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James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich were confused, angry and “freaked out” when they first saw Metallica’s One video

Mixing stark performance footage with visuals and dialogue from Dalton Trumbo’s 1971 anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun, Metallica’s striking, disturbing and ground-breaking video for …And Justice For All-era single One is regularly acclaimed as one of the greatest promo videos in rock music history. But as co-director Michael Salomon recalls, band-leaders James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich were initially far from convinced by what they saw as the video came together. 

Interviewed exclusively for Metal Hammer’s heavyweight tribute to Metallica as the quartet edge towards their 40th anniversary, Salomon remembers that his first meeting with the band was more than a little tense… not least when James Hetfield stormed out of screening of a rough cut of the video, bluntly stating that he had no idea what was going on.

“I’d spoken at length with Lars [Ulrich] about how we were going to integrate the music with the visuals, and he was very wary of the whole video process”,” the co-director recalls. “He basically told me a thousand times not to fuck this up.

“Before we shot the performance, I took the song and the movie, and edited together a rough cut with dialogue and visuals, and showed it to them. After about one minute, James [Hetfield] - who was kinda scary to me, I’d heard stories – said, ‘I don’t know what the fuck this is’ and got up and walked away. Not the ideal start.”

 As Salomon recalls, Lars Ulrich was also “pretty upset” when presented with the first provisional cut of the video.

“More than half of that first version was the film, and dialogue, and Lats said, ‘This is our first video, and you’re covering up all our music!’ He was freaked out. We went back and forth for a month before we agreed on the right balance.”

The One video debuted on MTV in America on January 20, 1989: it immediately struck a chord with metal fans who were tired of seeing strippers, motorbikes and back-combed candy floss hair in every singe metal video. 

“As I recall it was the last video played on MTV’s late night heavy metal show, so it aired at about 3:30am on the west coast, where I was,” Salomon remembers. “I thought that would be the only time slot MTV would ever give it, because it was so dark and unusual. But a week after it aired, MTV had so many requests that they started playing it in daytime, among Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi videos, which was a huge surprise to me. It really affected people, it was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment no-one could have predicted.

“I’’m surprised and humbled by its lasting impact. Someone recently sent me a copy of Rolling Stone featuring a 100 Best Videos Of All Time list, and it was in the low 40s [number 42]: for a lot of people One is a very visceral and important part of their lives. To me, it was a difficult job, and a video that traumatised a generation of 10 to 13 year-old boys!”

The new issue of Metal Hammer features 40 brand new interviews wi conducted with the group’s trusted inner circle: childhood friends, rock star heroes, ex-bandmates, the producers who helped shape their sound, the music industry players who set them on the path to glory and musician peers from thrash metal’s ‘Big Four’ who watched on in wonderment as James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich willed their scrappy Los Angeles garage band to become the biggest metal act in the world. It’s on-sale now.