One Tree Hill (song)

One Tree Hill (song)
"One Tree Hill"
Single by U2
from the album The Joshua Tree
Released March 1988
Format 7" vinyl, cassette
Recorded July 1986–January 1987 at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin
Genre Rock
Length 5:23
Label Island / Festival
Writer(s) U2 (music), Bono (lyrics)
Producer Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois
U2 singles chronology
"In God's Country"
(North America only)
"One Tree Hill"
Music sample
"One Tree Hill"

"One Tree Hill" is a song by rock band U2. It is the ninth track from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. It was released as the fourth single from the album in New Zealand and Australia in March 1988, while "In God's Country" was released as the fourth single in North America. The song was a hit in New Zealand, where it topped the charts.

The song was written in memory of Greg Carroll, a Māori the band met during The Unforgettable Fire Tour in 1984. He became very close friends with lead singer Bono and served as a roadie for the group. Carroll was killed in July 1986 in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. His body was flown back to New Zealand for burial. Following the funeral, Bono penned the lyrics to "One Tree Hill", which he dedicated to Carroll. The song reflects on the funeral, and pays homage to Chilean activist Victor 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 unable to sing them a second time.

U2 first performed "One Tree Hill" live during the third leg of the Joshua Tree tour. Unplayed up to that point due to Bono's fears over his emotional state, it was enthusiastically received by the audience. The song was played occasionally for the rest of the tour and was a semi-regular performance on the Lovetown tour. It has appeared only sporadically since then, with most renditions occurring 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. The track was favourably received by critics, who variously described it as "a soft, haunting benediction",[1] "a remarkable musical centrepiece",[2] and a celebration of life.[3]


Inspiration, writing, and recording

"They took me up to the top of a place called One Tree Hill, where a single tree stands at the top of the mount, like some stark Japanese painting, and we looked around at this city that's made by craters of volcanoes. I remember it so vividly, I think, because it meant something to me about my own freedom."


U2 visited Australia and New Zealand in 1984 for the first time to open The Unforgettable Fire Tour. After a 24-hour flight into Auckland, lead singer Bono was unable to adjust to the time difference with Europe. During the night, he left his hotel room and met some people in the bar. They showed him around the city, and one of the locations they took him to was One Tree Hill.[4] The following day, U2 were preparing for their concert when Bono noticed a local stage manager, a Māori named Greg Carroll, who he described as "this very helpful fellah running around the place".[4] U2's manager Paul McGuinness thought Carroll was so helpful that he should accompany the band for the remainder of the tour.[5] The group helped him obtain a passport, and he subsequently joined them on the road in Australia and the United States as their assistant.[6] He became very close friends with Bono and his wife Ali Hewson, and following the conclusion of the tour, he worked for U2 in Dublin.[4][6]

One Tree Hill in 2008. The tree was removed in 2000, six years after being chainsawed by a Māori activist.[7]

On 3 July 1986,[8] just before the start of the recording sessions for The Joshua Tree, Carroll was killed in a motorcycle accident. On a courier run in the rain, a car pulled in front of him; unable to stop, Carroll crashed into the side and was killed instantly.[5] The event shocked the entire band; drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. said "his death really rocked us — it was the first time anyone in our working circle had been killed."[6] Guitarist The Edge said "Greg was like a member of the family, but the fact that he had come under our wing and had travelled so far from home to be in Dublin to work with us made it all the more difficult to deal with."[9] Bassist Adam Clayton described it as "a very sobering moment", saying "it inspired the awareness that there are more important things than rock 'n' roll. That your family, your friends and indeed the other members of the band — you don't know how much time you've got left with them."[5][9] Bono said "it was a devastating blow. He was doing me a favour. he was taking my bike home."[5] He later commented "it brought gravitas to the recording of The Joshua Tree. We had to fill the hole in our heart with something very, very large indeed, we loved him so much."[9] Accompanied by Bono, Ali, Mullen and his girlfriend Ann Acheson, crew members Joe O'Herlihy and Steve Iredale, and Katy McGuinness, the sister of Paul McGuinness, Carroll's body was flown back to New Zealand and buried in the traditional Māori manner at Kai-iwi Marae.[9][8] Bono sang "Let It Be" and "Knocking on Heaven's Door" for him at the funeral.[8]

Shortly after returning to Dublin, Bono wrote a song about the funeral that he titled "One Tree Hill", after the hill he saw the first time he visited Auckland.[8] While on Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope tour, Bono met René Castro, a Chilean mural artist. Castro had been tortured and held in a concentration camp for two years by the dictatorial Chilean government because his artwork criticised the Pinochet-led regime that seized power in 1973 during a coup d'état.[10] While purchasing a silkscreen of Martin Luther King, Jr. that Castro had created, Bono noticed a print of Victor Jara, a political activist and folk singer who was tortured and killed during the Chilean coup d'état, and who had become a symbol of the resistance against the Pinochet government.[11][12] He became more familar with Jara after reading Una Canción Truncada (English: A Truncated Song), written by Jara's widow Joan Turner, and was inspired to reference him through the lyric "Jara sang, his song a weapon in the hands of love / You know his blood still cries from the ground."[11]

The musical basis of "One Tree Hill" was developed early in the recording sessions for The Joshua Tree. The Edge said, "We were jamming with Brian [Eno]. He was playing keyboards... we just got this groove going, and this part began to come through. It's almost highlife, although it's not African at all... the sound was for me at that time a very elaborate one. I would never have dreamt of using a sound like that before then, but it just felt right, and I went with it."[13] Bono recorded his vocals in a single take, as he felt he could not sing the lyrics a second time.[14] Three musicians from Toronto, Dick, Paul and Adele Armin, recorded string pieces for the song in Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton, Ontario. In a six-hour phone call with The Edge, and under the supervision of producer Daniel Lanois, the Armins used "sophisticated 'electro-acoustic' string instrument"s they developed called Raads to record a piece created for the song.[15] Dick Armin said, "[U2] were interested in using strings, but not in the conventional style of sweetening. They didn't want a 19th-century group playing behind them."[15] Bono found the song so emotional, he was unable to listen to it after it had been recorded.[16]

"One Tree Hill" and The Joshua Tree are dedicated to Carroll's memory.[17][18] The track was recorded by Flood and Pat McCarthy, mixed by Dave Meegan, and produced by Eno and Lanois.[19]

Composition and theme

"It was an absolute tragedy because he was a very young guy and the circumstances of his death were really avoidable, just one of those freakish things."

—The Edge on the death of Greg Carroll[6]

"One Tree Hill" runs for 5:23 (5 minutes, 23 seconds). It is played in common time at a tempo of 120 beats per minute.[20] The song begins with a sample of The Edge's guitar playing a highlife-influenced riff, which repeats in the background throughout the song.[11][20] Percussion from drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. enters after two seconds. At 0:07, a second guitar enters. At 0:15, Clayton's bass and Mullen's drums enter, and at 0:31, the verse chord progression of C–F–B–F–C is introduced.[11][20] The first verse begins at 0:47. At 1:32, the song moves to the chorus, switching to a C–B–F–C chord progression. The second verse then begins at 1:49, and after the second chorus, a brief musical interlude begins at 2:36, in which The Edge's guitar is replaced by the Raad strings.[11] The third verse begins at 3:07, and The Edge's guitar resumes at 3:38 in the chorus. A guitar solo begins at 4:16 and is played until the instrumentation comes to a close at 4:36. After two seconds of silence, the Raad strings fade in and Bono proceeds to sing the coda. The final lyric and strings fade out over the final six seconds.[11]

Clayton called it part of a trilogy of songs on the album, along with "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Mothers of the Disappeared", that decry the involvement of the United States in the Chilean coup.[11] McGuinness stated that the imagery in the song described the sense of tragedy felt by the band over Carroll's death.[14] Colm O'Hare of Hot Press believed The Edge's guitar riff personified the lyric "run like a river runs to the sea".[13] Thom Duffy of the Orlando Sentinel felt the song reflected the seducation of a lover.[21] Richard Harrington of the Washington Post acknowledged the tribute to Carroll, but felt "it also makes clear the band's contention that music can, and should, act as a catalyst for change".[22]

Like many other U2 songs, "One Tree Hill" can be interpreted in a religious manner. Hot Press editor Niall Stokes described it as "a spiritual tour de force, it is a hymn of praise and celebration which described the traditional Māori burial of their friend on One Tree Hill and links it poetically with themes of renewal and redemption."[5] Beth Maynard, a Church rector from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, felt the song "vows faith in the face of loss, combining elegiac lines about a friend... and the martyred Chilean activist and folk singer Victor Jara, with a subtle evocation of end-time redemption and a wrenching wail to God to send the pentecostal Latter Rain."[23] Matt Soper, Senior Minister of the West Houston Church of Christ, believed the lyrics were an attempt by Bono to understand God's place in the world.[24] Steve Stockman, a chaplain at Queen's University of Belfast, felt that the song alluded to "transcendent places beyond the space and time of earth".[25] Music journalist Bill Graham noted "the lyrics, with their reference to traditional Māori burial ceremonies on One Tree Hill, indicated that the band's faith didn't exclude an empathy with others' beliefs and rituals. Their Christianity wouldn't plaster over the universal archetypes of mourning."[3]

Release and critical response

"One Tree Hill" was released as a 7-inch single in New Zealand[19] and Australia[26] in March 1988. The cover art (photographed by Anton Corbijn), sleeve (designed by Steve Averill), and B-sides ("Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Running to Stand Still") were identical to those used for U2's 1987 single "In God's Country", released only in North America.[19][27] A cassette single, available only in New Zealand, was also released.[28] The song reached number one on the New Zealand Singles Chart.[29] "One Tree Hill" was included as a bonus track on the Japanese version of U2's 1998 compilation album, The Best of 1980–1990.[18] A live version of the song was included on the VHS release of the accompanying video compilation.[30] Another rendition was available on the 2004 digital live album Live from the Point Depot.[31]

"One Tree Hill" was favourably received by critics. Hot Press editor Niall Stokes called it "among the great U2 tracks, a fitting tribute to one of the band's faithful departed."[5] The Toronto Star felt it was one of the best songs on the album.[15] Steve Morse of The Boston Globe said "[Bono's] emotional outpouring at the end... has a passion on a par with peak-period Otis Redding. The song eventually winds down to a gospel improvisation that recalls the tenderness of 'Amazing Grace'".[32] Steve Pond of Rolling Stone called it "a soft, haunting benediction".[1] Bill Graham of Hot Press said the song was "hopeful, not grim", describing the lyric "We run like a river to the sea" as "Mike Scott's metaphor recast in terms of eternal life and the Maori's own belief."[33] 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."[3]

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 [is] never so overtly explored before on a U2 record, especially the gospel chorus of 'One Tree Hill'".[34] Colin Hogg of The New Zealand Herald called it "a remarkable musical centrepiece". He added "not only is it a song that means a lot in this part of the world, but it is the album's finest, saddest melody and its most heartfelt performance, building in urgency until Bono's voice just explodes to the song's climax."[2] Colm O'Hare of Hot Press said it was "arguably the most poignant, emotionally-charged song U2 have ever recorded."[35] He added that it was the "least instrumentally adorned song on the album, resplendent in a feeling of space and openness."[13] McGuinness called it one of his favourite U2 songs.[36]

Live performances

"We've never performed "One Tree Hill", and I can't. In fact I haven't even heard the song, though I've listened to it a hundred times. I've cut myself off from it completely."

—Bono in 1987[37]

U2 debuted "One Tree Hill" on 10 September 1987 in Uniondale, New York, the opening night of the third leg of the Joshua Tree Tour, where it opened the encore.[38] The song had been left out of the set up to this point because Bono feared he would be unable to overcome his emotions in the live setting.[38] Despite his fears, it received a huge round of applause from the audience at the end.[38] It was performed a further six times and then dropped from the show for a period of two months. It was revived in the main set on 17 November 1987 in Los Angeles, California, and played a further nine times on the tour.[39] "One Tree Hill" was played occasionally on the Lovetown Tour, appearing at 19 of 47 concerts.[40] The penultimate performance, on 31 December 1989, was broadcast live on radio to 21 countries throughout Europe as a New Year's Eve present from the band.[41]

U2 performing "One Tree Hill" in Auckland in 2006.

"One Tree Hill" was absent during the majority of the Zoo TV Tour, only appearing as an extended snippet at the end of "One" at both concerts in New Zealand in 1993.[42] It did not appear again until 24 November 2006 in Auckland, New Zealand, on the final leg of the Vertigo Tour. It was considered to close the concert, but tour designer Willie Williams voiced concern as it had not been performed in full since 1990. The song was performed before "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" in the main set instead.[43] U2 performed it a further three times on the tour.[44] "One Tree Hill" was absent for the majority of the U2 360° Tour but was revived in November 2010 for two concerts in New Zealand, where it was dedicated to the miners who died in the Pike River Mine disaster; their names were displayed on the video screen during the song.[45][46] Dedicating the song, Bono said "we wrote it for Greg Carroll, whose family are with us tonight. But tonight it belongs to the miners of the West Coast Pike River."[47] U2 played "One Tree Hill" on 25 March 2011, in Santiago, Chile, in a duet with Francisca Valenzuela, and dedicated to Victor Jara.[48] Its final performance was on 5 July 2011 in Chicago, Illinois, where it was dedicated to Greg Caroll to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death.[49]

In 2009, when asked about the likelihood of U2 performing the song, The Edge said "it's one we kind of keep for special occasions, like playing New Zealand." Bono added "it's a very special song that holds inside of it a lot of strong feelings, and I don't know if we're afraid of it or something, but we should be playing it more."[50] McGuinness noted that U2 found it difficult to play live.[36]

Track listing

All lyrics written by Bono, all music composed by U2.

7" vinyl,[19][26] casette[28]
No. Title Length
1. "One Tree Hill"   5:23
2. "Bullet the Blue Sky"   4:32
3. "Running to Stand Still"   4:20
Total length:


Chart (1988) Peak
New Zealand Singles Chart[29] 1


Additional performers[11][15]
  • Dick Armin – Raad cello
  • Paul Armin – Raad viola
  • Adele Armin – Raad violin

See also

  • List of covers of U2 songs - One Tree Hill


  1. ^ a b Pond, Steve (9 April 1987). "Review: The Joshua Tree". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 30 January 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Hogg, Colin (20 March 1987). "Album review: The Joshua Tree". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 1 February 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Graham (2004), pp. 34-35
  4. ^ a b c d McCormick (2006), p. 157
  5. ^ a b c d e f Stokes (2005), p. 75
  6. ^ a b c d McCormick (2006), p. 177
  7. ^ "One Tree Hill loses its tree". BBC News. 26 October 2000. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d de la Parra (2003), p. 78
  9. ^ a b c d McCormick (2006), p. 178
  10. ^ de la Parra (2003), p. 76
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h (2007) Album notes for The Joshua Tree 20th anniversary edition by U2 [Boxset]. Canada: Island Records (B0010304-00).
  12. ^ Mueller, Andrew (April 2009). "The Joshua Tree". The Ultimate Music Guide (Uncut) (U2): 59. 
  13. ^ a b c O'Hare, Colm (21 November 2007). "The Secret History of 'The Joshua Tree' 15/18". Hot Press. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Paul McGuinness; John Caddel (9 December 2007). Interview with Paul McGuinness (Radio broadcast). Dublin: Phantom FM. Dublin Rock Radio Ltd.. Event occurs at 5:50. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Trio gives U2 Raad-ical strings". Toronto Star: p. D14. 20 March 1987. 
  16. ^ Kootnikoff (2010), pp. 60–61
  17. ^ Irwin, Colin (14 March 1987). "Once, we were asked to set up an audience with the Pope...". Melody Maker. 
  18. ^ a b (1987) Album notes for The Joshua Tree by U2 [Vinyl]. United Kingdom: Island Records (U2 6).
  19. ^ a b c d e f (1988) Release notes for "One Tree Hill" by U2 (7" vinyl). New Zealand: Island Records (878 302-7).
  20. ^ a b c Chipkin (1999), pp. 69–77
  21. ^ Duffy, Thom (22 March 1987). "U2". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  22. ^ Harrington, Richard (22 March 1987). "U2 Can Be Famous; Breaking Into the Big Time With 'Joshua Tree'". The Washington Post: p. G1. 
  23. ^ Whiteley (2003), p. 170
  24. ^ Soper (2010), p. 72
  25. ^ Stockman (2005), p. 68
  26. ^ a b (1988) Release notes for "One Tree Hill" by U2 (7" vinyl). Australia: Island Records (K-338).
  27. ^ (1987) Release notes for "In God's Country" by U2 (12" vinyl). Canada: Island Records (IS-1167).
  28. ^ a b (1988) Release notes for "One Tree Hill" by U2 (7" vinyl). New Zealand: Island Records (878 302-4).
  29. ^ a b "U2 - One Tree Hill". Ultratop. Retrieved 24 November 2009. 
  30. ^ Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr. (April 1999). The Best of 1980–1990 (Videotape). Polygram. 
  31. ^ (2004) Album notes for Live from the Point Depot by U2 [Digital download]. Island Records.
  32. ^ Morse, Steve (1 March 1987). "U2's The Joshua Tree: A Spiritual Progress Report". The Boston Globe: p. B32. 
  33. ^ Graham, Bill (February 1987). "The Joshua Tree". Hot Press. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  34. ^ Rockwell, John (29 March 1987). "U2 makes a bid for 'great band' status". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  35. ^ O'Hare, Colm (21 November 2007). "The Secret History of 'The Joshua Tree' 14/18". Hot Press. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  36. ^ a b "Absolute McGuinness". Propaganda (7). October 1987. 
  37. ^ Breskin, David (8 October 1987). "Interview with Bono". Rolling Stone. 
  38. ^ a b c de la Parra (2003), p. 111
  39. ^ de la Parra (2003), pp. 117–121
  40. ^ de la Parra (2003), pp. 123–138
  41. ^ de la Parra (2003), p. 135
  42. ^ de la Parra (2003), p. 172
  43. ^ Williams, Willie (24 November 2006). "Willie's Diary: Show Day, Auckland". LiveNation. Retrieved 25 September 2011.  (subscription required)
  44. ^ Cohen, Jonathon (6 January 2007). "From Joshua Trees to Palm Trees". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 119 (1): 16–17. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  45. ^ "Nov. 25 2010: Auckland, NZ (Mt. Smart Stadium) show report". Live Nation. 25 November 2010. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  46. ^ Russell, Nicholas (26 November 2010). "U2 tribute to lost coal miners touches New Zealand". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax New Zealand. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  47. ^ "Nov. 26 2010: Auckland, NZ (Mt. Smart Stadium) show report". LiveNation. 26 November 2010. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  48. ^ "Mar. 25 2011: Santiago, CL (Estadio Nacional) show report". Live Nation. 25 March 2011. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  49. ^ "Jul. 5 2011: Chicago, IL, US (Soldier Field) show report". Live Nation. 5 July 2011. Archived from the original on 25 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  50. ^ Bono; The Edge (2 September 2010). Exclusive Interview with Bono and The Edge (Radio broadcast). New Zealand: The Rock. MediaWorks New Zealand. Event occurs at 4:16. 
  • Chipkin, Kenn (1999). U2 – The Joshua Tree: Authentic Record Transcriptions. London: Alfred Music Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7119-1315-8. 
  • de la Parra, Pimm Jal (2003). U2 Live: A Concert Documentary (second ed.). New York: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-7119-9198-9. 
  • Graham, Bill; van Oosten de Boer, Caroline (2004). U2: The Complete Guide to Their Music. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-9886-8. 
  • Kootnikoff, David (2010). U2: A Musical Biography. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-36523-7. 
  • Soper, Matt (2010). Raising Up a Testimony: Essays on Christianity in America. Longwood: Xulon Press. ISBN 978-1-6095-7818-3. 
  • Stockman, Steve (2005). Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 (Revised ed.). Orlando: Relevant Books. ISBN 0-9760357-5-8. 
  • Stokes, Niall (2005). U2: Into The Heart: The Stories Behind Every Song (Third ed.). New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-765-2. 
  • U2 (2006). McCormick, Neil. ed. U2 by U2. London: HarperCollins Publisher. ISBN 0-00-719668-7. 
  • Whiteley, Raewynne J.; Maynard, Beth (2003). Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. The New Church's Teachings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications. ISBN 978-0-5610-1223-7. 

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