This was written by Eric Bazilian, who was working on the album with Rob Hyman and Rick Chertoff. He told Songfacts: "For me, the song was more about what happens to you when you look at something that has completely changed your world view, which could be meeting God, it could be meeting an alien, it could be a near-death experience, it could be anything like that. Just how everything you know is wrong, or everything you know is right, and you didn't know it."
Hyman and Bazilian were members of The Hooters and along with Chertoff, collaborated on Cyndi Lauper's first album, She's So Unusual. They usually take a while to craft their songs, but occasionally one will come out quickly. One of these songs was "All You Zombies," which was The Hooters' first single and also contains lots of biblical imagery. Says Bazilian, "I've written a decent number of 'God' songs, and I wrote a bunch of them after 'One Of Us,' except you'll never hear them because they're not as good. It's a strange thing. I could, and I often have, pointed to another hand guiding."
Eric Bazilian explained how "One Of Us" came together in his Songfacts interview: "It was January, 1994. My now-wife had just moved over from Sweden. We were watching The Making of Sgt. Pepper on TV, and when it ended, she expressed interest in the 4-track recording process - that documentary is mostly George Martin sitting at the Abbey Road 4-track console. I pointed at the mass of wires sitting on my dining room table, which was my porta-studio, and said, 'There you go, that's 4-track recording technology for you.' She asked me to record something, and that's when it happened. I had been playing the guitar riff all day and put a little track together.
She said, 'Sing it,' and I said, 'You can't just sing, you have to write the song, you have to discuss the concept, you have to re-write then decide you were better in the first place.' Something snapped - I just put the thing in record and started singing and that's what came out. The verses came out in the first pass, the chorus came out in the second pass. The next day I went in. We took a break later in the afternoon and I decided to play it for everybody. I had no agenda, I just said, 'Hey, check out this weird song I wrote last night.' I played the recording I'd done, and Rick Chertoff looked up and said, 'Joan, do you think you could sing that?' She said, 'Yeah,' so I wrote the words out and played on the guitar as she sang it, and that was it. That was our first rough demo of it."
Joan Osborne got her record deal after Rob Hyman saw her perform and brought her to the attention of Rick Chertoff, who by then was a producer at Polygram Records. She released one previous album on her own before working with Chertoff, Hyman and Bazilian on Relish.
Osborne, Bazilian, Hyman and Chertoff were right in the middle of writing other songs for the album, like "Right Hand Man," "St. Teresa," and "Ladder" when Bazilian got the idea for "One Of Us." Says Eric, "My girlfriend, now wife, had picked me up at a session at Rob's house that day. When she walked in, I was playing that guitar riff. Part of writing that song was a reaction to being deep in this four-way songwriting collaboration, which can get very draining."
Eric Bazilian wasn't trying to advocate any specific religious belief when he wrote this song. "In my case, it's not a religious thing - I'm not a religious person," he told Songfacts. "My relationship with the absolute is very private and personal. I'm not trying to bring anybody around to any way of thinking. You don't write songs like that, they write you. When I write songs, I don't have any agenda. I often learn a lot about what I'm thinking about any given issue from the songs I write about it. There was no conscious decision to write a song with the 'G' word in it, but it ended up sort of summing up my world view inadvertently, just by the words that happened to pour out of me at the time."
This was the theme song to the CBS TV show Joan Of Arcadia, which starred Amber Tamblyn and ran from 2003-2005. The show was about a young girl who encounters God in the form of everyday people. The producers thought this song fit perfectly.
This earned Grammy nominations for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Female Pop Vocal. Osborne was also nominated for Best New Artist and Relish
for album of the year. None of them won, with Seal's "Kiss From A Rose
" beating it for Song and Record Of The Year, Alanis Morissette winning Best Album and Hootie & the Blowfish winning Best New Artist.
This has been used in several movies, including Austin Powers, Vanilla Sky and Bruce Almighty.
On the album, before the song begins, a snippet of the gospel song "Heaven's Airplane" is played.
Patrick - Tallapoosa, GA
Prince covered this on his 1996 3-disc Emancipation
album, changing the line "Just a SLOB like one of us" to "Just a SLAVE like one of us" in reference to him not owning the rights to his music when with Warner Brothers, which he viewed as "Artistic Slavery."
Paul - London, England
Bob Rivers did a popular parody of this song called "What If God Smoked Cannabis
," which imagines the Almighty sparking one up with the common folks. "How can you be more like one of us than toking up a joint?" Rivers told Songfacts
. "At the very end of that song, the lyrics wrote themselves, because Joan Osborne keeps going on with these tag phrases. I felt like I wasn't writing that song, like God was telling me, 'You should try this line - 'And when the saints go marching in.'' Sometimes when you're writing you get in the flow."