This is about death and wanting to be with a loved one after they passed. The lyric "I'll be with you that sweet day" means "when I die I will be with you then."
Mariah Carey wrote this with Boyz II Men. Carey said she wrote a song that was identical to a song Boyz II Men had written, so they combined the two. Mariah was in the middle of writing the poignant ballad with her longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff when she had the idea to bring in the R&B group.
"I just thought the chorus was crying out for the vocals that they do," she recalled in a 1999 interview. "We contacted them, we went through all the channels, this and that, and we finally got together, sang them the song and Nate had written a song that was basically identical to my song in the theme and melodically - he could actually sing it over my song and it was really bizarro, it was like fate, so we put the two songs together and came up with 'One Sweet Day.'"
This was #1 on the US Billboard charts for 16 weeks, which is longer than any other song. Boyz II Men had tremendous success on this chart, with "End of the Road
" #1 for 13 weeks in 1992 and "I'll Make Love To You
" #1 for 14 weeks in 1994.
The song's long run at #1 was equaled by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber's "Despacito
," which also spent 16 weeks at the summit in 2017.
Two years later, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road
" broke their longstanding Hot 100 record when it spent its 17th week at #1 on the chart week dated August 3, 2019.
Mariah was originally inspired by the death of David Cole, the co-writer and co-producer of C+C Music Factory. Cole, who also worked extensively with the singer on her Emotions
album, including the title track
, died of AIDS-related spinal meningitis in January 1995. "The song is about personal tragedies. It was the first time that I was forced to face the death of beloved people," she said. "I am sure that a lot of people would feel that this song is about them."
Boyz II Men member Nathan Morris explained how this number came to be written in the book Chicken Soup For the Soul: The Story Behind The Song: "Everything was going great for us. As an original member of Boyz II Men, we had a very successful first CD and were touring a lot. However, a date in Chicago was the beginning of a very tough time for us.
We were very young, between 16 and 21 at the time. Kahlil Rountree was our road manager and was like a surrogate father on the road. Our parents trusted him to handle everything, including us, which he did very well. We had some problems with the promoter on this particular date. Kahlil got into it with him about the hotel or some issue in the contract, and he brought us the information in the dressing room after the show to ask our opinion, which was odd since he always just took care of things himself and they ran smoothly.
Later that night, after the show, he and a partner went to the front desk of the hotel to settle the groups room charges before heading to bed. As they entered the elevator, three men who worked in the parking structure adjacent to the hotel entered as well. Once in the elevator, there was a shootout and he was killed. This was definitely the biggest loss in our career, if not our lives.
After he died, I began working on a song for him while we were on the road. Not too long after, we got a call from Tommy Mottola asking if we'd be interested in doing a duet with Mariah Carey. We went to the studio she was recording in at the Hit Factory in New York, to hear the song they had in mind. She played us the melody and the hook, and it was amazing. It was almost the same song I was writing. I told her that I was working on a song with a similar melody and, while the lyrics were, of course, different, the premise was the same. They complemented each other. I sang to her the melody and lyrics of what I had written, and we merged the two. We switched things around to make them work and wrote it that day. The other guys in the group filled in the holes to complete it.
We came back to the studio to record it a week or so later and we only had a few hours to do everything, since we squeezed this in between dates on tour. The photo on the album cover was shot in the elevator on the way up to the studio and the video was shot during the recording session, all in those few hours that day."
This came top of a 2011 Rolling Stone
poll of the best-ever musical collaboration. Queen / David Bowie's "Under Pressure
" was runner-up whilst Aerosmith / Run DMC's "Walk This Way
" sauntered into third place. Despite the song's popularity it was a surprise to many that the pop/R&B songstress came out on top of the rock magazine's poll and Rolling Stone
itself put the result down to Carey's fans voting en masse. They said: "The song wouldn't have won if the Mariah Carey fans hadn't stuffed the ballot boxes in this poll. Most of you reading this probably don't think it's the greatest duet of all time. You're probably enraged to see it here. We understand. Back in 1995, however, everybody loved it. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey were both at their peak, and the song held the number one spot for a staggering 16 weeks. Some of you may feel that it hasn't aged all that well, but the voters have spoken. Who are we to say they're wrong?"
According to Afanasieff, Cole's death also sparked Mariah's fear of losing her sister, Alison, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1988. "There was a lot of fear that her sister was very ill and that she would lose her," he told Billboard
in 2016. "From that place of loss or even just the potential for loss, she started to write these feelings about being in heaven on a sweet day, and seeing the person that you love once again."
Afanasieff, who also co-produced the track with Carey, was a nervous wreck during the chaotic recording session with Boyz II Men. "It was crazy! They had film crews and video guys. I'm at the board trying to produce," he told Fred Bronson, author of The Billboard Book of #1 Hits.
"Boyz II Men are the busiest guys in the world. Their managers and bodyguards are in the waiting room and it's 4:30 and they have until 7 o'clock. You've got four guys and you haven't even worked out their parts yet. So I was sweating. And these guys are running around having a ball, because Mariah and them are laughing and screaming and they're being interviewed. And I'm tapping people on the shoulder. 'We've got to get to the microphone!' They're gone in a couple hours, so I recorded everything they did, praying that it was enough. After going home to my studio, I put the tracks together and did a rough blend of the four guys. And then Mariah went in and did some more voices to fill in a little bit, because it sounded like it's all Boyz II Men and there wasn't enough Mariah Carey on it."
Carey and Boyz II Men performed this at the Grammy Awards ceremony in 1996, where the song was nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. The following year, they sang it at a memorial service for Princess Diana.