The Story Behind Johnny Cash’s Cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”Rodney
How did Johnny Cash cover the Nine Inch Nails song ‘Hurt’? In 2002, Rick Rubin began working on an album with Johnny Cash. The legendary producer had worked with everyone from the Beastie Boys to Slayer. The two men went into the studio with the goal of creating a stripped-down, acoustic album. Hoping that it would showcase Cash’s voice and songwriting prowess.
Rubin spoke to Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs about convincing Cash to cover Nine Inch Nails ‘Hurt’. The legendary producer explained to Cash how great it would sound great on an acoustic guitar.
“I played him the song first and Johnny just looked at me like I was insane because the Nine Inch Nails version of the song is very noisy, and aggressive.” He said. “Johnny was wary! [Laughs] And I think I did a demo where I had a guitar player play it, and I said the words the way I imagined him saying it. Then when he heard the lyrics, and he heard the format of what it could be, he said, ‘Let’s try it.”
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When the two first met, Johnny Cash didn’t know who Rubin was. Rubin’s work wasn’t really to Cash’s taste. “He didn’t know who I was. He wanted to understand why I would want to work with him because why would anyone want to work with him? In his mind, he was done,” Rubin said. “I didn’t convince him. We just say and talked for a while, and I said, ‘Well, let’s just sit down and play me songs you love, and we’ll figure out what to do.’ He sat in my living room and he just started playing me these songs, most of which I had never heard, old country songs, or old folk songs, and it was magnificent.”
When asked how Hurt turned so great, Rubin said “I thought of the image of Johnny Cash as the mythical man in black. Any song he sang had to suit this mythical man in black,” Rubin said. “And one of the ones that seemed to have resonated with people after we did it was the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt. And if you listen to the words, it’s like looking back over a life of regret and remorse.”
The music video clip for Hurt received nominations in seven categories at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. It won the award for Best Cinematography. If you haven’t seen it before check it out below. It’s not only a great song but a great clip too!