Saturday Flashback: U2 & Mary J. Blige – One

“Are you on glue?”

Tim: I know it’s not Christmassy, but there’s something that needs clearing up. On Wednesday you made a claim that the Johnny Cash version of this song is “now the definitive version of the song”, to which my only response is: are you on glue?

Tom: Harsh. Admittedly that’s arguably much more true for “Hurt” than it is for “One” — because Nine Inch Nails were never what you could call a truly mainstream act, and Trent Renzor literally said “that song isn’t mine any more”. But I don’t think it’s a statement than can be dismissed automatically.

Tim: Even if you want to claim that it’s more notable than U2’s original version (which is laughable enough in itself), had you forgotten this?

Tim: Now, if you’ve recently developed a love for country music without telling me, that’s fine, you’re allowed to prefer an album track off a covers album.

Tom: Hold on hold on hold on. We’re both coming at this from very different angles. American III isn’t just “a covers album”, it’s one of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series.

Tim: Hmm, maybe fair – but firstly, it still wasn’t released as a single, unlike a few others, and secondly (and more relevantly): you’re letting your emotions in here. Sure, it’s important to you, but please, don’t try to claim that it’s more notable or more definitive than either the original or this, which truly is an incredible collaboration. Figures alone show that much: this charted higher around the world (in the UK, for example, it was kept off the top spot only by Crazy by Gnarls Barkley), sold better, got a standing ovation when it was initially performed at U2’s New York gig. But you don’t need figures to show why it’s the case: it keeps Bono’s great initial vocals and adds on Mary J. Blige’s outstanding ones, with a phenomenal level of emotion. They work together and sound flawless.

Tom: I have, as far as I can recall, never heard this version of One. Ever. That is, no doubt, just as surprising to you as your dismissal of American IV is to me. And because I’m used to the other versions, I just don’t agree with you. I agree that the vocals are brilliant, but I think this is too… well, it’s too “pop music”, everything’s turned up too much, you’ve got that godawful thing where a studio single tries to sound like a live performance, with bits of what should be on-stage improv baked into the track.

Like Adam Lambert’s cover of Believe, U2’s “One” is an excellent track to perform on stage. Cash’s version is a better studio single.

Tim: Hmm, I’m still really not persuaded. But again, check the figures: if we’ve a definitive version of a song, it’s the one most people, if not everybody, thinks of when they think of the song. And hell, I’m not arguing that about this one. I’m just saying it absolutely isn’t Johnny Cash’s one. There’s just no competition. None at all.

Tom: So I did go and check the figures, and you’re right there: the order, in terms of Spotify’s slightly-rickety popularity ranking, goes U2’s original, then Cash, then this version. So, yes, I’ll grant you: Cash’s “One” is not the definitive version. But I don’t think U2’s is either.

Tim: And that’s okay.