October 1989: Nine Inch Nails Debut with "Pretty Hate Machine"

American musician Trent Reznor, of the group Nine Inch Nails, performs in concert, New York, New York, circa 1990. (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage)
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(Larry Busacca/WireImage)

The Totally '80s were winding to a close when Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails exploded out of Cleveland, Ohio, with the band's debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. The record arrived on record store shelves on October 20, 1989. Taking influence from the burgeoning underground industrial music scene, Nine Inch Nail's shadowy take on aggressive electronic music would herald much of what was to come in the 1990s.

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The full-length was preceded in September 1989 by lead single, "Down In It." The ominous dance track's music video was a popular play on the second sixty of MTV's legendary 120 Minutes, helping Nine Inch Nails build a rabid cult following.

"That was probably... that was the first song I'd ever written. I sat down, I took a very experimental approach to it. The original version I did was about half speed of the one on the record. And it was a total rip-off of "Dig It" by Skinny Puppy. I'll admit that now," Reznor said in a 1994 interview. "But, lyrically, I was experimenting with train-of-thought, writing down whatever I thought...I hate to say what I'm talking about, but I'll do It now, since it's so old I just like to think about it now. It was just this feeling of like.. at an earlier stage of my life, I thought I had my act together. I thought I knew what I wanted to do. I thought I had pride in myself. As I got older, and realized that certain things don't work out the way you hoped they would at a certain stage, and a lot of the illusions you had been led to believe growing up in a fairly sheltered environment...Just...I dunno. I was kind of coming of age, realizing that, you know, things might not work out sort of feeling. That's kind of the bridge of the song."

The second single from Pretty Hate Machine arrived in March 1990: "Head Like a Hole." The track that's gone on to become one of Nine Inch Nails' signature songs made a strong impression on Billboard's Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart, peaking at #9.

"Sin" served as the third and final Pretty Hate Machine single, landing in October 1990. It came with a special treat: non-LP B-side "Get Down, Make Love," a cover of the Queen song from that band's 1977 blockbuster, News of the World.

Pretty Hate Machine crashed the Billboard 200, peaking at #75 for the week November 23, 1991. The #1 album in America that week: Garth Brooks' Ropin' in the Wind.

"I didn't want it to sound like a collection of songs; I wanted it to be one big work," Reznor said in 1994. "One factor working against it was that I was originally going to do the whole album with Flood [British producer of Depeche Mode and Erasure], but his schedule didn't permit it, so I ended up in four different studios with four different guys mixing. I spent a lot of time editing, picking parts of different mixes and splicing them together, to give the impression of continuity."

BONUS BEAT: Trent Reznor visiting the set of MTV's 120 Minutes for a Christmas 1989 show is pretty great.


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