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U2 - One Tree Hill (1988)

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  • 80's Score 80's score: 1.12
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"One Tree Hill" is a song by Irish rock band U2 and the ninth track on their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. In March 1988, it ...

"One Tree Hill" is a song by Irish rock band U2 and the ninth track on their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. In March 1988, it was released as the fourth single from the album in New Zealand and Australia, while "In God's Country" was released as the fourth single in North America. The release charted at number one on the New Zealand Singles Chart, ending 1988 as the country's second-most-successful hit.

The track was written in memory of Greg Carroll, a New Zealander the band first met in Auckland during the Unforgettable Fire Tour in 1984. He became very close friends with lead singer Bono and later served as a roadie for the group. Carroll was killed in July 1986 in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. After Carroll's tangi (funeral) in New Zealand, Bono wrote the lyrics to "One Tree Hill" in his memory. The lyrics reflect Bono's thoughts at the tangi and during his first night in New Zealand when Carroll took him up Auckland's One Tree Hill. They also pay homage to Chilean singer-songwriter and activist Víctor Jara. Musically, the song was developed in a jam session with producer Brian Eno. The vocals were recorded in a single take, as Bono felt incapable of singing them a second time.

"One Tree Hill" was received favourably by critics, who variously described it as "a soft, haunting benediction", "a remarkable musical centrepiece", and a celebration of life. U2 delayed performing the song on the Joshua Tree Tour in 1987 because of Bono's fears over his emotional state. After its live debut on the tour's third leg and an enthusiastic reaction from audiences, the song was played occasionally for the rest of the tour and semi-regularly during the Lovetown Tour of 1989–1990. It has appeared only sporadically since then, and most renditions were performed in New Zealand. Performances in November 2010 on the U2 360° Tour were dedicated to the miners who died in the Pike River Mine disaster. During the Joshua Tree Tours 2017 and 2019 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the album, "One Tree Hill" was performed at each show.

Release and reception

"One Tree Hill" was released on The Joshua Tree on 9 March 1987 as the ninth song on the album. 

"One Tree Hill" was received favourably by critics. Hot Press editor Niall Stokes described it as one of U2's best tracks, calling it a "fitting tribute" to Carroll. The Toronto Star felt it was one of the best songs on the album. Steve Morse of The Boston Globe compared Bono's vocals at the song's conclusion to the passion of American soul singer Otis Redding, also noting that the coda was reminiscent of the hymn "Amazing Grace". Steve Pond of Rolling Stone called it "a soft, haunting benediction". Bill Graham of Hot Press said the song was "hopeful, not grim", describing the lyric "We run like a river to the sea" as "[musician Mike Scott's] metaphor recast in terms of eternal life and the Maori's own belief." He described the Edge's playing as "a loose-limbed guitar melody with both an African and a Hawaiian tinge", concluding by saying "despite its moving vocal coda, 'One Tree Hill' isn't sombre. It celebrates the life of the spirit not its extinction."

Writing for The New York Times, John Rockwell felt that it was an example of U2 stretching their range, saying "the inclusion of musical idioms  never so overtly explored before on a U2 record, especially the gospel chorus of 'One Tree Hill'". Colin Hogg of The New Zealand Herald called it "a remarkable musical centrepiece", believing it to be the best song on the album. Colm O'Hare of Hot Press said it was "arguably the most poignant, emotionally-charged song U2 have ever recorded." He added that it was the "least instrumentally adorned song on the album, resplendent in a feeling of space and openness." McGuinness called it one of his favourite U2 songs.

The American television drama One Tree Hill was named for the song after series creator Mark Schwahn was listening to The Joshua Tree when writing the idea for the show. "One Tree Hill" was also the name of the series finale, which featured the song in the episode's final scene.

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