Johnny Cash – Hurt


[Verse 1]
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend?
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

[Verse 2]
I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become
My sweetest friend?
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way


“Hurt” official music video performed by Johnny Cash.

This song is about realizing consequence and regret. It sends a powerful message that we should all proceed through life wisely, because there is nothing worse than being stuck with a label, a pain, a sickness, or a death, that we know beforehand will leave us only wishing things had been different and that we could change the choices we made.

[Produced by Rick Rubin]


Hurt” is a song by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails from their second studio album, The Downward Spiral (1994), written by band leader Trent Reznor. It was released on April 17, 1995 as a promotional single from the album. The song received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996, but ultimately lost to Alanis Morissette‘s “You Oughta Know“.

In 2003, “Hurt” was covered by Johnny Cash to commercial and critical acclaim; it was one of Cash’s final hits released before his death, and the related music video being considered one of the greatest of all time by publications such as NME. Reznor praised Cash’s interpretation of the song for its “sincerity and meaning”, going as far as to say “that song isn’t mine anymore.”[2]


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 song’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 and does not have much to do with the storyline.[3]

Music video

The music video for Nine Inch Nails’ original version of “Hurt” is a live performance that was recorded before the show in Omaha, Nebraska on February 13, 1995 and can be found 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.[citation needed]

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 performances

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

Track listing

  • US promotional CD single[5]
  1. “Hurt” (quiet version) (clean) – 5:04
  2. “Hurt” (live version) (clean) – 5:15
  3. “Hurt” (album version) (clean) – 6:16
  4. “Hurt” (quiet version) (soiled) – 5:21
  5. “Hurt” (live version) (soiled) – 5:15
  6. “Hurt” (album version) (soiled) – 6:13



Chart (1995) Peak
Canada Rock/Alternative (RPM)[6] 8
US Radio Songs (Billboard)[7] 54
US Alternative Songs (Billboard)[8] 8

Johnny Cash version

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.[12] The single contains a cover of Depeche Mode‘s “Personal Jesus” as a B-side.

Cash’s cover of the song had sold 2,148,000 downloads in the United States as of March 2017.[13]


When 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.[14]

Music video

The music video was directed by former NIN collaborator Mark Romanek[15] 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.[16]

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, on September 12;[17] his wife, June Carter Cash, who participated in the video (she is shown gazing at her husband in two sequences), died three months after filming, on 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.[18] It was ranked the greatest music video of all time by NME.[19]

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.[20]

In popular culture


  • The Johnny Cash cover was given the Country Music Association award for “Single of the Year” in 2003. It ranked as CMT‘s top video for 2003, No. 1 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Country Music Videos the following year, and No. 1 on the Top 40 Most Memorable Music Videos on MuchMoreMusic’s Listed in October 2007. As of March 2016, the single occupies the number nine spot on Rate Your Music‘s Top Singles of the 2000s.[27] The song is also Cash’s sole chart entry on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, where it hit No. 33 in 2003.[28] In June 2009, the song was voted No. 1 in UpVenue’s Top 10 Best Music Covers.[29]
  • “Hurt” was nominated for six awards at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, winning for Best Cinematography. With the video, Johnny Cash became the oldest artist ever nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.[30] Justin Timberlake, who won Best Male Video that year for “Cry Me a River“, said in his acceptance speech that the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video should have gone to Cash.[31]
  • The music video won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video.
  • In July 2009, Cash’s version of ‘Hurt’ was voted in at number 60 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of all time, Australia‘s largest music poll.
  • Rolling Stone ranked Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ as number 15 of the 50 best songs of the decade (RS 1094/1095).
  • In May 2010, ‘Hurt’ was voted the fifth most influential video of all time by MySpace.[32]
  • CMT had it ranked as the number 2 song of the decade on their show of November 13 ‘Songs of the Decade’.
  • In October 2011, NME placed it at number 35 on its list “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years”.[33]

Track listing

  • European CD single
  1. “Hurt” – 3:38
  2. Personal Jesus” – 3:21
  3. Wichita Lineman” – 3:06
  4. “Hurt” (music video)


Chart (2003) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[34] 25
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[35] 39
US Alternative Songs (Billboard)[36] 33
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[37] 56
Chart (2006) Peak
Norway (VG-lista)[38] 8
Chart (2012) Peak
Germany (Official German Charts)[39] 68
Chart (2016) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[40] 66
France (SNEP)[41] 52
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[42] 33

Other cover versions

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