Hurt (Nine Inch Nails song)

Single by Nine Inch Nails
from the album The Downward Spiral
Released April 17, 1995
Format Promotional CD
Length 6:12
Writer(s) Trent Reznor
Producer(s) Trent Reznor
Nine Inch Nails singles chronology
"The Perfect Drug"

"Hurt" is a song written by Trent Reznor first released on Nine Inch Nails' 1994 album The Downward Spiral. It received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996 but ultimately lost to Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know". In 2002, "Hurt" was covered as a swan song by country music star Johnny Cash to commercial and critical acclaim. It attracted praise from Reznor for its "sincerity and meaning" while ending up being one of Cash's final hits released before his death, the related music video being considered one of the greatest of all time by publications such as NME.


Originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails, the song "Hurt" has been adapted and covered by several artists, including Johnny Cash and Leona Lewis. The song includes references to self-harm and heroin addiction, although the overall meaning of the song is disputed. Some listeners contend that the song acts as a suicide note written by the album's protagonist, as a result of his depression, while others claim that it describes the difficult process of finding a reason to live in spite of depression and pain.[3]


Original Nine Inch Nails single

A promotional single was distributed in April 1995, containing censored and uncensored mixes. The disc, Interscope Records PRCD 6179, is labeled 'Halo Ten', like the earlier 'Piggy' promotional disc. Neither is considered an official Halo, Further Down the Spiral being the official Halo Ten.

Track listing

No. Title Length
1. "Hurt (Quiet version)" (Clean) 5:04
2. "Hurt (Live version)" (Clean) 5:15
3. "Hurt (Album version)" (Clean) 6:20
4. "Hurt (Quiet version)" (Soiled) 5:21
5. "Hurt (Live version)" (Soiled) 5:15
6. "Hurt (Album version)" (Soiled) 6:14

Chart performance

Chart (1995) Peak
Canada Alternative Songs (RPM)[4] 8
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[5] 8
US Billboard Hot 100 Airplay[6] 54

Music video

The music video for Nine Inch Nail's original version of "Hurt" is a live performance that appears on Closure and the DualDisc re-release of The Downward Spiral. The audio portion appears on the UK version of Further Down the Spiral. The version released on Closure differs slightly from the video originally aired on MTV. In addition to using an uncensored audio track, the Closure edit shows alternate views of the audience and performance at several points during the video.

To film the video, a scrim was dropped in front of the band on stage, onto which various images, such as war atrocities, a nuclear bomb test, survivors of the Battle of Stalingrad, a snake staring at the camera, and a time-lapse film of a fox decomposing in reverse, were projected, adding visual symbolism to fit the song's subject matter. A spotlight was cast on Reznor so that he can be seen through the images. Compared to the live renditions performed on future tours, this version most resembles the studio recording with its use of the song's original samples.

There are also official live recordings on the later releases And All that Could Have Been and Beside You in Time. Each version features distinct instrumentation by the varying members of the band in the respective eras.

Live performance

During the Dissonance tour in 1995, when Nine Inch Nails opened for David Bowie, Bowie sang "Hurt" in a duet with Reznor, backed by an original melody and beat. This served as the conclusion to the dual act that began each Bowie set.

During the Fragility tours, the progression was performed by Robin Finck on acoustic guitar rather than on piano.

Since the 2005–06 Live: With Teeth tour, Nine Inch Nails has been playing "Hurt" in a more toned-down style, featuring only Reznor on keyboard and vocals until the final chorus, when the rest of the band joins in.

The song was brought back to its original form during the Lights In The Sky tour in 2008, before returning to the toned down style on the 2009 Wave Goodbye tour.

In popular culture

Johnny Cash version

Single by Johnny Cash
from the album American IV: The Man Comes Around
B-side "Personal Jesus"/"Wichita Lineman"
Released March 2003
Format CD single
Recorded 2002
Length 3:38
Writer(s) Trent Reznor
Producer(s) Rick Rubin
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"The Man Comes Around"
"God's Gonna Cut You Down"

In 2002, Johnny Cash covered the song for his album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. The line "crown of shit" was changed to "crown of thorns", not only removing profanity from the lyrics, but also more directly referencing Christ and Cash's devout Christianity. Its accompanying video, featuring images from Cash's life and directed by Mark Romanek, was named the best video of the year by the Grammy Awards and CMA Awards, and the best video of all time by NME in July 2011.[11] The cover was released on a single with the B-side "Personal Jesus", a cover of the Depeche Mode single.

Cash's cover of the song has sold 2,071,000 downloads in the United States as of November 2016.[12]


When Trent Reznor was asked if Cash could cover his song, Reznor said he was "flattered" but worried that "the idea sounded a bit gimmicky." He became a fan of Cash's version, however, once he saw the music video.

I pop the video in, and wow... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore... It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.[13]

Music video

The music video was directed by former NIN collaborator Mark Romanek[14] who sought to capture the essence of Cash, both in his youth and in his older years. In a montage of shots of Cash's early years, twisted imagery of fruit and flowers in various states of decay, seem to capture both his legendary past and the stark and seemingly cruel reality of the present. According to literature professor Leigh H. Edwards, the music video portrays "Cash's own paradoxical themes".[1]

Romanek had this to say about his decision to focus on the House of Cash museum in Nashville.

It had been closed for a long time; the place was in such a state of dereliction. That's when I got the idea that maybe we could be extremely candid about the state of Johnny's health, as candid as Johnny has always been in his songs.[15]

71 years of age at the time of filming (in February 2003), Cash had serious health problems and his frailty is clearly evident in the video. He died seven months later (September 12);[16] his wife, June Carter Cash, who participated in the video (she is shown gazing at her husband in several sequences), died three months after filming (May 15), closely preceding him in death.

In July 2011, the music video was named one of "The 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos" by Time.[17] It was ranked the greatest music video of all time by NME.[18]

The house where Cash's music video for 'Hurt' was shot, which was Cash's home for nearly 30 years, was destroyed in a fire on April 10, 2007.[19]

In popular culture


Track listing

  1. "Hurt" – 3:38
  2. "Personal Jesus" – 3:21
  3. "Wichita Lineman" – 3:06

Chart performance

Chart (2003) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[32] 25
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[33] 39
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[34] 33
US Billboard Hot Country Songs[35] 56
Chart (2006) Peak
Norway (VG-lista)[36] 8
Chart (2012) Peak
Germany (Official German Charts)[37] 68
Chart (2016) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[38] 66
France (SNEP)[39] 52
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[40] 33

Other cover versions


  1. 1 2 Edwards 2009, pp. 59–60
  2. Lewis, Luke (March 5, 2009). "Release The Bats - It's The 20 Greatest Goth Tracks". Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  3. Huxley (1997), p. 104
  4. "RPM - Alternative 30". RPM (magazine). Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  5. "Nine Inch Nails - Alternative Songs". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  6. "Nine Inch Nails - Radio Songs". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  7. Sinacola, Dom (17 December 2015). "I Will Make You Hurt: Grief in Rick and Morty, The Leftovers and Heart of a Dog". Paste. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  8. Top Ten Most Depressing Alternative Rock Songs Retrieved 5 January 2015
  9. The Best Ever Acoustic Rock Songs: Top 40 Retrieved 20 October 2014
  10. Johnny Cash's 'Hurt' still the greatest country video
    Entertainment Weekly
    Retrieved 9 August 2016
  11. "NME names Johnny Cash's 'Hurt' the greatest music video of all time". NME. July 5, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  12. Bjorke, Matt (November 26, 2016). "Top 30 Digital Singles Chart: November 28, 2016". Roughstock.
  13. Alternative Press #194. September 2004.
  14. "Director Mark Romanek Tackles 'Never Let Me Go'". Fresh Air. September 23, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  15. Binelli, Mark (February 20, 2003). "Johnny Cash Makes 'Em Hurt". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  16. "Johnny Cash, 'Hurt' & Trent Reznor". Stagepass News. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  17. Levy, Glen (July 28, 2011). "The 30 All-TIME Best Music Videos - Johnny Cash, Hurt". Time. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  18. "100 Greatest Music Videos". NME. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  19. "Fire destroys Johnny Cash home". BBC News. April 11, 2007. Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  20. "Inside I'm Dancing (2004) Soundtracks". October 15, 2004 via IMDb.
  21. "Johnny Cash".
  22. "Johnny Cash Soundtracks First Trailer For The Depressing New Wolverine Movie - SPIN". October 20, 2016.
  23. matt smith (January 7, 2014). "Sky Ashes Montage 2013/14" via YouTube.
  24. Theundertakerfan85 (October 19, 2009). "Eddie Guerrero Tribute Show in RAW part 1" via YouTube.
  25. "Top Singles of the 2000s". Rate Your Music. Retrieved September 17, 2009.
  26. Billboard - Artist Chart History - Johnny Cash
  27. "UpVenue's Top 10 Best Music Covers". Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  28. "Johnny Cash - Memories Shared". Songstuff. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
  29. " "September 12, 2003 Johnny Cash Remembered By Justin, Bono, Trent Reznor, Others"". Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  30. "Sky News 03/05/2010". Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  31. "150 Best Tracks Of The Past 15 Years". Nme.Com. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  32. "Chart Track: Week 45, 2003". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  33. "Johnny Cash: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  34. "Johnny Cash - Alternative Songs". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  35. "Johnny Cash - Hot Country Songs". Billboard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  36. " – Johnny Cash – Hurt". VG-lista. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  37. " – Johnny Cash – Hurt". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  38. "ARIA CHART WATCH #392". auspOp. October 29, 2016. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  39. " – Johnny Cash – Hurt" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  40. "Archive Chart: 2016-10-28". Scottish Singles Top 40. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  41. O'Brien, Jon. "2Cellos - 2Cellos". Allmusic. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  42. Loftus, Johnny. "Sevendust - Southside Double-Wide: Acoustic Live". Allmusic. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  43. "Gregorian - The Dark Side". Allmusic. Retrieved January 3, 2016.


Further reading

External links

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