In 1988, Metallica unveiled their most ambitious and successful musical experiment yet. Released as the third and final single from fourth album …And Justice For All, One was the most deeply affecting song the band had recorded to date. The macabre story of an infantryman who steps on a landmine and wakes to gradually discover he has lost everything – his arms and legs, his five senses – except his mind, which is now cast adrift, trapped in its own grim and impossible reality, One was both nightmare writ large and music
ally transcendent journey, a thrash metal Tommy in miniature. The protagonist’s descent into living hell, wordlessly begging for death – capable of being seen both as existential metaphor for the hum
an condition and the solipsism of the rock star life – its frantic climax also served up a state of inarticulate teenage angst like no other rock song before or since.
Partially based on the 1939 Dalton Trumbo novel, Johnny Got His Gun, One had started as a song James Hetfield had dreamt up, based on the notion of “just being a brain and nothing else,” before Cliff Burnstein suggested he read Trumbo’s book. The story of Joe Bonham, a good-looking, all-American boy encouraged to fight in World War I by his patriotic father, Bonham loses his legs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose to a German shell. MORE