So much remarkable music was released in 1991 that it's difficult to choose just 20 memorable songs without a few omissions.
Below is a list of 20 of 1991's most memorable songs, presented in alphabetical order by performer name. It is, by no means, an exhaustive list of the best songs from the year -- it would be easy to come up with 20 more songs, then 20 more. While there are no doubt glaring omissions that might stand out more to you than some of the selections we've made, you'd also be hard pressed to quibble too much with the picks made by the PopMatters music staff and guest contributors. Except in the case of U2, which had two iconic tracks quite different in style, we've limited one entry per band to cover as much ground as possible. As you can see, this list conveys not only how musically rich and diverse the year was, but also how much remarkable music was released in 1991, whether the songs chosen ended up being the cream-of-the-crop by flashes-in-the-pan or classics that have aged well by bands that have stood the test of time.
Boyz II Men - "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"
There is no better song that captures the tumultuous year of 1991 than Boyz II Men's iconic cover of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday". The dolorous song, written in 1975 by Freddie Perren and Christine Yarian for the African American coming-of-age film Cooley High, is sung by G.C. Cameron, as teenage protagonist Preacher watches the burial of his best friend, Cochise. Fifteen years later, as a nod to the cultural impact of the film, Boyz II Men titled their debut album Cooleyhighharmony and included their rendition of Cameron's song.
Their version of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" was hugely successful because it perfectly captured, in both lyric and performance, the emotion felt by anyone coming to terms with the difficult moments of life. The power of the song endures because trying times will always bring a longing for a simpler time. Although the melody and words of the song are easy to learn, Boyz II Men's version is definitive because it is a perfect musical representation of the grief we all feel but rarely can adequately express. - Fredara Mareva
Cypress Hill - "How I Could Just Kill a Man"
Pre-The Chronic, rapping about crime could still be scary, rarely seeming like smoothed-out fun and games. On the more memorable half of its first single, the double A-side "How I Could Just Kill a Man"/"The Phuncky Feel One", Cypress Hill's funk was rugged fun, in a post-Public Enemy, sampledelic way, with DJ Muggs drawing from many American soul and rock sources, famous and obscure -- Manzel, Lowell Fulsom, Jimi Hendrix, Music Machine, three James Brown tracks, Suicidal Tendencies -- to create a track with depth that still stomped its rhythm hard.
There are strange little sounds in the mix, like static and a guitar whine (an especially PE-like touch) behind the chorus, "Here is something you can't understand / How I could just kill a man." Even with the melodic, circus-organ interlude two-thirds of the way through, there was a coldness in the sound that matched the content. The nasality of B-Real's voice made him still seem creepy then, before their giant bong traveling circus had cemented the notion of them as cuddly potheads. The matter-of-fact way they rhyme about killing people at nary a second's notice is meant to be chilling, and is. The year before the "Cop Killer" brouhaha, B-Real raps about killing a cop who tried to enter his home: "Didn't have to blast out / But I did anyway / Young punk had to pay."
The song is clearly aimed at people outside the group's neighborhood, in that "hip-hop as CNN" way, and towards the end, he points his finger upwards towards the rich folk on the hill, telling them they can't understand what they haven't lived. In some ways, the bluntness of the song's message seems quaint compared to the many brutal street narratives that have come after. But in other ways its simplicity is its power. It gets right down to the basic elemental question -- how can a man kill another man? -- and answers it with one word: survival. - Dave Heaton
Guns N' Roses - "You Could Be Mine"
The first single from the hubristic Use Your Illusion albums, "You Could Be Mine" commences Guns N' Roses' second phase when they were the biggest band in the world with an inflated, vitriolic singalong. Like "Rocket Queen", "You Could Be Mine" has epic yearnings, which the band took even further with the famed trilogy: "Don't Cry", "November Rain", and "Estranged". Lyrically, "You Could Be Mine" is familiar paranoid territory, Axl bitching about some evil chick. The song's most memorable lyric, a strange gibberish misogynist jive, showed up in Appetite for Destruction's liner notes: "With your bitch slap rappin' and your cocaine tongue, you get nothing done."
"You Could Be Mine" is a major anthem, though not the best of this period, since its two bridges kill the momentum. But the song screams 1991 with its video tie-in to Terminator 2: Arnold, sent from the future to kill the band, suffers a "decibel overload" at one of Guns N' Roses' notorious stadium shows and decides that assassinating the band (Axl, in particular, with whom he squares off at the end) would be a "waste of ammo". A young fan at the time could link the band and the movie in the budding metalhead, John Connor, played by Eddie Furlong. GnR promised freedom -- an angry, adolescent liberty, the fantasy of fending for yourself.
Still, the song's monolithic grandeur continues to exhilarate; Guns N' Roses were the last dinosaur-sized rock stars, embracing excess without complication and actually having the chops to back it up. Summer began with this song and ended with "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which back then didn't seem all that different: an angry hard rock anthem by a longhaired band. - Scott Branson
The KLF - "3 A.M. Eternal"
The Kopyright Liberation Front, a controversial British group fronted by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, were known for their DIY punk attitude and sampling music illegally. But unlike US hip-hop artists (who had to clear samples with copyright holders as a result of the significant Grand Upright v. Warner Brothers lawsuit in 1991), they got away with it. Drummond and Cauty followed their own musical ritual based on their book, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), which resulted in "3 A.M. Eternal".
This now classic song is composed of unlimited hooks ranging from KLF chants to sampled bleeps to Maxine Harvey's delectable "3 A.M." vocals, which are saturated with simulations of live crowds. KLF's postmodern music blended genres like hip hop, soul, rock, and dance in ways that appealed to people regardless of age and musical tastes. It provided insight into other musical genres, especially as the UK rave scene was dying. The song invited the audience to sing its most insinuating lines -- "KLF's gonna rock ya" -- which is why this track feels eternal. Along with the song, we recall KLF's obsession with sheep and an incident involving the burning of £1,000,000, though does anyone else remember Ricardo Da Force's "brick" cell phone? - Shara Rambarran
Massive Attack - "Unfinished Sympathy"
That the title of Massive Attack's second, and perhaps still definitive, single frequently gets misread as "Unfinished Symphony" actually makes a lot of sense. Certainly, if the song feels at all symphonic, there is something incomplete and possibly even broken about it: melancholy strings laying the groundwork for a composition that, some light piano noodling aside, mainly seems to sputter and twitch rather than reaching towards any kind of grand crescendo. It's classical music crudely subjected to the overbearing late 20th century beast that is technology, every formal tradition reduced to cogs and microchips. Even Shara Nelson's powerhouse of a voice, once the very thing that opera divas were made of, is clipped and reserved here, no more or less a piece of this synthetic environment than that processed "hey hey hey" vocal refrain.
Yet, as one of the early groundbreaking songs of the nascent trip-hop genre, Massive Attack's blend of the old and the new is much better realized as an olive branch handed between disparate styles, the warmth and emotional nakedness of traditional vocal and instrumental music casting its light upon the murky grime of the electronic underground just as much as the other way around. Maybe this is where the song's actual title reveals its meaning, sympathy not unfinished in the sense that it has been permanently severed, but rather still in the uneasy yet worthwhile process of being attained. - Jer Fairall
Metallica - "Enter Sandman"
Metal music has long peddled in images of the macabre. The opening track from Metallica's 1991 self-titled LP decided to tell a more traditional tale, one that in comparison to the many dark and bloody tales told by metal bands seems completely innocuous. A step back from the progressive stylings that dominated Metallica's 1980s records, "Enter Sandman" accomplished many things in its five-minute-and-30-second run time. The song's nightmarish lyrics turned a banal children's folk story into a terrifying, haunting reverie. The stylistic step back that it was for the band -- who up until that point had many of their successes in long, multi-part suites -- demonstrated that even heavy metal could be catchy. The now-classic guitar riff dominates the song, and it does so without a hint of guitar showmanship. It's just pure, simple metal riffing.
Metallica was neither the first nor the last metal band to tell a creepy story, with a little girl reciting a lullaby to boot. But no song has shown just how well a band could take a step back from complexity and utilize the power of a simple guitar riff as "Enter Sandman" did. Twenty years and more than one Guitar Hero spot later, "Enter Sandman" is still just as heavy as it was in 1991. Going to the Neverland described in the song may not be a peaceful journey, but it certainly is a memorable one. - Brice Ezell
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Whether it's the ultimate irony or just the whims of destiny, the fact that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" counts as classic rock now is not something anyone would've foreseen in 1991. Back in the day, you would've sworn Nirvana was flying in the face of what came before it, from the abrasive opening riff, to Kurt Cobain's guttural howling, to the absurdist lyrics. But this initial step in Nirvana's unexpected and ultimately reluctant climb to the tippy top-of-the-pops prophesied the paradox of the band's fate, just the first case of things turning out spectacularly bass ackwards for the Seattle trio as it became bigger than anyone's wildest dreams.
With the sarcastically delivered lines, "I'm worse at what I do best / And for this gift I feel blessed," Cobain actually foretells what was about to befall him and Nirvana once you decipher their meaning and significance by turning the literal lyrics inside out: Kurt Cobain became the best at what he hated the worst -- being the voice of a generation. That was, of course, a gift that blessed us as much as it ended up cursing him. - Arnold Pan
Pearl Jam - "Alive"
During Pearl Jam's steady and unforeseen rise to prominence over the course of late 1991 and the better half of 1992, the Seattle-based grunge quintet was roundly derided by underground music fans and musical competitors as alt-rock opportunists, ably placed bandwagon jumpers who used the grunge look and sensibility to dress up outmoded classic rock mannerisms. The band did draw heavily from the template set by Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Led Zeppelin a generation before, but as "Alive" -- the lead single from Pearl Jam's first album Ten -- demonstrates, there was no reason to be ashamed of that. Though "Alive" barely made a splash upon its first few months of existence (peaking at number 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts and not even making a dent on the Hot 100 due to a lack of a proper US retail release), it has justly since become an evergreen radio staple, as fondly remembered and culturally pivotal as Nirvana's indomitable "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
Everything about the song is impeccable -- the unforgettable main riff, the dramatic F-to-C chord strum right before the first verse and leading into the choruses, the surging rush of the bridge section and the accompanying comedown of the third verse, lead guitarist Mike McCready's sprawling outro solo. However, the element that truly elevates "Alive" into one of the consummate rock songs of all time is Eddie Vedder's vocal performance. The ex-surfer-turned-reluctant-star's rumbling baritone is revealed here to be more dynamic and nuanced than his legion of blunt imitators would have people believe, and nothing displays Vedder's sheer talent better than the choruses, where he takes three simple words and wrings as much emotional weight and meaning as he can out of them.
Even though Vedder's lyrics were drawn from the traumatic teenage experience of learning that the man he thought was his father was in fact not a biological relation, his soaring delivery of the line "I'm still alive" has, by his own admission and to his later satisfaction, transformed a song about questioning life into a triumphant hymn of survival for millions. - A.J. Ramirez
P.M. Dawn - "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss"
"Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" by P.M. Dawn was steadfastly retro during the beginnings of a decade that steadfastly looked to the future. But P.M. Dawn wore its pop-schmaltz excess proudly on its hip hop sleeve, and "Set Adrift" is all silky vocals and melodic crooning that relied on samples from Spandau Ballet's 1983 hit, "True" -- Spandau Ballet's lead singer, Tony Hadley, even makes an appearance in the video for the song's extended mix. For the two brothers who made up P.M. Dawn, Attrell and Jarrett Cordes, bliss is crafted entirely of musical and pop culture memories, including references to '80s pop hits like Wham's "Careless Whisper" and Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance", with shout-outs to Christina Applegate and A Tribe Called Quest.
The straightforward sweetness of a familiar melody was a comfort in unfamiliar, changing times. Wars ended in 1991 -- the Cold War, the Gulf War -- but the harsh glare of globalisation and neoliberalism seemed to include in its promise of "growth" the spectre of more diffuse wars to come. For our times, where sampling is as ubiquitous as nostalgia, the song is a reminder that, for better or worse, we're still finding ways to be set adrift on memory bliss. - Subashini Navaratnam
Primal Scream - "Higher Than the Sun"
A couple of years after the Second Summer of Love hit Britain, Primal Scream released an album that came out of two main influences: Attending MDMA-fueled raves and getting Andrew Weatherall to remix its song "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have" into the classic "Loaded". Following that up with the even more epochal "Come Together", you might think the band would have its third single proceed along similar lines -- "Don't Fight It, Feel It", maybe, or the cover of "Slip Inside This House".
Instead, they released the self-explanatory "Higher Than the Sun", which sounds like it starts in post-2001 space and moves outwards from there, briefly shifting into a pulsing, bad-trip interlude before returning to Bobby Gillespie's blissed-out contemplation of the universe. The record includes a longer reprise subtitled "A Dub Symphony in Two Parts", but even the single version is swelling and hazy enough to contain multitudes. It's music for that moment when you stumble off of the dancefloor and realize that you need some water, but you still feel just fantastic. - Ian Mathers
Prince - "Gett Off"
If, as a freaky infant, rock 'n' roll was my religion, then the Pint-Sized Prancing Purple Pervert of Pop was most certainly the Pope. Paisley Park was our Vatican and the Revolution our funky Bishops. But in 1991, R.E.M. weren't the only ones losing their religion. With Graffiti Bridge, the album and the, ahem, "film", Prince had shockingly exposed himself. Not in that way (surprisingly), but exposed himself as -- gasp -- a mere mortal! It was a tad disheartening, akin to discovering the fearsome Wizard of Oz was just some lil' old dude messin' about behind a curtain. \
Well, hurrah, indeed then for "Gett Off" and the other baubles and trinkets of the Diamonds & Pearls era! OK, it would prove to be the last time his Holiness could conjure magic for the masses and still convince us he was the (cough) Second Coming, but, dammit, if he was goin' down, he was gonna go with an almighty bang and a salacious smirk. Flanked by two fresh playmates, "Gett Off" literally came out of nowhere, dripping with funk, filth n' frivolity, and bursting with orgiastic screams, flutes and threats of "23 positions in a one-night stand." Hallelujah! Our Saviour rises again! - Matt James
Public Enemy and Anthrax - "Bring the Noise"
I was recently listening to Public Enemy's Apocalypse '91... The Enemy Strikes Black, and puzzling over how I could have loved such an "angry", black album during my ignorantly happy, white youth. After all, its lyrical content damns America more thoroughly than a Fox News super-cut of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's juiciest sound bites. At the end of the album, though, is the collaboration with Anthrax, "Bring the Noise". The song answers my questions, or at least drowns them out.
Before rap metal was a thing, the collaboration seemed revolutionary. Yet it sounded natural, as if it were meant to be. So monolithic is the ensuing wall of noise that one might wonder where the Bomb Squad ends and Anthrax begins, and it provides the perfect backdrop for Chuck D's aggressive cadence. The only real surprise to "Bring the Noise" was that Scott Ian could rap. Otherwise, it made sense, and continues to serve as a tidy demonstration of what was so appealing about Public Enemy and Anthrax, hip hop and thrash metal. Disparate styles stomped on the common ground of swagger. - Lex Robertson
R.E.M. - "Losing My Religion"
R.E.M. set the tone for the rest of 1991 with the February release of "Losing My Religion", the first cut off Out of Time. The bouncy, mandolin-infused single served as the catalyst for R.E.M.'s transformation from indie and college favorite to arguably the most popular rock band in the world. As songs go, "Losing My Religion" was a good, accessible tune by a solid band about to hit a streak of platinum sales, stadium tours, and worldwide notoriety. The breakout success of Out of Time proved all those college radio fans were right in worshipping Michael Stipe and the boys from Athens, Georgia.
What cemented "Losing My Religion" in popular culture and propelled R.E.M. to the stratosphere, though, was its video, which received heavy rotation on MTV. A four-and-a-half minute display of shadows, muted earth tones, fanciful symbolism, and Stipe's piercing looks and voice, "Losing My Religion" made R.E.M. the first of many "alternative" groups to break big via MTV, leading to multiple Grammy Awards and MTV video awards. Although currently a little dated (and isn't it wild to see Stipe with hair in the video?), "Losing My Religion" is the kind of song you may not yearn to hear, but will rarely turn it off if it comes on the radio. R.E.M.'s biggest hit still uplifts the spirit, particularly for a generation of (aging) listeners who grew up in the early 1990s. - Bob Batchelor
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Give It Away"
There are few songs in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' repertoire that have turned out to be as canonical for them as "Give It Away". It seems unbelievable now, but at the time Warner Brothers execs were turned away by radio programmers when offering the gem as the first single off of the band's masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik for lacking a melody. No matter. If you just looped Flea's most classic bassline (second only, perhaps, to his contribution to Young MC's "Bust A Move") for ten minutes, it probably would have become a hit. When you add in Anthony Kiedis' raps about Bob Marley being a poet and a prophet, John Frusciante's backwards guitar solo, and Chad Smith's chest-pounding snare-hits -- the song was unstoppable.
By mixing lines about the dangers of greed with less-than-subtle innuendo, it even managed to make being generous sound sexy. Its ultimate message of selflessness seemed to kill the 1980s era of excess with kindness, while helping us see that there had "never been a better time than right now." At a time when most of us are concerned with money struggles, the song's message is as valuable today. Plus, it still totally jams. - Joe Medina
Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Kiss Them for Me"
1991: The year post-punk broke, courtesy of Siouxsie and the Banshees' eerie erotic wonder (and modern rock chart-topping) "Kiss Them for Me". First listen reveals an alluring day-glo surface and a perverse left-turn for the band that virtually invented goth miserabilism as a viable aesthetic strategy. At a moment in pop music history when studied evocations of morbid angst were earning lesser talents platinum records, Siouxsie Sioux fully embraced the slinky pop moves she and her pretty-boy bandmates had been flirting with for the decade leading up to their 1991 album, Superstition. But Siouxsie Sioux had always evinced an appreciation for glam affectations, mixing a Roxy Music-style talent for theatrical pomp with the shrieking, atonal menace of the early Banshee records, and "Kiss Them for Me" stands as Siouxsie's most ecstatic celebration of her inner Bryan Ferry.
Still, all is not swooning splendor, as the song chronicles a Jayne Mansfield-inspired tale: With a title from a mediocre 1958 Cary Grant-Jayne Mansfield movie, it's about the allure of glamour ("It's divoon, oh it's serene / In the fountains pink champagne") and the inevitability of death ("On the road to New Orleans / A spray of stars hit the screen"). What we in fact have is a sexy, glittering memento mori. How very Siouxsie, just like the way she leaps into the chorus with an exuberant kewpie-doll voice that's half steamy come-on and all lethal put-on. It was a new twist on the sexy-hostile-mocking phrasing that had always been Siouxsie's great trick as a singer, and which influenced everyone from PJ Harvey to Karen O to too-few-others. In this fallen world overrun by pre-sexual twee indie sprites -- hi Zooey! -- and bored-unto-boring pop doyennes, Siouxsie's delicious, joyous sex-death goddess act retains its purifying force. - Paul Anthony Johnson
Matthew Sweet - "Girlfriend"
There was little doubt that Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" would've found an appreciative audience in the fall of 1991 -- surely the same folks who picked up Bandwagonesque and Out of Time -- thanks to Robert Quine's undeniable guitar work and the full-throated shout-along chorus that sums up the feeling of every power-pop aficionado and sensitive teenage boy ever: "Cuz honey believe me / I'd sure love to call you my girlfriend."
"Girlfriend", though, also benefited from the heady post-Nirvana bonanza, having been released a scant month after Nevermind dropped, when nearly any catchy song with a loud guitar could be the Next Big Thing. The difference, of course, is that "Girlfriend", compared to the pretenders from that era, deserves every accolade it has received. The title track from Matthew Sweet's breakthrough third album about losing love and falling back into it with someone new, "Girlfriend" captured the rush of the latter feeling as well as any song ever has, before or since. Seriously.
And then there's the music video. Sweet and "Girlfriend" video director Roman Coppola had the brilliant idea to compare the first flush of new love with the thrill of outer space adventure, intercutting footage of Sweet singing (and, of course, the headless body of Quine, who unspools "Girlfriend"'s transcendent guitar solo), with clips from the early '80s anime Space Adventure Cobra -- which was, for many MTV viewers, their first exposure to Japanese animation.
Sweet rode the alt-rock boom to chart glory (#4 Modern Rock; #10 Mainstream Rock), but he was never quite able to duplicate that success, though the intervening 20 years have seen him release a slew of solidly enjoyable albums. Still, there are worse fates than being the guy who wrote the definitive power pop statement on girls. - Stephen Haag
Teenage Fanclub - "The Concept"
Famously, Spin magazine's Album of the Year for 1991 went not to Nevermind but to Bandwagonesque, the third album from Scottish power-pop quartet Teenage Fanclub. Now, as then, the decision is not the egregious oversight it may seem, and "The Concept" is a prime example of why. Released barely a month after "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "The Concept" is songwriter Norman Blake's ode to a girl who is simply portrayed with too much affection to be a groupie. Blake's lyrics follow the timeworn tradition of painting a girl's portrait by relaying her words in third person. "She won't be forced against her will / Says she don't do drugs, but she does the pill," goes one of several unforgettable lines.
The affection comes in the form of Blake's heartfelt "Oh yeah"s that punctuate each couplet. Musically, "The Concept" is like baroque slacker rock, harsh strumming giving way to crescendos and falling into a weeping coda that stretches the album version to six-plus minutes. Though not huge commercial hits, "The Concept" and Bandwagonesque nonetheless exerted a huge influence. Wilco would soon revisit self-aware power-pop, while the blistering guitar solos were certainly studied closely by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. Still not convinced of "The Concept"'s genius? Kurt Cobain himself was a big fan. - John Bergstrom
Temple of the Dog - "Hunger Strike"
"Hunger Strike" is chilling and unmistakable from the get-go. It lets out with Mike McCready's tranquil electric guitar picking though a suspended chord. Chris Cornell delivers an initial line that is as enigmatic as it is unforgettable: "I don't mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence." It's an immortal lyric, part of a verse that's just six lines of socialist poetry. A then-newfangled Eddie Vedder repeats it in his slow and low baritone, introducing what would become one of the decade's most identifiable voices. In the duet, Vedder comes off assuring, while Cornell is burning.
As the song evolves, the contrast and distinction between the two voices widens. When they call-and-respond the declaration, "I'm going hungry," Cornell's high rasp is peaking and Vedder is building momentum on the low end. It is nothing less than haunting. "Hunger Strike" is paramount as a talent summit, with Chris putting his best foot forward as a lyricist and Eddie stepping out as a singer. While it's all-too-relevant who the players were on "Hunger Strike", the song itself has the legs to stand the test of time. - Kevin Curtin
U2 - "Mysterious Ways"
After unleashing "The Fly"-- an ominous slab of lumbering dance-rock that was in essence a refutation and deconstruction of what U2 had represented during the 1980s -- as the first single from its self-reinventing Achtung Baby, the Irish quartet then offered a shell-shocked public the more palatable "Mysterious Ways", a tune that screams "monster hit" with every fiber of its being. Like "The Fly", "Mysterious Ways" rejects the strident rockism of yore: bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. are allowed to shine for once as they lay down a sinewy and sexy groove, over which the Edge coats his exquisitely clipped funk riff.
Meanwhile, Bono sheds his pontificating activist persona to indulge his fleshly desires, baying the chorus with a heretofore unprecedented sensuality. The song's apex is the bridge, where the music drops to the bottom-end depths and then ascends heavenward as Bono's voice -- light as air -- imparts upon the song's protagonist Johnny that "You could move on this movement / Follow this feeling." While U2 has two decades later reverted back to stadium-rock-god form, "Mysterious Ways" will always be an infectious testament to the time when the band dared to dream up a dancefloor-filler that legitimately challenged pop regents Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince on their own musical territory. - A.J. Ramirez
U2 - "One"
From its distinctive opening riff to Bono's plaintive whisper-to-wail vocals, "One" was a bridge between U2's old style and the more experimental sound heard on Achtung Baby. The crumbling of the Berlin Wall and, most significantly, in-fighting within the band about U2's musical direction bore an impact on the song's lyrics. Obviously, the quartet moved past their differences and in the 20 years since it was recorded, "One" remains irrevocably intertwined with the band's legacy. Since, it has served as an anthem for numerous human rights campaigns with the band's blessing.
When the song was first released in 1991, U2 donated proceeds from the single to AIDS research. It became identified with promoting education and tolerance towards those suffering from the disease. The ambiguous nature of "One"'s lyrics lend themselves to so many scenarios on a wide scale. To one person, it can symbolize a lovers' spat, while, to another, a man's struggles with himself and his own ethical or religious beliefs. On a level pertaining to U2's homeland, it could represent the ongoing civil war between Irish Catholics and Protestants. "One's" haunting lyrics are so open-ended that they transcend time to offer personal meaning to those who hear it, decades after it was written. - Lana Cooper
This article was originally published on 2 October 2011.