Released on the Achtung Baby album in 1991, U2’s “One” is considered by many to be the song that essentially saved the band’s career. One of their most heartfelt and emotional tunes, and one that has served as an anthem for several of the band’s social justice causes, the story behind its origins is just as personal and compelling.
After the monumental success of The Joshua Tree, the members of U2 found themselves in an inspirational slump, and creative differences were threatening the future of the band. When they came to Berlin to record Achtung Baby, they were attempting to shift to a sound influenced by German industrial music, but the creative process was stunted and grueling. As it turned out, the song “One” was birthed from a riff that had originally been part of the song “Mysterious Ways.” Inspired, Bono penned the lyrics drawing inspiration from German reunification efforts as well as the band’s own current relationship issues. The resulting song was written in minutes.
“One” carries a great deal of meaning for U2, who have played it at every live performance since 1992. It marked a point of restoration as the band essentially learned how to work together again.
Incidentally, the detailed story of the making of Achtung Baby is told in a 2011 documentary entitled From the Sky Down, directed by Davis Guggenheim, and currently available on DVD. It’s well worth seeing.