Head Like A Hole

Album: Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
Charted: 45
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  • This song is about the control that money has over people and the pain and suffering associated with it. "God Money" is just that. Money has become a god unto itself (especially in capitalist societies, like the one in America). Trent Reznor is basically saying he'd rather die than give in to temptation. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brian - Brockton, MA
  • Speaking with Kerrang! in 2005, Trent Reznor said the song is "pretty much about yelling at a beast without putting a face to it."
  • This first appeared on the debut Nine Inch Nails album, Pretty Hate Machine, in October 1989. In America, it was issued as a single in March 1990, then in the UK in September. The song got such a buzz in the UK that Guns N' Roses brought the group along as an opening act on their European tour in August and September 1991.
  • Trent Reznor was still living in Cleveland when he made the Pretty Hate Machine album with various collaborators, including Richard Patrick, who would later form Filter. Reznor and his crew spent a lot of time refining the songs, agonizing over them to get them just right. The exception was "Head Like A Hole," which he banged out in about 15 minutes and considered a throwaway.

    "The fact that it produced this huge reaction really pissed me off because I hadn't agonized over it," he told Kerrang!.
  • It's strange to think to "Head Like A Hole" as accessible, but by the standards of industrial music, it is. Many listeners who couldn't handle Ministry or Front 242 found a gateway into the genre with the song, which Trent Reznor was fully aware of. He said at the time that Nine Inch nails was "that doorway into the more legitimate or obscure industrial bands."
  • This is a live staple at Nine Inch Nails concerts, often used to close out their shows. It was showstopper when they played it on the first Lollapalooza Tour in the summer of 1991.
  • The music video was directed by Eric Zimmerman, who also worked on the video for the first Nine Inch Nails single, "Down In It."

    "Head Like A Hole" shows much more of the band than many of their subsequent videos, as we see performance footage intercut with shots of tribal dancers and molds of heads. By the end of the clip, Trent Reznor is entangled in tape and lifted from the stage by his ankles.
  • The video features Chris Vrenna and Richard Patrick of the Nine Inch Nails live band along with drummer Martin Atkins of the band Pigface. There is a lot of destruction in the video, which concerned Patrick because he had just bought a new amp. "Trent was trying to knock it over," he said in a Songfacts interview. "You can see me holding it up with my butt, trying to hold it up. And Trent was pissed. He was like, 'Dude, let it fall over!' I'm like, 'But I just bought this thing.' I just spent $600 on this, man."
  • Both the song name and the moniker Nine Inch Nails were inspired by a quote by Al Jourgensen, lead singer of the metal band Ministry: "Listening to Ministry is like having a nine inch nail hammered into your head like a hole."
  • This was one of the 165 "lyrically questionable" songs pulled from the radio at the suggestion of Clear Channel Communications, a company that owned over 1,200 radio stations, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • The new wave/punk band Devo covered this for Jackie Chan's Hong Kong action flick Police Story 3: Super Cop in 1992.
  • The Vitamin String Quartet reworked this as part of their tribute to Pretty Hate Machine in 2005.
  • Former MTV VJ Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery loudly sang this to Reznor when she first met him, embarrassing the singer and winning a $20 bet in the process.
  • This was used on Beavis and Butt-Head in the 1993 episode "Door to Door."
  • This was covered by Buckcherry for their 2019 Warpaint album. Their version originated from when the band was playing through some old songs while they were setting up for a recording session. The producer, Mike Plotnikoff, played back a rough mix of them jamming "Head Like a Hole" which everyone agreed sounded great, so they decided to lay down their interpretation for the record.
  • Miley Cyrus sings a dance-pop version of this song in the 2019 Black Mirror episode "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too," where she plays an exploited pop star named Ashley O. Ashley's song is called "On A Roll," with the lyrics:

    I'm stoked on ambition and verve
    I'm gonna get what I deserve

    When Ashley starts to push back against her manager, she ends up sedated and turned into a hologram. At the end of the episode, Ashley regains her consciousness and ends up performing the real version of "Head Like A Hole" in a gritty club, shocking fans of her empowering teen pop.

    A full-length version of "On A Roll" was released as a single in real life, credited to "Ashley O." A music video was also made for the song, with Cyrus in character as Ashley.

Comments: 23

  • Anonymous from CanadaThis guy liked Rush.
  • Natalie from Lorena, TxThe first time I heard this song was on the radio about six months ago. I was in my dad's wrecker, and the song comes on, and we are like, "Who is this??" By the end of the song, I had guessed NIN based on the voice, and he chose to go with some 70's pop band. Of course, I was right, and he was totally ecstatic. He said, "I cannot believe my daughter can pick out the voice of Trent, but her own dad can't!" The song is really tied to a good memory of mine, so I love this song so much. It is kind of weird for Trent, in my opinion, especially with the techno/funk addition to it. But overall, Head Like A Hole is an amazing play with words, and was a good risk that he took to sing and play music to.
    April 6, 2021
    Natalie, Age 15
  • Will from Sacramento NIN is a play on the Tetragrammation of Jehovah in Hebrew. Trent is of Jewish ancestry so he is aware the name of the Hebrew God is the same as the Christian God of the New Testament. Jehovah. So who is Christ? He is the God Money that is used to oppress people , which is the ultimate punishment against Jesus for if he was alive he would say stop worshiping me for money, power, glory, only worship the name which has been removed from being said by Jews and also erased from the Bible. The name Jehovah Which in Hebrew is very close to NIN the letters of Nine in Nails. “No you can’t take that away from me. Head Like a Hole...Bow down before the one you serve, you are going to get what you deserve.” You cannot take Jehovah NIN from me, people aren’t thinking about what they are worshiping, they bow to the Christ that makes them money and power but fail to worship Jehovah God NIN. Finally worshiping Christ will get you judgement, for even he knows his dad Jehovah NIN is what he wanted people to worship. Funny how they punish Jehovah by worshiping his son for earthly riches. “Head like a hole, people forgot NIN, Black as your Soul, false gods, I’d rather die than give you control, Jehovah NIN I say more important that money or power because Jehovah is FREE. It’s no cost except it’s hidden by being deleted in both the Jewish spoken word and the Bible. Head like a Hole. Gods name is now forgotten.
  • Rob from Cleveland, OhWhile nobody can argue that Trent Reznor enjoys incorporating sexual innuendo into his lyrics, to say that this song is ABOUT oral sex or even drug addiction is simply incorrect. It's not even necessarily about corporate greed, although that IS mentioned specifically at one point. You can't just pick out a couple of lines or phrases and make observations about those while ignoring the rest. You have to look at the work as a whole.

    It's about the overwhelming obsession with money that capitalist societies end up developing, and the control that it has over PEOPLE once it does. He is basically saying "God Money is not going to be the driving force in my life."
  • Mike182 from Pittsburgh, PaThe late 80s and early nineties was an unreal time in what would be labeled alternative music. The sheer diversity of bands and musical output was immense. As a skater and punk in high school during this time, I will always have an affinity to this era of music. Once the mainstream explosion of alternative music happened, we saw the spirit of this musical revolution become homogenized and tailored for mass appeal. Anyway Head Like A Hole reminds me of going to hole in the wall clubs on indie night. How you'd see the same people there and how close knit the group was. This song would come on and everyone would do that dance where you pace menacingly in a circle waiting for the song to cut loose so you could converge in the center of the floor and slam into each other.
  • Jazz from Toronto, OnI'm pretty sure it's about S/M as Nine Inch Nails loves to throw those themed in. It's like a dom(me) saying 'Bow down and get what you deserve'. I'm agreeing with Sara and Ryan whom already commented. 'A black soul' can sometimes translate to being kinky and into BDSM.
  • Sarah from Eastern Passage, NsDespite the fact that it's pretty obviously about greed, I prefer to think of it in a D/s sense (domination and submission): the lines "I'd rather die than give you control," and "Bow down before the one you serve." allow me such lines of thought. ^^
  • Angela from Cartersville, Gaman once again trent knows what is going on it this freakin in the world just by watching. and i too would rather die than follow people and give in to temtation so GO TRENT!!!!!!!
  • Zack from Dsdsdsadas, Riim thinking its juts about something (the song uses money) addictive and corrupting, that he'd rather die then give into.
  • N.i. from Baltimore, MdFor many years, I thought the phrase repeated in the song's verses was "Got money." I ignored the fact that this made some of the lines ungrammatical ("Got money's not looking for the cure") and I assumed the song was about a relationship with a materialistic woman. Go figure.
  • Austin from Smallsville, NeI think it is about greed. He talks about being a slave to the dollar and not giving money to people who need it.
  • Anna from N/a, WalesAye, it's like alot of Trent Reznor's songs, it has a lot of both sexual and violent energy and imagery, and, as Elizabeth said, that's clever in context. It is also about a drug; money is a drug. That's what he's saying. In summary, it's clever in the context of money because money is attractive, dominant and, by nature, the possession of money gives concent to that money to possess one. It is a god, a drug and, in reflection of what Trent Reznor was writing about at the time, he would, indeed apparently, have rather died than let any of those things control him.
  • Elisabeth from Toronto, CanadaRyan, I don't think the song refers to oral sex; the "god money" references have nothing to do with sex. However, what makes this song so clever is that it mixes sexual imagery with a rant about the emptiness of capitalism and materialism.
    "God money I'll do anything for you/ God money just tell me what you want me to/ God money nail me up against the wall" and "Bow down before the one you serve/ you're going to get what you deserve" makes me think of someone being sexually submissive, or being a whore and doing what they can to please the customer. It means that people will do anything for money and power, even degrade themselves. Basically, I think the song's about people selling their souls to the corporate world and being a slave to money, so their head is "like a hole" - they're empty corporate drones. Trent Reznor screams in the chorus "I'd rather die than give you control", which means he is not going to be a slave to money and the American Dream. Money is worshipped as a god in America - there is no Christian god, the modern god of money has replaced Christianity (brings Neil Gaiman's American Gods to mind). This is a BRILLANT song, one of my favourites. I loved it the first time I heard it.
  • Martin from Brisbane, Australia**start at the bottom** yeah. i love these little discussions. i wrote that comment over a year ago and havnt even played the song for about 6 months. honestly i can really only listen to a dozen or so nine inch nails songs but man this is definately one of them. and i think what i said a year ago is pretty much right. 'corporate power', i like that phrase. i have studied quite deeply that sort of stuff the past year (grade 11 english, yeah) and i reckon its all relevant. even whenever this came out, in 1989 or whenever, that was a big deal. well of course it was. anyway, now i sort of compare this to william golding's 'Lord of the Flies'. One of the themes in that book is that take away society, social structure, and people are nothing but cavemen. i mean, the capitalistic society which we just accept, is what all human's (at least in the western world) lives are really based upon. I think what Reznor is really saying here is in essence the same thing. Our lives in the 21st century are controlled by the media, the corporate world, and i havnt heard the lyrics for a long time, so i don't know if he mentions any of that, but money certainly is a good way of depicting that part of society which controls our lives. literally. what does he say...'god money'? i mean hes a smart man he wouldnt use that term lightly. thats a deep context. you know as the song comes flooding back to me, the line that is most powerful, and stands out to me the most is definately 'bow down before the one you serve'. i mean maybe its his haunting, raspy voice that makes it stick, but i just get this image of a man in chains grovelling on his knees, pleading for his life. to me that line is Reznors analogy of almost how humans have become enslaved by 'god money'. i believe this is his oppinion becuase of the line 'i'd rather die than give you control'. i reckon thats him personally questioning this notion that we live our lives day-in day-out under the influence of the media. man i just realised i love this song. if all thats too deep for you, just appreciate the song, its awesome. get some comments going here.
  • Jamie from Faversham, Kent, EnglandRyan, I think that perhaps that you're not TOTALLY wrong with the oral sex thing. There's always the association of sucking someones... to get yourself higher up. You know what I mean? Like... well... sucking up.

    But yeah, money is my general idea.
  • Shelly from Loserville, NcIts like feeling like a slave to a world of matriel things(money,looks ect).the chrous is hardcore, man its so...brilliante.1 of my favorites.
  • Chad from Kingston, CanadaI read that this is about corperate greed, and the price of fame.
  • Munch from Peterborough, CanadaMoney has become too powerful in society and people with it will use it without thinking first and those without it ussualy have to do what that person(s) wants to aquire money.
  • James from Edwardsville, IlIt's probably about money, but it could also be about drugs. "bow down before the one you serve" could be about addiction, and "head like a hole" could be about how they affect the human mind, and "I'd rather die than give you control" could be them saying they really wish they hadn't have taken all those drugs you know they're on and now are trying to break free. But it's probably about money.
  • Danny from Sydney, AustraliaYeah, this song's about stickin' it to the f**kin' man.
  • Martin from Brisbane, Australiathat's pretty sick ryan. i think its more about money having power over people than sex. 'bow down before the one you serve' is a bit of a metaphor refering to money being powerful. 'head like a hole' i think is saying that money can make people mindless or stupid (for lack of a better word).

    i'm pretty sure you won't find any other lyrics in the song that you could relate to a man getting oral. the rest sounds pretty 'money control' to me
  • Ryan from Plano, Txlately I've been thinking this song's about oral sex. before that, it was always one of those songs that I liked but never read too far into the lyrics. well, now that I have, it makes sense. think about it: "bow down before the one you serve/you're going to get what you deserve" and of course "head like a hole" meaning that when someone gives oral sex to a man, their head is as if it were a "hole" if you know what I mean.
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