Why James Hetfield walked out after watching Metallica's first music video

'We went back and forth for a month before we agreed on the right balance'
James Hetfield of Metallica
Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

Back in the early, ...And Justice For All days of Metallica's career, the band was confronted with the fancy new promotional tool of the music video -- and their first foray into the medium was fraught with turmoil.

Not truly understanding what exactly, and why exactly they were undertaking the project, at one point frontman James Hetfield walked away angrily after seeing a premature version of the now-famous clip.

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If you know, you know; Metallica's very first music video for "One" clocks in at 7 minutes, 44 seconds -- 18 seconds longer than the actual track, due to sampled movie footage interspersed throughout the clip taken from 1971's anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

The video's co-director, Michael Salomon recently spoke with Metal Hammer for part of their series celebrating the band's 40 years together, discussing how Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich were more than skeptical about what the final product would eventually turn out to be. “I’d spoken at length with Lars about how we were going to integrate the music with the visuals, and he was very wary of the whole video process”, Salomon explained. “He basically told me a thousand times not to f*** 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 -- who was kinda scary to me, I’d heard stories -- said, ‘I don’t know what the f*** this is’ and got up and walked away. Not the ideal start," Solomon added.

Lars apparently was also not feeling an early version of the now-iconic video that he was shown. “More than half of that first version was the film, and dialogue," Solomon remembers, "and Lars 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.”

Metallica's "One" debuted on MTV in the U.S. on January 20, 1989. Solomon recalls, "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."

In a weird, alternate universe, James Hetfield wouldn’t be Metallica’s frontman -- and that was almost the case in their recruiting efforts of a lead singer from another L.A. band early in their career. Wonder if there's even a "One" in that realm. Luckily, we'll never know.

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