Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Nine Inch Nails Songs - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Nine Inch Nails Songs

Your picks include “Hurt,” “Head Like a Hole” and “Closer”

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After much speculation, Trent Reznor finally confirmed last month what many had long hoped was true: Nine Inch Nails are back. "Nine Inch Nails are touring this year," the musician wrote on his website. "The first shows will begin this summer, followed by a full-on arena tour of the U.S. this fall and lots of other dates worldwide to follow through 2014."

While the prolific, one-man bastion of angst now has a new backing lineup – including bassist Eric Avery (formerly of Jane's Addiction), guitarist Adrian Belew (King Crimson), keyboardist Alessandro Cortini (NIN), keyboardist Josh Eustis (Puscifer, Telefon Tel Aviv) and drummer Ilan Rubin (NIN) – Nine Inch Nails' return got us thinking about some of their greatest cuts. We asked you to name your favorites. Here's what you told us. 


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10. ‘The Perfect Drug’ (TIE)

Tasked with writing a track for David Lynch's 1997 film Lost Highway, Reznor entered the studio and, after a week or so of experimentation, emerged with the manic head trip that is "The Perfect Drug." Despite being a well-received single stuffed with Reznor's reflections on imperceptibility ("I come along/ But I don't know where you're taking me"), Nine Inch Nails have never performed the song live. Perhaps this is due to Reznor's admittedly underwhelming feelings about the cut. "I'm not cringing about it, but it's not my favorite piece," he said in 2005. "If they said play me, y'know, the top hundred songs you've written, that probably wouldn't be in the top hundred."

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9. ‘Right Where It Belongs’ (TIE)

In many ways, 2005's With Teeth marked the first comeback album for Nine Inch Nails. The band's fourth studio record came six years after The Fragile and followed a period of intense alcohol and substance abuse struggles for Reznor. "This record is probably more honest than anything I've done," he told Rolling Stone at the time. The typically melancholy offering was bookended by the plaintive plea of "All the Love in the World" and "Right Where It Belongs," a quintessential keyboard-aided Reznor meditation. "What if everything around you isn't quite as it seems?" he ponders in it. 

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8. ‘Reptile’

Featured on NIN's brilliant 1994 concept album The Downward Spiral, which ranked at Number 201 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and chronicles a man's brutal self-destruction, "Reptile" is a tornado of self-inflicted fury – in this instance, directed at a female. "Oh my beautiful liar/ Oh my previous whore/ My disease, my infection/ I am so impure," Reznor cries. As he told Rolling Stone in the fall of 1994, "I probably rely too much on sexual imagery as a metaphor for control, but I'm totally intrigued by it."

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7. ‘The Becoming’

Upon its release, Rolling Stone writer Jonathan Gold described The Downward Spiral as "low-tech futurism that rocks." Nowhere is this description more accurate than amongst the blips, bloops, electro-statics and shrieks – both Reznor's and those occupying the cut's lower regions – that anchor the whiplash cut "The Becoming." At times, Reznor was high up in the mix; emotionally though, he was drifting. "Even when I'm right with you/ I'm so far away," he sings.  

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6. ‘We’re in This Together’

In the five years between The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, Reznor believed music had "taken a big shit." During that time, he spent two years of 16-hour days in Big Sur, California, crafting his band's new album. It also yielded a reinvigorated – and, yes, slightly more sane – Reznor. "I turned a corner," he told Rolling Stone at the time. "I had to slap myself in the face: 'If you want to kill yourself, do it, save everybody the fucking hassle. Or get your shit together.'" A statement of his newfound outlook came in the form of "We're in This Together," a guitar-drenched, straight-ahead rocker that found Reznor displaying previously unseen optimism. "You and me/ We're in this together now/ None of them can stop us now/ We will make it through somehow," he sings.

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5. ‘Head Like a Hole’

For many, "Head Like a Hole" was the first proper introduction to Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Written in 1988, it remains a staple of the band's repertoire over two decades later. One of the last songs to be written for the band's platinum-selling debut Pretty Hate Machine, the track combines elements of industrial rock as well as thrash metal.

In the months following its release, Reznor found himself having to justify his music's dark themes. "It's not like I'm a horribly depressed person," he told Rolling Stone, "but the music I always liked as a kid was stuff I could bum out to and realize, 'Hey, someone else feels that way, too.'"

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4. ‘Wish’

Following the release of Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails spent over two years straight on the road – largely because Reznor was suing his record label at the time, TVT, to be released from that deal.  As the liner notes for the band's 1992 EP Broken indicate, the release was crafted "without the permission of The Record Label." Eventually released by Interscope, the eight-track offering was a quick but brutal statement of purpose. The centerpiece was "Wish," a hard-charging, Grammy-winning rock riot that further opened the floodgates to Reznor's brooding inner demons.

The musician was fully aware of the path he was on. "I realize that's the strength of Nine Inch Nails – there's not much room for happy songs," he told Rolling Stone. "And I like that; I don't want that to change."

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3. ‘Something I Can Never Have’

Throughout his multi-decade career, Reznor regularly bared his tortured soul. However, on Nine Inch Nails' debut album, few songs cut to the core and introduced the world to his ache like the slow-building confessional "Something I Can Never Have." Structured around a haunting piano line, Reznor confides in the warm embrace of that which he cannot attain. "Grey would be the color if I had a heart," he croons.

"Maybe there will be a happy album from Nine Inch Nails,' he told Rolling Stone a year after releasing the song. "I doubt it, but you never know." 

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2. ‘Hurt’

In the time since its release in 1994, "Hurt" has been covered by a slew of wide-ranging artists, from Johnny Cash to Leona Lewis. Despite being the final track on The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails' original version is undoubtedly the album's cathartic center. "I hurt myself today/ To see if I still feel," Reznor whispers in hushed desperation. The singer later recalled the deep emotional toll the song's recording took on both him and his band. "We were crying when we made it, it was so intense," he said. "I didn't know if I even wanted to put it on the album."

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1. ‘Closer’

Often referred to as "Closer to God," the second single off The Downward Spiral became Nine Inch Nails' biggest hit to date and cemented Reznor's status as a rock icon. Featuring a heavily modified bass drum sample from Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing," the track was accompanied by a controversial video that featured a nude, bald woman with a crucifix mask, a monkey tied to a cross and Reznor donning a ball gag. But it's the song's infectious beat, caustic melody and signature hook ("I wanna fuck you like an animal") that made it one of NIN's most widely celebrated works.

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