Before Metallica became arguably the biggest heavy metal band in the world, they first had to climb their way up the ladder of success. And there’s little argument that the most important rung on that particular ladder came via their first entry into the Billboard Hot 100.
Written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich and released on their fourth album ...And Justice for All, “One” revolves around a severely wounded soldier whose experiences in World War I have left him with no arms, no legs, no vision, and an inability to either speak or move. Not what you’d call a happy-go-lucky story, but it’s a song of such musical and vocal intensity that it instantly captured the attention of listeners, which in turn led them to keep Metallica on their radar.
Of course, as great as the song is, it’s fair to say that “One” owes a considerable amount of its success to its video.
Shot by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon in Long Beach, CA, the video for “One” leans heavily on footage from the 1971 film Johnny Got His Gun, starring Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt, and Diane Varsi. Beyond the film clips, though, the black and white footage of the band is striking, showing them playing their hearts out.
Still cited as one of the greatest music videos of all time, “One” received enough exposure from the way the onscreen dramatics mirrored the song’s lyrics that Metallica was, as noted, catapulted into The top 40 for the first time in their career, with the single hitting No. 35 on the Hot 100.
Although Metallica wouldn’t achieve full-fledged mainstream acceptance until their self-titled album a few years later, there’s no question that “One” started them on the path in a big way.