A few years after Soundgarden reunited, Chris Cornell went out on a solo acoustic tour called Songbook, on which he played tunes from his entire career along with covers of songs by Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. The most surprising cover, however, was “One” — a mash-up that improbably combined the chords of U2’s smash 1992 single of the same name and Metallica’s 1989 breakthrough single, also titled “One.”
“A few years ago, I was going to do ‘One’ by U2 — I Googled the lyrics, but the words to Metallica’s ‘One’ came up,” he told IndyStar in 2016. “I thought, ‘You know what, I’m gonna add those,’ and it seemed to work pretty seamlessly. Those are things that, when I’m doing a cover song, maybe goes some degree beyond what you’d expect. And that’s just me having fun.”
At a gig a year earlier in York, Pennsylvania, Cornell went into even greater detail about the genesis of the tune, saying that he had been shocked to Google “‘One’ lyrics” and start reading what he thought would be missives by Bono only to think, “That shit was dark.” “I realized the most-Googled song lyrics entitled ‘One’ were actually not U2’s, they were Metallica,” he said. “So I just thought, ‘Fuck it, I’ll just do it that way, ’cause that’s a great song, too.'” He then started strumming his acoustic guitar and started singing James Hetfield’s lyrics about a man who stepped on a landmine and was living painfully on life support — but to Bono’s melody.
U2 had written their “One” about people coming together but also realizing that they’re different — that “we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive,” as Bono once said. He went on to say it was about the state of U2 at the time. Artists including Johnny Cash, Mary J. Blige and Michael Stipe have all covered it.
Metallica wrote their “One,” a ballad that transform into a metal punisher, in the fall of 1987 after Hetfield asked himself, “what it would be like if you were in this situation where you were sort of a living consciousness, like a basket case, where you couldn’t reach out and communicate with anyone around you?” as drummer Lars Ulrich once recalled. Their managers then turned them onto Dalton Trumbo’s novel, Johnny Got His Gun, which is about a World War I soldier who became a quadriplegic after stepping on a landmine; he could only communicate through Morse code. It improbably became a Top 40 hit.
A version of the song appears in the new box set, Chris Cornell, which commemorates the life and legacy of the late Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog frontman, who died by suicide in 2017. A couple of days after his death, U2 dedicated the song “Running to Stand Still” to Cornell at one of their Joshua Tree concerts, calling Cornell a “lion” and “beautiful, sweet soul,” according to Entertainment Weekly. Metallica’s Robert Trujillo paid his respects at one of the band’s shows by playing some of “Black Hole Sun” in his bass solo, according to Blabbermouth.
Metallica will also be taking part in a tribute to the singer earlier next year. The program, I Am the Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell, will also feature performances by members of Cornell’s three bands, as well as sets by Foo Fighters and Ryan Adams. Jimmy Kimmel will host the event, which benefits the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation and the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation.