If ever a song grew up, it is One. On Achtung Baby it was maybe the song that most recalled the 80’s and the Joshua Tree that Bono said they were chopping down but over the years it has become U2’s best loved, most covered and the glue that sticks a lot of what they do together; it is uniting, it makes everything into One! Perhaps on closer more meticulous inspection we shouldn’t be so surprised as One is a song richly layered, ambiguous but with a plethora of meanings, all of which when given the chance gives more solidity and force to the song. It has unity at the soul of it. Unity of emotions and unity of people.
In its uniting of emotion it holds the beauty and ugliness of love side by side; the melancholy of it and its lovely hopefulness. U2 have always made it clear that it is not about the old hippy let us love each other philosophy but that it is much stronger and more realistic than that. Here are two people who have hurt each other, who need to forgive, who need to be Jesus to each other in the unconditioned healing he brought to people and relationships. This is a song about two lovers who should be turning their backs on each other, walking away without ever looking around yet they see that in the midst of their romantic angst they can make a decision to carry each other. It is a unity that eyeballs the differences and makes courageous, painful decisions to help. The Edge was in the middle of a marriage break up during Achtung Baby and it is hard to believe that this is not about him and his first wife Aislinn.
In time One came to mean so much more, taking on the political and economic divisions on a global scale. Bono mentions that the Dalai Lama had asked for a contribution to his Oneness project and how he’d not followed the easy hippy cliché chorus but had responded, “We are one, but we are not the same.” By the time the song had reached Live 8 and the Vertigo Tour it was not so much dressing the stage set as the rest of the stage set was dressed upon it. With the Vertigo Tour’s intro being the haunting repeat of the word “Everyone” and its sense of unity from beginning to end, particularly on this occasion with the west and Africa, One was fully grown, had come of age and was more than deserving of its accolade in Q magazine as being named the greatest song of all time.