We began our discussion of the number one yesterday.
In the word “one” there are two competing ideas. One is both the number of solitude and the number of togetherness. One is Harry Nilsson’s “loneliest number” and one is what lovers become in marriage. One is how many people there are when you are alone in your room, and one describes the people of a nation or the people supporting a cause.
This duality is made clear by surveying the songs using one in the title.
One – Three Dog Night
Written by Harry Nilsson (known for the hit Everybody’s Talkin’) and made famous by Three Dog Night, “One” focuses on the singleness of the word. It functions as a basic introduction to the first two cardinal numbers, and points out that two is not really that much more than one. My favourite cover is here.
One – U2
Without question, the best song on Achtung Baby. One is an example of one connoting togetherness. It’s one love, one blood, one life, shared by more that one person.
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer – John Lee Hooker
Written by Rudy Tooms, this song is all about one being a single thing, but when you put a bunch together you get… more. I can almost hear Count Von Count saying “Three! Three alcoholic drinks, Ah-ha-ha-ha!”
One Vision – Queen
Here is where things get murky. Depending on your interpretation of the lyrics this is either an inspirational song of universal all-inclusive unity, or a pseudo-fascist call for the celebration of “one nation.” Critics hated Queen back in the 70’s and 80’s. In Rolling Stone magazine Dave Marsh completed his review of Queen’s 1979 album Jazz, with the following words:
“Whatever its claims, Queen isn’t here just to entertain. This group has come to make it clear exactly who is superior and who is inferior. Its anthem, “We Will Rock You,” is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you. Indeed, Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band. The whole thing makes me wonder why anyone would indulge these creeps and their polluting ideas.”
Us more enlightened folks look back and associate this sort of criticism with homophobia in a time when rock was increasingly macho. It’s clear that Marsh hated Queen. However the charge of fascism is interesting. The official inspiration for the song was their time playing Live Aid, though I wonder if there wasn’t some thought of this review from almost a decade before.
What are some other great songs about One? Let me know in the comments.