I have a lot of love for One Tree Hill. It is slow, haunting, not quite meandering. But it is powerful. It is perfectly placed within the album, as a lead-in to Exit, it’s calming down from the louder songs like Trip Through Your Wire, and then pushing you along toward the end.
Greg Carroll gets a mention every time this song gets a mention, of course. I suppose he might have done the live fast die young thing, but he got a lot of fame from it, unintended of course. I really just don’t understand how his whole story happened. I mean, you’re walking down the street and you run into U2, you talk to them a bit, then you show up at their next concert as a roadie and they take a liking to you and bring you onboard. How is that even possible? You’ve got to get a real good connection going right away to be able to do that. So much so that I doubt it would be even possible today, now that the band is as big as it is (not that I’m hinting or anything, I think my days of running away to a rock and roll lifestyle might be behind me. But I can dream).
The song itself seems to blend several of the feelings that Bono was having at the time into one outlet. There’s the whole New Zealand part going on, and also bits of Chile with stuff about the poet Jara, and the final verse being the lament of the ongoing struggles there. I have some issues with Bono on some of the things he talks about like this, where there’s a local conflict and he’s heard one side of it and creates a song or a fuss, but in general he is proved right most of the time. I think my reaction is to celebrities in general who jump on the nearest political bandwagon to add to their few moments of fame.
“I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky, and the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill,” is a powerful line, deeply emotional as you get further into the sense of the song. It talks of the future, of time everlasting, and of the strong emotional bond that two people can have, either as friends or more than that. Switching throughout the song between night and day, the images of light and dark provide to me a strong contrast. I could certainly see this song making an exceptionally good music video.
Interesting to read that Bono did the singing in one take, I’ve said several times before that usually the band needs their stuff to cook a lot before it is good. This would be the exception that proves the rule (a totally non-scientific idea). I don’t think you could get this song to sound any better at all, at least not lyrically (and not musically either, I suppose). But you know (spoiler alert) that I actually rated this as tied for the worst song on The Joshua Tree. What does that tell you about how good that album is? On almost every other U2 album this song would have been average or higher. Timing is everything.
My rating for One Tree Hill: 6 / 10