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Music

The Nine Inch Nails song Trent Reznor considered a "throwaway"

@TylerGolsen

For many original fans, ‘Head Like a Hole’ was the first time that they had ever heard Nine Inch Nails. As the first song on the band’s debut album Pretty Hate Machine, ‘Head Like a Hole’ was also the band’s second single and first video to get major play on networks like MTV.

An instantly iconic combination of dance beats and aggressive guitar rock, ‘Head Like a Hole’ perfectly represented Nine Inch Nails‘ push of industrial metal into a more commercial and mainstream direction. But after finishing the song, Trent Reznor felt that the song wasn’t as strong a representation of the band as the rest of their debut was.

“I don’t remember what I was thinking about at the time, but it was pretty much about yelling at a beast without putting a face to it,” Reznor told Kerrang in 2005. “I wrote it at the last minute as a throwaway. The rest of Pretty Hate Machine was already written, and we’d revised everything else about nine times.”

Reznor initially had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that ‘Head Like a Hole’ was the band’s first hit. “Up until then song-writing had been a meticulous and agonising process, but this took me 15 minutes in my bedroom. The fact that it produced this huge reaction really pissed me off because I hadn’t agonised over it.”

“I was still back in Cleveland, and I had a job working at a studio where I’d spend time at night learning how to record and engineer things and I tried to work out how my voice sounded,” Reznor continued. “I was playing everything myself but I had no confidence in playing guitar. I was convinced that if any real players heard it they’d laugh. Now I know that’s bullshit but at the time I was very insecure.”

‘Head Like a Hole’ features more prominent guitar than the rest of Pretty Hate Machine, but the track is still propelled by electronic instruments like drum machines and Reznor’s favoured mix of keyboards and sequencers. Despite not thinking too highly of the song, ‘Head Like a Hole’ nonetheless became an essential track in pushing NIN further into the mainstream public’s consciousness. Disenchanted with the frivolousness of success, it would take Reznor half a decade to produce another studio album.