The Original Vs. The Cover – “Hurt”

This month’s ‘The Original Vs. The Cover’s focusing on the Nine Inch Nails Song “Hurt”.  The song is one of my favorite Nine Inch Nails songs and I am not a huge fan of the band, but this song always struck a chord with me.  However, it was the cover of this song by a gentleman who goes by the moniker of Johnny Cash that made me stop and pay attention to this song (maybe you have heard of him).  It was one of the most surprising song choices for Cash to cover, but damn! did he make it his own song.  Let’s start off with the Original version of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails.

NINE INCH NAILS:

The song, “Hurt”, was written by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor and is off their album ‘The Downward Spiral’.  For those not familiar with the band, their style is very industrial rock and has a very metalic sound.  This song is no different other than the slow, plodding pace of song.  It comes at you with such a sadness and a dark tone that you immediately feel the pain the singer is going through.  The opening lines define the song right out of the gate…”I hurt myself today / To see if I still feel”.

The overall self-loathing of the song, the self-inflicted pain, the depression, the drug use, and all the struggles the singer is feeling is captured in the lyrics and the music is expressing that same feeling in perfect harmony.  It is hard to describe the sounds, but the metallic scratching sound and what sounds like a wind blowing all scream pain.  I feel Trent has really captured an essence with this song.

JOHNNY CASH:

I think when everyone heard Johnny Cash cover this song, everyone was taken aback.  What a bold song choice for such a legend to perform.  Mr. Cash took this song turned into his own piece of pain and sadness.  From what I can find, Cash was not keen on doing this song, but with a push from his producer, Rick Rubin, he brought us a cover that felt fresh and new.

Johnny’s version of the song completely captures the sadness of the original.  The main difference is the style.  Johnny strips it down to only an acoustic guitar, a piano and his voice. Cash takes the song and actually changes a few things lyrically.  He removes any profanity such as the line “Crown of Shit” he replaces it with “Crown of Thorns” and ends up giving the song more of a religious slant to it.

What makes this song really special for me is the music video.  At the time of this song, Johnny Cash was in his last few years of life and his health was deteriorating.  It is one of the last big hits that he has before his passing.  The video shows the elder Cash singing the song and interspersed with images of his life.  The video is timed perfectly with the music and the flashing back and forth between current images and older images.  It is really moving makes for such a grand video.  Not very often does the video enhance the song, but this one is the perfect companion piece.

Do we have a winner?  Yes, I actually do. As much as I love the NIN version, it is the Johnny Cash version I love the most.  Now, I am biased as I am a bigger Cash fan than I am a NIN fan.  However, even Trent Reznor thought Cash’s version was special.  He is quoted as saying the following in September 2004 with the Alternative Press (and from wikipedia):

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.

Now you tell me which version you like.  Or is there another version of the song you like more as there have been several versions of the song.  Here are a few (again from Wikipedia):

  • Leona Lewis – 2011 EP, Hurt: The EP.
  • 2Cellos released on their self-titled 2011 album, based on Johnny Cash’s version.
  • Sevendust’s live cover of the song was featured on their 2004 live album, Southside Double-Wide: Acoustic Live.
  • Gregorian released a Gregorian chant-inspired cover of the song on its 2004 album, The Dark Side.
  • Hundredth released a cover on their 2011 EP Let Go.
  • Jean-Marc Lederman’s musical project La Femme Verte recorded a cover on its 2010 album Small Distortions, with Julianne Regan on vocals, using the lyrics rewritten for Johnny Cash’s version.
  • Eddie Vedder made a live cover version in 2008, referencing it as “borrowed from Chicago”.[47][48]
  • Na Yoon-sun covered the song on her 2013 album Lento.
  • The song is used during the opening credits of the 2016 French TV series Glacé (The Frozen Dead), arranged and conducted by Alexandre Lessertisseur and sung by the Sofia Session Choir.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s selection.  If you want to read the lyrics, they are below.  Have a great day!

“Hurt”

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

I wear this crown of shit
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

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

Written by Trent Reznor

15 thoughts on “The Original Vs. The Cover – “Hurt”

  1. I loved the Cash version. That entire album was intense. You’re right, you could feel the sadness in it. He was ready to go at that point. I think he was always a bit of a tormented soul, and this album was his swan song.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cash’s version by a country mile. I remember hearing it and thinking there was a weight to it that the original just didn’t have. Naturally, Cash’s voice lent further gravity to it… and then seeing that video… jings. I still find that incredibly emotional.

    Liked by 1 person

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