U2's "One" is one of the great rock ballads of all time, a movingly bittersweet ode to… what exactly? Lost love? The breakup and reconciliation of a rock band? The fall of the Berlin Wall? The shame and pain of AIDS infection? The endangered natural environment? The teachings of the Dalai Lama?
Strange as it may seem, fans have heard all of those meanings in "One." (And that's not even counting those who hear it as a simple happy love song and play it at their weddings, apparently unaware of the heartbreaking lyrics.) U2 was happy to build up the mystery, releasing three different music videos, each of which suggested a radically different interpretation.
So what's the song really about? Maybe all of those things, or maybe none; they're one, but they're not the same.
About the Song
Bono (vocals, guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboard, background vocals), Adam Clayton (bass), Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums)
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Is "One" infused with the spirit of one of the most monumental moments in modern history? For nearly half a century, Europe was split in half by the Cold War. All that ended in 1989, when the peaceful toppling of the Berlin Wall marked the collapse of Eastern European Communism. U2, struggling with internal tension and searching for some hint of inspiration, rushed to Berlin to take part in the hopeful, wondrous atmosphere there. Did the same spirit that knocked down the Communist wall help bring U2 back together again?
On the Charts
Chart performance of "One" as a single:
Reached #1 in Ireland, #1 in Canada, #7 in the UK, #10 in the USA.
Named 36th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
"One" finished #2 in VH1's rankings of the Greatest Songs of the ‘90s. (Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" edged out U2 for top honors.)