reunification. The song itself came together rather quickly after the Edge took the chords from another track the band had been working on, “Sick Puppy,” and played them on an acoustic guitar. The rest of the band joined in, and within fifteen minutes the basic structure of “One” was complete. It was finished in later sessions in Dublin in 1991, with the final mix completed at the tail-end of the sessions, just before the album was due to be delivered. “Sick Puppy” also went on to form the backbone of “Mysterious Ways.”

“One” was released as a benefit single, with all of U2’s royalties donated to AIDS research. The single sleeve features a black-and-white photograph by David Wojnarowicz, overlaid on a gold background, of buffalo falling off a cliff. The image depicts a Native American hunting technique in which buffalo were forced over a cliff rather than shot. Wojnarowicz himself died a few months after the release of “One” as a result of AIDS-related complications, at the age of 37. Wojnarowicz did not photograph the buffalo himself, but rather it was a photograph of a section of a much larger diorama of the Old West at the National History Museum in Washington, DC.

Two-track vinyl and cassette versions of the single included the album version of “One” as the A-side, with “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)” as the B-side. This was an early version of the song “Ultraviolet” (thus the notation “UV1”) developed and recorded at STS Studios in Dublin. The same song heavily influenced “The Fly” and “Zoo Station,” as well. A remix of the song would also appear as a B-side on the “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” single. The “One” 12-inch single would add a third song, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love,” originally found on his 1972 album Transformer. U2’s version was recorded at a session at STS Studios, and features longtime friend of the band Gavin Friday on backing vocals. The CD format of “One” included a fourth track, “Night and Day (Steel String Remix).” U2 had recorded “Night and Day” for the charity album Red, Hot and Blue, which was released in September 1990. The song was written by Cole Porter for the 1932 musical, “Gay Divorce.” U2’s version from Red, Hot and Blue was remixed by Youth, and had initially appeared on a promotional single backed with another remix by Youth, the “Twilight Remix,” before turning up again on the “One” CD single.

Multiple videos were filmed for “One.” The first version was directed by Anton Corbijn in Berlin in February 1992. It includes footage of the members of U2 in drag, along with images of Bono’s father and shots of Larry and Adam driving through Berlin in trabants painted to look like a man and a woman. Although the concept of the video was to explore the idea that men and women are “one,” concerns were raised that the bending of gender lines may bring unnecessary discussion to a song whose profits were being marked for AIDS research. As a result, alternate videos were produced. The Corbijn version was included on Achtung Baby: The Videos, The Best of 1990-2000, and U218 Videos. The second version was directed by Mark Pellington, and features images of buffalo running along with shots of flowers and the word “one” written in multiple languages. This version was used as the backdrop film for performances of “One” on The Zoo TV Tour. A second edit of the Pellington version adds shots of the band from the shoulders up in front of a black background. The Pellington videos were inspired by the David Wojnarowicz photograph used on the single sleeve, which itself appears at the end of the videos. The initial edit, without the band images, is featured on the Achtung Baby: The Videos and U218 Videos compilations. A third version of “One” was directed by Phil Joanou, in a bar called Nell’s in New York City in March 1992. It primarily features Bono sitting at a table smoking while singing the song. Interspersed are shots of U2 performing on the Zoo TV stage. The Joanou version is featured on Achtung Baby: The Videos, The Best of 1990-2000 and U218 Videos.

“One” made its live debut with Zoo TV and was played not only on every night of that tour, but also on every night of the PopMart, Elevation, Vertigo, and U2360° tours. The song was played at 53% of the shows on the Innocence and Experience tour during the 2015 legs and it returned to be played every night on The Joshua Tree 2017 tour. It has also been performed frequently at non-tour appearances, including events such as the Electric Burma concert, the opening ceremonies of the 2003 Special Olympics, and Bono’s appearance at “America’s Millennium Gala.” Live versions have appeared on the Zoo TV Live fan club album and the multi-artist Hold On: BBC Radio 1 FM Sessions compilation (Sydney Australia, November 27, 1993); the Tibetan Freedom Concert and Selections from the Tibetan Freedom Concert compilations (New York, June 7, 1997); the Hasta La Vista, Baby! fan club album (December 3, 1997); the Go Home: Live from Slane Castle DVD and fan club CD (September 1, 2001); and The 25th Anniversary Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame audio and video releases (New York, October 30, 2009). In 2011, members of the U2 Fan Club were given the opportunity to vote on 46 live tracks recorded during The U2360° Tour, with the top 22 songs to be included on a live album, U22. “One” was one of these choices. The song received enough votes, and a recording from Glasgow Scotland on August 18, 2009 was included on U22.

Bono and the Edge have also performed “One” without Larry and Adam, and two of these performances have been released: on Pavarotti and Friends for the Children of Bosnia and the “Miss Sarajevo” single by Passengers (Modena, Italy, September 12, 1995); and on 46664 Part III: Amandla (South Africa, November 29, 1993). Not to be outdone, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen have also performed “One” without Bono and Edge, instead partnering with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills from R.E.M. in a one-off performance as Automatic Baby at the MTV Rock and Roll Inaugural Ball in 1993. This performance has been released on multiple recordings including the Amazing Grace, 99XII Live, Childline and Just Passin’ Thru compilations. U2 also played the B-side “Satellite of Love” nightly during The Zoo TV Tour and it reappeared for one performance during 2015’s Innocence and Experience Tour. Live recordings of “Satellite of Love” are available on the Peace Together compilation (Dallas, October 16, 1992) and on the Zoo TV Live fan club album (Sydney Australia, November 27, 1993). “Night and Day” has only been played in full at one performance by Bono and the Edge, at the 2003 Musicares tribute. No recording of this performance has been commercially released.

“One” has been included on a number of compilations, including The Best of 1990-2000 and related releases, U218 Singles, and the promo-only “Previously,” “Zoo TV Tour,” and “WFM 96.9” releases. The song was also included on the multi-artist soundtrack album for the film The Family Man.

In 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, U2 performed a version of “One” with Mary J. Blige in Toronto, Ontario. The performance was taped for broadcast as part of Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast and was also eventually released on DVD. Later that year, Mary J. Blige released her album The Breakthrough, which contained this same performance of “One,” although enhanced with additional instrumentation, including an orchestra. This version was also released as a single—the second from her album—reaching number 2 on the UK Singles Chart. A black-and-white video for the song was released, opening with footage of U2 performing the song “in a low-lit room” (get it?). This is interspersed with shots of Mary J. Blige being transported to the venue and arriving on stage for her first line. The director of the video was Paul Hunter, and it was shot on February 17, 2006 in an old theatre in Mexico City.

In 2011, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Achtung Baby, the album was re-released in multiple formats, including a single CD, a 2-CD set, a vinyl box set, a “Super Deluxe” edition, and an “Über Deluxe” edition. Unlike previous U2 reissues, this project was not called a “remaster,” although some sonic tweaking, overseen by The Edge, had been done. The 2-CD set included a disc compiling single b-sides and remixes, including “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1),” “Satellite of Love,” and “Night and Day (Steel String Remix).” The vinyl box set included the album as well as two 12-inch vinyl remix compilations, with only the album version of “One” being on that release (although “Night and Day (Twilight Remix),” which was never technically associated with the “One” single, was also included). The 6-CD “Über Deluxe” and “Super Deluxe” formats included “Night and Day (Steel String Remix)” and “One (Apollo 440 Remix)” on the “Über Remixes” disc, “One (Apollo 440 Ambient Mix)” on the “Unter Remixes” disc, and “Satellite of Love” and “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)” on the “B-Sides and Bonus Tracks” disc. The Apollo 440 remixes of “One” were commissioned in 1992, but remained unreleased prior to the 2011 reissue campaign. The “Über Deluxe” version also included a repressing of the 7-inch vinyl “One” single, backed with “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1).” Finally, the 6th CD in the “Super Deluxe” and “Über Deluxe” versions, Kindergarten-The Alternative Achtung Baby, contained previously unreleased alternate and demo versions of every track from the original album, including a version of “One” containing the same basic structure of the album mix, including the same vocal track, but with a much heavier emphasis on acoustic guitar.

Liner Notes

One: Words by Bono.
Music by U2. Produced by Daniel Lanois with Brian Eno. Engineered by Flood. Additional engineering by Robbie Adams. Assisted by Shannon Strong. Additional keyboards by Brian Eno. Additional guitar by Daniel Lanois.

Lady With the Spinning Head:
Words by Bono. Music by U2. Produced by Paul Barrett. Recorded by Ian Bryan. Mixed by Paul Barrett. Assisted by Louise McCormick and Fiach Cooling. Keyboards and kay sound solo by Paul Barrett. Recorded at STS Studios, Dublin.

Satellite of Love:
Written by Lou Reed. Produced by the Edge and Paul Barrett. Engineered and mixed by Paul Barrett. Assisted by Louise McCormick. Additional backing vocals: Gavin Friday. Recorder: Paul Barrett. Keyboards: Paul Barrett and the Edge. Recorded at STS Studios, Dublin.

Night and Day (Steel String Remix):
Written by Cole Porter. Produced by the Edge and Paul Barrett. Remixed by Youth. Remix production by Youth. Remix engineer: Mary Kettle. Assisted by Sean Leonard and Ciaran Byrne. Remixed at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin.


Front Cover Image: David Wojnarowicz. Back photography by Anton Corbijn. Design by Works Associates, Dublin.

The image on the cover is a photograph by the American artist David Wojnarowicz, depicting how Indians hunted buffalo by causing them to run off cliffs. Wojnarowicz identifies himself and ourselves with the buffalo, pushed into the unknown by forces we cannot control or even understand. Wojnarowicz is an activist artist and writer whose work has created controversy recently through its uncompromising depiction of the artist’s homosexuality, his infection by the H.I.V. virus and the political crisis surrounding AIDS.

Recognition and Awards

  • #1 on 1001 Best Songs Ever (Q Magazine, 2003)
  • #1 on 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (Q Magazine, October 2006)
  • #24 on 100 Greatest Songs (Q Magazine, Voted by Readers, January 1999)
  • #5 on Top 20 Singles in the Lifetime of Q (Q Magazine, November 2006)
  • #36 on 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone, December 2004)
  • #36 on 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone, April 2010)
  • #1 Best Single, Readers Picks (Rolling Stone, 1992)
  • #4 on Top 500 Songs Since You Were Born (1980-) (Blender Magazine, Feb 2005)
  • #21 on Best 100 Tracks Ever Listener Survey (Radio 1, Christmas 1998)
  • #99 on Top 100 Music Videos (Rolling Stone, October 1993)
  • #65 on 100 Best Songs of the 1990s (NME Magazine, April 2012)

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