‘One by Metallica’ A Look Inside The Masterpiece 1

‘One by Metallica’ A Look Inside The Masterpiece

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One: Released as the third single from 1988’s ‘…And Justice for All,’ has become a staple among heavy metal fans’. One of the more dynamic songs from the band, ‘One’ opens with soul ripping sounds of automatic gunfire that lead into a super clean guitar riff. By the end of the song, though, that mild-mannered opening is long forgotten as Metallica rage into blistering guitar solos and thunderous drums.

Metallica: One (Official Music Video)
Metallica: One (Official Music Video)

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The theme of ‘One’ follows the same story as the book ‘Johnny Got His Gun,’ written by Dalton Trumbo and released in 1939.

‘One by Metallica’ A Look Inside The Masterpiece 2

The book covers the story of Joe Bonham, a World War I soldier who wakes up in a hospital after being injured in battle. Unbeknownst to him initially, Bonham slowly learns that the injuries he sustained were the result of being involved in an explosion, including the loss of his appendages and all of his face. However, Bonham’s mind is fully functioning. He has become trapped in his own body. James Hetfield conveys that sentiment beautifully with the lyrics, ‘I cannot live / I cannot die / Trapped in myself / Body my holding cell.’ In the book, Bonham tries suffocation as a way to end his life, but realizes he cannot due to a tracheotomy he was given by the doctors. The chorus of Metallica’s ode to the book covers this expertly: ‘Hold my breath as I wish for death…


The story is centered on a young G.I (Joe Bonham) who served in World War I and was hit by an artillery shell. As the story unfolds, he wakes in a hospital bed with no arms, no legs or face. There’s a very graphic chapter in the book where he realizes he’s lost his eyes, nose and mouth by exploring the gaping wound with his tongue. He’s also deaf and can only communicate to nurses and soldiers via Morse code, which he delivers through bashing his head on a pillow.

Telling Scene: “Johnny Got His Gun”

Johnny Got His Gun: "Oh Jesus Christ, it's me and I'm alive!"

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On Dec. 6, 1988, Metallica started shooting the music video which included audio and video footage from the 1971 film adaptation of Trumbo’s novel. ‘One’ is the first music video Metallica ever shot and released. Shot in black and white and layered with a cold blue hue, the video opens with close-ups of the band’s various body parts: the back of Jason Newsted’s head, James Hetfield’s body, and his face intermittently obscured by the shadow of an overhead ceiling fan.

The band’s role in the video was simple: crush the song in an empty warehouse in Long Beach, grimace and headbang. That was it. Brilliant! They were all dressed in black, except for Lars, who chose to wear his own face on a white 1988 tour shirt. In our opinion: ‘One by Metallica’ far surpassed any previous video and is still the heaviest metal music clip to date!

Metallica · One · Lyrics

I can’t remember anything
Can’t tell if this is true or dream
Deep down inside I feel the scream
This terrible silence stops me

Now that the war is through with me
I’m waking up, I cannot see
That there’s not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

Back in the womb it’s much too real
In pumps life that I must feel
But can’t look forward to reveal
Look to the time when I’ll live

Fed through the tube that sticks in me
Just like a wartime novelty
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

Now the world is gone, I’m just one
Oh God, help me
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, help me

Imprisoning me
All that I see
Absolute horror
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell

Has taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell

Show Lyrics


The song was written by both Hetfield and Ulrich and was produced by Flemming Rasmussen. To date, it is one of the most played Metallica tunes live, being performed well over 1,200 times. On Feb. 21, 1990, Metallica won their first ever Grammy Award in the category of Best Metal Performance for ‘One.’ The first time the song was played to a live audience was on Sept. 11, 1988 in Budapest, Hungary – less than a month after ‘…And Justice for All’ was released.

Metallica “One” – Woodstock 1999 

Metallica - One - 7/24/1999 - Woodstock 99 East Stage (Official)

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