This song is about a soldier fighting in a war and a mortar blows off in his face. He can't hear, see, smell, taste and he doesn't have arms or legs. He comes out of a coma in a hospital. During the time he is in the hospital he reflects on his life and things his father told him. Eventually the doctors get worried because he's having spasms all the time, but he doesn't seem to be dying. They call in the general and he can't figure it out either but the soldier with the general recognizes it. "It's Morse code," he says. The general asks what he is saying and the soldier looks for a minute and then says, "He is saying K-I-L-L- M-E over and over again."
Paul - Anacortes, WA
The lyrics are based on the 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, which is about World War I. A specific passage that inspired the song is: "How could a man lose as much of himself as I have and still live? When a man buys a lottery ticket you never expect him to win because it's a million to one shot. But if he does win, you'll believe it because one in a million still leaves one. If I'd read about a guy like me in the paper I wouldn't believe it, cos it's a million to one. But a million to ONE always leaves one. I'd never expect it to happen to me because the odds of it happening are a million to one. But a million to one always leaves one. One."
James Hetfield was introduced to the book by his older half brother, David Hale, who was also in a band.
In 1971, Johnny Got His Gun was made into a movie that was directed by Trumbo starring Timothy Bottoms and Jason Robards. The video for the song uses images and monologues from that movie.
This was the first single released by the band to feature bassist Jason Newsted, who continued playing with Metallica until 2001. You have to listen very carefully to hear his playing, however, since the bass was buried in the mix.
In our 2013 interview with Jason Newsted
, we asked him if he would like to see the album re-released with a more prominent low end. He replied: "There's been so much hubbub over this thing and people make so much out of it, but whatever it is that they make out of the blend of the whole thing, to me the album is perfect. Kill 'Em All
isn't perfect, but it's perfect. And Van Halen I
isn't perfect, but it's perfect. ...And Justice For All
isn't perfect, but it's perfect. Because it captured that time for those people. Going back and re-recording albums that were already classics, I'm just not sure about all that stuff."
Metallica performed this at the Grammy awards in 1989. This was the first year a Grammy was awarded for Hard Rock/Metal Performance, and it went to Jethro Tull. This was a bit of a joke, since few people consider Jethro Tull to be Hard Rock or Heavy Metal. The next year, this won the award for Best Metal Performance and the year after, Metallica won again for "Stone Cold Crazy."
In 2014, Metallica once again performed "One" at the Grammy Awards, this time joined by the Chinese piano player Lang Lang.
Metallica guitarist James Hetfield wrote this with drummer Lars Ulrich. It is a fixture at their live shows.
Metallica made a major concession by cutting the song down for single release, taking it from 7:27 to 4:58. The band did very well with their first three albums, selling millions of each and filling arenas on tour, but to expand their audience, they had to get more radio play, and editing down a single was the way to do it. The ploy worked, giving them their first placing on the Hot 100 and bringing metal to the masses. Some fans accused them of selling out, to which Lars Ulrich replied, "Yes, we sell out everywhere we play."
This was the first video Metallica made. As part of their us-against-the-world ethos, they distanced themselves from MTV, which ignored metal until 1987 when the network gave it 90 minutes every week on Headbangers Ball. Directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon, the "One" video looked nothing like what was in hot rotation on MTV. Morbid and sepia-toned, it runs 7:44 with disturbing images from the film Johnny Got His Gun. Metallica did give in my making a video, but they did it on their terms. The MTV presence helped them reach an audience far larger than any metal band had before.
The name of the statue with the scales on the album cover is "Doris."
Ali Sadeghi - Scottsdale, AZ
Hetfield has said he lifted the intro from Venom's "Buried Alive," a song about being trapped in a casket while being buried alive, similar to the predicament of the character in this song.
Michael - North Adams, MA
Because it is used in the video, Metallica had to pay royalties to use the film Johnny Got His Gun, which ended up being substantial. Instead of pulling the video or continuing to pay, when it came time to re-negotiate the license they simply bought the rights to it. When the film was released on DVD, it was their doing.
Hammett told Kerrang!
September 13, 2008 that this track has one of his favorite Metallica guitar solos. He explained: "Specifically, this is the middle solo of the song. Much like 'Enter Sandman
' it's a solo that everybody can pretty much sing along to, and it definitely gives me a really good feeling every time I play it."
...And Justice for All
was the last Metallica album engineered and co-produced by Flemming Rasmussen, who also worked on Ride The Lightning
(1984) and Master Of Puppets
(1986). According to Rasmussen, Ulrich blasted out the double-bass machine gun section in one take. "He just flew straight through that," he told Songfacts
When Metallica appeared on The Howard Stern Show in September 2013, James Hetfield explained that this was not so much an anti-war song as an observation. "War is a part of man," he explained. "We're just writing about it. It's not good or bad, it's just a thing."
Hetfield also revealed that he could relate to the character in the song because of his difficult childhood. He said that he often felt like a "prisoner in his own body," with no means to escape. His father left when he was 13, and his mother died a few years later.
This was included on the 1999 live album S&M, which they recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
KoRn performed this on MTV Icon
Nick - Paramus, NJ, for above 3
This song is featured in the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
and is considered the second hardest song on the game.
matt - Langhorne, PA
There is a anachronism in the video: It's set during World War I, but we hear the sound of helicopters in the song. Those hadn't been invented yet.