The Story Behind How Producer Rick Rubin Got Johnny Cash To Cover Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Hurt’

Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash Facebook / Trent Reznor: Nine Inch Nails Facebook
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Sometimes you hear a cover of a song and it blows the original out of the water; when it comes to such covers, there are lots of folks who prefer Johnny Cash‘s cover of “Hurt” compared to the original Nine Inch Nails version. Listen, we love the Nine Inch Nails version of the song, but that Cash cover… holy shit. Johnny brings such a level of heartache to his version of the track, and it gets us really feeling the feels.

However, at first, Cash was not super on board for covering the song. Per a new interview with Lauren Larverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, music producer Rick Rubin shares how he was able to convince Johnny to cover the Nine Inch Nails song. Rick helped produce Cash’s album American IV: The Man Comes Around (the record that features Johnny’s cover).

During this interview, Rubin talks about playing the song for Johnny and how the country singer was initially turned off by the track. However, after Rubin played the song himself and gave Johnny an idea of how it might sound coming from the country star, well, the rest is history. (The following quotes have been transcribed by Musicrader):

“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, 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.’”

Later on in the conversation, Rubin talks about working with Johnny on American IV: The Man Comes Around, and mentions the following about “Hurt”:

“I thought of the image of Johnny Cash as the mythical man in black, and any song he sang had to suit this mythical man in black. 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.”

We are glad to hear that things ultimately worked out and we got that amazing cover. But now we have to ask you dear reader – Which version of “Hurt” do you prefer more? The Johnny Cash version, or the Nine Inch Nails original?