"It was like someone kissing your girlfriend - it felt invasive": Trent Reznor on first hearing Johnny Cash's Hurt

It's 20 years to the day since we lost The Man In Black. The country star was one of the genre's defining stars throughout an uncompromising career that spanned half a century.

"Having Johnny Cash, one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, want to cover your song, that's something that matters to me"

But for many (at the time) younger music fans, it was the Man In Black's remorselessly sparse 2002 cover of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt and its accompanying video that made them sit up and take notice of the country legend.

Hurt originally debuted on Nine Inch Nails' 1994 album The Downward Spiral, before Cash performed it on the 4th of his epic American Recording series of albums, under the guidance of uber-producer Rick Rubin.

When they met, Cash had no idea who Rubin was. Speaking on the BBC's Desert Island Discs, the producer said, “He didn’t know who I was, but 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 sat 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.”

Later, Rubin said, “I played him the song [Hurt] first and Johnny just looked at me like I was insane, because the Nine Inch Nails version of the song is very noisy, aggressive,” 

“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, and then when he heard the lyrics, and he heard the format of what it could be, he said, ‘Let’s try it.’”

"I'd been friends with Rick Rubin for several years," he said at the time. "He called me to ask how I'd feel if Johnny Cash covered Hurt. 

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Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor

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In 2008, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor spoke to British tabloid The Sun about his first hearing of Cash's spine-tinglingly emotive version.

"I said I'd be very flattered but was given no indication it would actually be recorded.

"Two weeks went by. Then I got a CD in the post. I listened to it and it was very strange. It was this other person inhabiting my most personal song.

"I'd known where I was when I wrote it. I know what I was thinking about. I know how I felt. Hearing it was like someone kissing your girlfriend. It felt invasive."

It was the moving video, though, that made it all fall into place for the Nine Inch Nails star: "It really, really made sense and I thought what a powerful piece of art.

"I never got to meet Johnny but I'm happy I contributed the way I did. It felt like a warm hug. I have goosebumps right now thinking about it.

"Having Johnny Cash, one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, want to cover your song, that's something that matters to me. It's not so much what other people think but the fact that this guy felt that it was worthy of interpreting.

"He said afterwards it was a song that sounds like one he would have written in the '60s and that's wonderful".

Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.