Am, C, D... those simple picked chords ringing out on an acoustic aren’t flashy. But they carry so much weight.
Cash didn’t automatically connect with Hurt – despite the themes of addiction and hitting rock bottom, an affliction Cash had suffered and a place he had been in his younger years. “We were looking for a song that we felt had an impact,” Cash explained to Time’s Lev Grossman in his last ever interview.
“[Rick Rubin] asked me what I thought of it. I said, ‘I think it’s probably the best anti-drug song I ever heard, but I don’t think it’s for me.’ And he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because it’s not my style, it’s not the way I do it.’ And he said, ‘What if it were?’ And I said, ‘Well, I could give it a try.’ So, I went out and recorded it. When I listened to it, I felt it came out all right.”
It’s quite an understatement from The Man In Black, but the magic you hear on the recording didn’t just come out of thin air: Cash worked hard for it. And he had to inhabit Hurt before he could track it. “I would just get down and do it until I felt like I was doing it with feeling,” Cash told Time. “I probably sang the song 100 times before I went in and recorded it, because I had to make it mine.”