Head Like a Hole

Last updated
"Head Like a Hole"
Head like a hole US.jpg
Single by Nine Inch Nails
from the album Pretty Hate Machine
ReleasedMarch 22, 1990 (1990-03-22)
Format Compact disc, 12"
Label TVT
Songwriter(s) Trent Reznor
Nine Inch Nails singles chronology
"Down in It"
"Head Like a Hole"
Halo numbers chronology
Halo 2
Halo 3
Halo 4
Alternative cover
International cover

"Head Like a Hole" is a song by the American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released as the second single from the group's debut album, Pretty Hate Machine .

Industrial rock music genre

Industrial rock is an alternative rock genre that fuses industrial music and rock music.

Nine Inch Nails American industrial rock band

Nine Inch Nails, commonly abbreviated as NIN, is an American industrial rock band formed in 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio. Singer, producer and instrumentalist Trent Reznor was the only permanent member until the addition of English musician Atticus Ross in 2016.

<i>Pretty Hate Machine</i> 1989 studio album by Nine Inch Nails

Pretty Hate Machine is the debut studio album by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released on October 20, 1989 by TVT Records. The album is compiled of reworked tracks from the Purest Feeling demo, as well as songs composed after its original recording. Production of the record was handled by Flood and Trent Reznor, among other contributors.


The song is an industrial rock song with elements of electronic and dance music, and is one of the more rock-oriented songs on the album. Lyrically, it discusses betrayal and angst.

"Head Like a Hole" is among the band's most famous songs, and remains both a fan and critic favorite. It enjoyed heavy rotation on the radio at the time of its release, eventually reaching number 9 on Billboard 's Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart. It has been covered by several artists, including Devo, Showbread, AFI, Korn, Buckcherry, and Miley Cyrus.

<i>Billboard</i> (magazine) American music magazine

Billboard is an American entertainment media brand owned by the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group, a division of Eldridge Industries. It publishes pieces involving news, video, opinion, reviews, events, and style, and is also known for its music charts, including the Hot 100 and Billboard 200, tracking the most popular songs and albums in different genres. It also hosts events, owns a publishing firm, and operates several TV shows.

Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles is a chart published weekly by Billboard magazine in the United States. The chart lists the top songs that have not yet charted on the main Billboard Hot 100. Chart rankings are based on radio airplay, sales, and streams. In its initial years, the chart listed 15 positions, but expanded to as many as 36 during the 1960s, particularly during years when over 700 singles made the Billboard Hot 100 chart. From 1974 to 1985, the chart consisted of 10 positions; since 1992, the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart has listed 25 positions.

Devo American rock band

Devo is an American rock band from Akron, Ohio formed in 1973. Their classic lineup consisted of two sets of brothers, the Mothersbaughs and the Casales, along with Alan Myers. The band had a No. 14 Billboard chart hit in 1980 with the single "Whip It", the song that gave the band mainstream popularity.


Trent Reznor wrote "Head Like a Hole" in 1988, after touring with Skinny Puppy. Flood, Adrian Sherwood, and Keith LeBlanc were co-producers of the song, and it was recorded in 1989. [1] "Head Like a Hole" was one of the last songs completed for the album, since Flood did not arrive to the studio until the completion of Depeche Mode's Violator (1990). [2]

Trent Reznor American musician

Michael Trent Reznor is an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and film score composer. He is the founder, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, which he founded in 1988 and of which he was the sole official member until adding long-time collaborator Atticus Ross as a permanent member in 2016. His first release under the Nine Inch Nails name, the 1989 album Pretty Hate Machine, was a commercial and critical success. He has since released nine Nine Inch Nails studio albums. He left Interscope Records in 2007 and was an independent recording artist until signing with Columbia Records in 2012.

Skinny Puppy band

Skinny Puppy is a Canadian industrial music group formed in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1982. The group is widely considered to be one of the founders of the electro-industrial genre. Initially envisioned as an experimental side project by cEvin Key while he was in the new wave band Images in Vogue, Skinny Puppy evolved into a full-time project with the addition of vocalist Nivek Ogre. Over the course of a dozen studio albums and many live tours, Key and Ogre have been the only constant members. Other members have included Dwayne Goettel (1986–1995), Dave "Rave" Ogilvie, Mark Walk (2003–present), and a number of guests, including Bill Leeb, Al Jourgensen (1989), and many others.

Mark Ellis, known by his professional pseudonym Flood, is a British post-punk and alternative rock record producer and audio engineer. Flood's list of work includes projects with recording acts like New Order, U2, Nine Inch Nails, Marc and the Mambas, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Ministry, The Charlatans, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Erasure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey, Foals, a-ha, Orbital, Sigur Rós, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers, White Lies, Pop Will Eat Itself and Warpaint. His co-production collaborations have included projects with Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, and longtime collaborator Alan Moulder, with whom he co-founded the Assault & Battery studio complex. In 2006, his work with U2 led to his sharing of the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Music and lyrics

"Head Like a Hole" has been classified as an industrial rock and electronic rock song. [3] [4] Also recognized as an "industrial dance anthem," [5] it takes its influence from Ministry, as well as the thrash metal genre. [6] The tempo is 115 BPM, and it is played in the key of E. [1]

Electronic rock is a music genre that involves a combination of rock music and electronic music, featuring instruments typically found within both genres. It originates from the late 1960s, when rock bands such as the Doors, Pink Floyd, Yes, and the Moody Blues began incorporating the Moog synthesizer into their sound. Sampling and tape manipulation would also become common with the genre. Electronic rock acts usually fuse elements from other music styles, including punk rock, industrial rock, hip hop, techno, and synth-pop, which has helped spur subgenres such as indietronica, dance-punk, and electroclash. Since the late 2000s, electronic rock has become increasingly popular.

Industrial dance music is a North American alternative term for electronic body music and electro-industrial music. Fans who are associated with this music scene, refer to themselves as rivetheads.

Ministry (band) American industrial metal band

Ministry is an American industrial metal band founded in 1981 by Al Jourgensen in Chicago, Illinois. Originally a synth-pop outfit, Ministry's sound changed as they became one of the pioneers of industrial metal in the late 1980s. The band's lineup has frequently changed throughout its history, with the exception of Jourgensen who is the band's main producer, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. Notable musicians who have contributed to the band's studio or live activities include vocalists Nivek Ogre, Chris Connelly and Burton C. Bell, guitarists Mike Scaccia and Tommy Victor, bassists Paul Barker, Paul Raven, Jason Christopher, Tony Campos and Paul D'Amour, drummers Bill Rieflin, Martin Atkins, Rey Washam and Roy Mayorga, keyboardist John Bechdel, and rappers and producers DJ Swamp and Arabian Prince.

The chords of this song are similar to the project's debut single, "Down in It". In contrast to "Down in It", "Head Like a Hole" has a longer intro, lasts roughly one minute longer (the song is five minutes long in its aggregate length), is heavy metal music-oriented, and has no rapping. [2] "Head Like a Hole" is also the opening track on Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut, and is one of the two Nine Inch Nails songs produced by Flood to appear on Pretty Hate Machine . [7]

Down in It single by Nine Inch Nails

"Down in It" is a song by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released in 1989. Released as the project's debut single, the song was the first to be written by Trent Reznor. It was released as a teaser single prior to the debut album, Pretty Hate Machine.

Length is a measure of distance. In the International System of Quantities, length is a quantity with dimension distance. In most systems of measurement, the unit of length is a base unit, from which other units are derived.

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

Release and reception

Labeled as "Halo 3", Head Like a Hole is the third official Nine Inch Nails release, containing remixes of three different songs from Pretty Hate Machine . The single release is longer in duration than the album itself. The single peaked at #28 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. [8]

A three-track version of this single was released in the UK containing "Head Like a Hole (Opal)" which is not included on the US release. This version begins with a sample of "Tamborine" by Prince, taken from his 1985 album Around the World in a Day and incorporates a drum loop sampled from "Release It" taken from another Prince record, the soundtrack to the Prince-directed movie Graffiti Bridge (1990).[ citation needed ] The saxophone in "Release It" can be heard before the drum loop begins. "Head Like A Hole (Copper)" samples the looping drum beat from "Body Language", a track off of the Hot Space (1982) album by Queen.[ citation needed ] The first track is mistakenly listed as "Head Like a Hole (Slate)" on the CD. [1] "Down in It (Shred)" and "Down in It (Singe)" were previously released on the "Down in It" single; the latter track is extended by 18 seconds. The unlisted eleventh track is host Heather Day yelling "Let's hear it for Nine Inch Nails! Woo! They're good!" This is a sample from Dance Party USA during an appearance by the band on the show.

"Head Like a Hole" was re-issued as a single in Australia in 1995, where it peaked at #57 on the ARIA singles chart and spent 7 weeks in the top 100. [9]

The 11-track United States version of "Head Like a Hole" has recently been repackaged and re-released. This version was also released in the United Kingdom, where it failed to reach the Top 40 [10] Finally, in Germany, the single was released as "You Get What You Deserve". This release includes four tracks.

In a retrospective review of the song, Allmusic described "Head Like a Hole" as "grand theater", elaborating further by commenting the "backing music was immaculately crafted and produced". [11] In its review of the single, the author was largely positive towards the song selection, even saying that the inclusion of "Head Like a Hole", "Terrible Lie", and "Down in It" "renders Pretty Hate Machine mostly unnecessary". As for the other tracks included on the single, Allmusic was less positive, adding, "This is one case where quality definitely would have sufficed without the quantity". [12]

The single was included in the 2015 Record Store DayBlack Friday exclusive box set, Halo I–IV . [13] [14]

Music video

A music video was made for the "Clay" remix of this song. Directed by Eric Zimmerman, it was released in March 1990 and again later in 1997 on the Closure VHS. The video became popular on MTV and helped fuel NIN's early success. A slightly different edit of the video was also released for Flood's remix of the song, which is 17 seconds shorter than the "Clay" remix. The video features band members Trent Reznor, Richard Patrick, and Chris Vrenna, as well as guest drummer Martin Atkins performing in a cage. [15]

The video was filmed at the Exit nightclub which was located at 1653 North Wells Street in Chicago. [16]

The video begins with black and white footage of a person hopping on one foot while spinning a staff which fades in and out against a background of blurred colors (excerpts of Maya Deren's unfinished documentary on voodoo rituals "Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti"). Clips of Reznor putting his head in a bucket of water, and an off-screen person using the same bucket to make Reznor wet, were taken by a video camera before filming a performance of the song from Nine Inch Nails as a live band. [15]

The guitar Reznor uses in the video is a Jackson Dinky. It is first seen in first chorus, when Reznor, appearing to be dirty like the other band members (he had long hair and wore gritty clothing during production), bangs his head twice while singing the song. He does not use the guitar for the climax of the video, where wires tied to him slowly pull him up, leaving the frontman spinning upside down. At the same scene, Vrenna destroys his drum kit by throwing a bass drum of Atkins' drum kit towards the object. At a shot occurring prior to that point, broken Zildjian cymbals and a drum machine can be seen as parts of Vrenna's kit.

There are images that are shown for a few frames like "HEAD", "16 SOUND START", "S M P T E UNIVERSAL LEADER" and "PICTURE". Other images included a white dot set against a black background, a mirrored presentation showing the words "REELPRODPLAY DATE" colored in yellow, one with the words "PICTURE START", and a frame consisting of "C C F F" placed near an outlined ring. The latter screen had an alternative version that was accompanied by a white number 3, also seen in the video. There are also visuals of four incomplete rotating mechanical models of human heads; one with film stills, another with a modified motherboard and other technology, the purple, wired, head with a blue screen showing an eye and various computer hardware, and the last containing blue skin, orange-pupil eyes, and a lightbulb. The former two were filmed in black and white, while the latter two in full color. All four are shown intercut with shots of people spinning baseball bats. [15]

Live performances

"Head Like a Hole" was one of the most notable moments of Nine Inch Nails' Lollapalooza festival performances. Trent Reznor Lollapalooza 1991.jpg
"Head Like a Hole" was one of the most notable moments of Nine Inch Nails' Lollapalooza festival performances.

The song has been the encore for most NIN shows (especially the Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series ), or the last song before the encore if an encore took place. There are live videos of "Head Like a Hole" on the DVDs And All That Could Have Been and Beside You in Time . [17]

During Lollapalooza '91, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery, Gibby Haynes and Ice-T joined Nine Inch Nails live performances on-stage as additional guitarists for "Head Like a Hole;" except for the first show in Phoenix, AZ when NIN walked off stage after the first song in a snit. [18] For the Nights of Nothing mini-tour in 1996, Richard Patrick made a brief return to the band to perform guitar and vocals on "Head Like a Hole" at the Irving Plaza show in New York along with Clint Mansell, who joined NIN on this song at all three shows of the tour. [19] In the June 7, 2006 radio performance at Atlanta, Georgia, Trent Reznor and Peter Murphy played a reworked version of "Head Like a Hole". [20]

Lisa Kennedy Montgomery once sang the song loudly to Reznor to win a $20 bet. [21] To express the evolving state of his values, Reznor said in 1997 that "I don't want to be singing "Head Like a Hole" at age 50." [22]


Since its commercial maxi-single release, "Head Like a Hole" continues to generate an impact on other musicians and bands. New Zealand-based grunge band HLAH is named after the song. The name is sometimes abbreviated to avoid copyright infringement issues.

"Head Like a Hole" is the most widely covered Nine Inch Nails song. In 2005, The String Quartet Tribute released a cover album of reworked versions of Pretty Hate Machine, including "Head Like a Hole". Other bands who covered the track include punk rock band AFI, [23] rock artist Ryan Star, [24] new wave band Devo, [25] indie rock band Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, gothic metal band Lullacry, [26] nu metal band Korn, [27] post-industrial band PIG, hard rock band Buckcherry, [28] Christian rock band Showbread.[ citation needed ], and Miley Cyrus as Ashley O for the 2019 television series Black Mirror . [29]

"Head Like a Hole" was part of a controversy after the September 11 attacks, when Clear Channel Communications placed it in a 2001 list of post-9/11 inappropriate song titles not for radio airplay. [30]

The track was also featured as number 37 on PopMatters ' "The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ‘80s" list. [4]

American deathcore act Carnifex did a cover of the song on their EP Bury Me In Blasphemy.

"Head Like a Hole", among other Nine Inch Nails songs, was remixed and rewritten by Charlie Brooker with Reznor's approval as the pop song "On a Roll" for the fifth series episode "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" of Black Mirror . [31] The song was released as a single on June 14, 2019.

The song was used in the television advertising campaign for the action video game, Gears of War 5.

Track listing

US version

1."Head Like a Hole" (Slate) Trent Reznor, Flood 4:13
2."Head Like a Hole" (Clay) Keith LeBlanc 4:30
3."Terrible Lie" (Sympathetic Mix)Reznor, Flood4:26
4."Head Like a Hole" (Copper)Reznor, Flood6:26
5."You Know Who You Are" (Instrumental Dub mix of "Head Like a Hole")Reznor, Flood5:40
6."Head Like a Hole" (Soil)Reznor, Flood6:38
7."Terrible Lie" (Empathetic Mix)Reznor, Flood6:11
8."Down in It" (Shred) Adrian Sherwood, LeBlanc6:51
9."Down in It" (Singe)Sherwood, LeBlanc7:21
10."Down in It" (Demo)Reznor3:55
Total length:55:11

UK version

1."Head Like a Hole" (Clay)LeBlanc4:30
2."Head Like a Hole" (Copper)Reznor, Flood6:26
3."Head Like a Hole" (Opal)Reznor, Flood5:18
Total length:16:14

Australian version

1."Head Like a Hole" (Slate)4:17
2."Terrible Lie" (Sympathetic Mix)4:29
3."Head Like a Hole" (Opal)5:20
Total length:14:05

"You Get What You Deserve" German promo

1."Head Like a Hole" (Copper)Reznor, Flood6:26
2."Down in It" (Shred)Sherwood, LeBlanc6:51
3."Terrible Lie" (Sympathetic Mix)Reznor, Flood4:26
4."Head Like a Hole" (Clay)LeBlanc4:30
Total length:22:22


Rock Band 3

It was made available to download on March 1, 2011 for use in the Rock Band 3 music gaming platform in both Basic rhythm, and PRO mode which utilizes real guitar / bass guitar, and MIDI compatible electronic drum kits / keyboards in addition to vocals.

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