U2 - "One"

The band wrote the song in Berlin after toiling there for months trying to record Achtung Baby. The Edge (guitars) : "It was autumn 1990. We were in Berlin, at Hansa Studios (formerly a Nazi mess hall) where Bowie recorded 'Heroes', trying to get traction with some new songs. It wasn't going well. Adam (Clayton, bass) and Larry (Mullen, drums)'s rather jaundiced view of Bono's and my songwriting ability was becoming more and more evident as our various experiments went nowhere. We were listening to a lot of industrial music, and the sounds we were making were quite intense".
The Edge : "It was a very pivotal song in the recording of the album -- the first sort of breakthrough in what was an extremely difficult set of sessions in Berlin. I like the lyric a lot because it treads a very fine line between becoming too clear, too jingoistic, but in the end it never does... stays personal".
The song apparently came from nowhere. Bono had a couple of middle-eights that fitted together, and it was while fiddling around with these mongrel tunes that the inordinately emotive lyrics of "One" began to seep through. "They just fell out of the sky," says Bono. "A gift from above." This much he knows: the Dalai Lama had asked U2 to participate in a festival called "Oneness." Having sensed the unsavoury whiff of hippiedom, Bono sent back a note saying, "One -- but not the same." Unconsciously, this became his hook.
Bono (singer) : It is a song about coming together, but it's not the old hippie idea of "Let's all live together." It is, in fact, the opposite. It's saying, 'We are one, but we're not the same'. It's not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive. It's a reminder that we have no choice".
"The lyric was the first in a new, more intimate style. It's two ideas, essentially. On one level it's a bitter, twisted, vitriolic conversation between two people who've been through some nasty, heavy stuff: 'We hurt each other / Then we do it again.' But on another level there's the idea that 'we get to carry each other.' 'Get to' is the key. The original lyric was 'we have to carry each other' and it was never quite right -- it was too fuckin' obvious and platitudinous. But 'get to'… it's like our privilege to carry one another. It puts everything in a different perspective, introduces that idea of grace. "It opened up new horizons for U2. It's not a song we would ever try to rewrite. We wouldn't want to go there again. But the small scale of it, the intimacy, has been revisited for various other records and songs. The restraint was something new -- we learned how holding back can be even more powerful than letting go."
The Edge came up with the guitar track while working on "The Fly". The Edge : "In the midst of all the recorindg, I went off into another room to put together some ideas for 'The Fly'. I came back with two, neither of which worked where they were meant to, but on Daniel Lanois's suggestion we put them together and Bono was really taken with it. So we all went out into the big recording room -- a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war -- and everything fell into place. Bono's melodies and phrases were following, and by the end of the day we basically had everything, the whole form of the song : they had recorded the bare bones of what some call "the greatest song ever written." Bono : "The humbling bit about songwriting is that anything above good usually feels like an accident. A lot of U2 songs are first drafts".
"'One' was played over the radio a lot during the Los Angeles riots. At least, that's what I heard from some friends," Bono says, "which is surprising because I never saw the song as something hopeful or comforting".
Available on "Achtung Baby"