“One” is a song by American heavy metal band Metallica. It was released as the third and final single from their fourth studio album, …And Justice for All (1988). Written by band members James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, “One” is an anti-war song that portrays a World War I soldier who is severely wounded — arms and legs blown off by an artillery shell, blind and unable to speak or move — begging God to take his life as he feels constant pain. His only hope is to devise a way to communicate with the hospital staff. In the music video, he jolts in the hospital bed, spelling “Kill me” in Morse code. Production of the song was done by the band alongside Flemming Rasmussen. The song was the band’s first top 40 hit single in the U.S., reaching number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also a #1 hit in Finland.
A video for the song was introduced in January 1989 on MTV. Shot in black and white by director Michael Salomon, the video’s story is intercut with scenes taken from the 1971 anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun. Due to routinely being required to pay royalty fees to continue showing the music video, Metallica bought the rights to the film. The video was ranked at number one on MTV soon after its introduction.
Metallica performed “One” for the 31st Annual Grammy Awards show broadcast from Los Angeles in 1989. The next year, the song won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance, the first-ever win in that category. The band also performed the song alongside pianist Lang Lang at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in 2014. The song is one of the band’s most popular pieces and has remained a live staple since the release of the album, making this the most played song from …And Justice for All.
The song is based on the idea of a soldier losing all of his limbs and being unable to hear, speak, or see, set to a World War I backdrop. In an interview in New Zealand in 1989, Ulrich describes the movie Johnny Got His Gun as having a similar theme, and this was the reason it was incorporated into the video.
“One” was the first Metallica song for which a music video was created. The music video, directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon, debuted on MTV on January 20, 1989. The video, shot in Long Beach, California, is almost entirely in black and white and features the band performing the song in a warehouse. It features dialogue and several scenes from the 1971 film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun. Timothy Bottoms can be seen starring as Joe Bonham, the main character in the novel (written by Dalton Trumbo and published in September 1939; the basis for the 1971 film).
Three versions of the “One” music video were made; the first (the longest, album version) contained scenes of both the band and scenes from the movie. The second was simply a shortened version of the first, and the third, often known as the “jammin’ version”, lacked scenes from the movie (the song and video fade at the last bridge in the third version).
Like many other music videos from Metallica, “One” puts great emphasis on the performances of the band members as musicians, with many shots of Hetfield, Newsted and Hammett’s hands picking and fretting. The video features the band members in a typical early Metallica fashion: playing (as if in rehearsal) in some sort of warehouse, in tight formation around Ulrich’s drum kit, and dressed in casual street clothes and with long untamed hair.
In the music video, it can be clearly seen that both Hetfield and Hammett are playing ESP guitars; Jason Newsted is on a 5-string Wal bass. It is also clear that Newsted is playing bass with his fingers at the start of the song but later switches to a pick.
Two of the three versions of the “One” music video appear on 2 of One, a VHS released on July 1, 1990, and both would again be featured on the band’s 2006 music video compilation DVD.
The music video was ranked at number 38 on Rock on the Net: MTV: 100 Greatest Music Videos and number one on Fuse’s No. 1 Countdown: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Special Edition.