It might seem odd to feature a country singer in the Rock Rewind, but then again, Johnny Cash was “crossover” before crossover became a thing. He’s always appealed to the counter-culture in some way, and when he released his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” in 2003, it was an indelible moment in music history that can’t be overlooked.
Already in failing health while recording his American series of albums, Cash had taken a tone of reflection and regret in his song selections, so it seems appropriate that he recorded “Hurt” in 2002 for American IV: The Man Comes Around. It was the accompanying music video, however, released in March 2003, that truly made Cash’s version of the song take on a life of its own. Directed by Mark Romenek, it features a montage of shots from Johnny Cash’s earlier days, with the cinematography taking on a mournful tone to match the song itself. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who had written the song, was a bit apprehensive in giving permission for Cash to record it, but when he saw the video, he was impressed and convinced. “That song isn’t mine anymore,” he told Alternative Press in 2004. The video went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Music Video of the Year, and has since made several “best of” lists on numerous rock publications.
June Carter Cash passed away two months after the video was released, and Johnny five months after that—but not before recording over 60 more tunes. However, “Hurt” is one of the last singles released during Cash’s lifetime, and is appropriately considered by many to be his epitaph.