Music history simply wouldn’t be the same without the vast effect Nine Inch Nails have had throughout their career. Their significance has netted them countless accolades, too—from dozens of award wins and nominations to their tens of millions of record sales to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year.
As icons within electronic music, though, it’s obvious they’ve repurposed other pieces of art into their own creations many times over. Sampling is just one of the many tools Trent Reznor and co. have in their industrial arsenal, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
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With their vast range of influences, Nine Inch Nails have employed countless iconic and historic sound samples into their music and live sets. Whether it’s using other musicians’ songs, movie clips or sound bites from political and historical figures, they’ve pulled intriguing samples together to create iconic songs for the masses.
To celebrate the band’s storied journey so far, we’re taking a moment to reflect on some of the best samples Nine Inch Nails have used throughout their discography. Take a look below for 20 of the best samples in the legendary industrial band’s catalog.
“Head Like A Hole” – Samburu Warriors’ Initiation (Kenya)
“Head Like A Hole” is the song that launched the band into the spotlight through their inventive, invigorating and timeless sound. As the song begins kicking into its main verse, high-pitched chanting persists over the popping industrial drums, with the sample’s source being truly unique. NIN repurpose English composer and world-music aficionado David Fanshawe’s recording “Samburu Warriors’ Initiation” from local Kenyan artists into one of the most iconic industrial songs ever made.
“Pinion” – “It’s No Game” by David Bowie
David Bowie has had a massive influence on the way Reznor approaches music, and their history together runs deep, even before they began working as collaborators. Nine Inch Nails’ first EP, Broken, saw the band expanding and settling into their sound. And “Pinion” features a subtle reverse-looped sample of Bowie screaming “shut up” from “It’s No Game.”
“Physical” – Barking from Trent Reznor’s dog, Maise
During the recording sessions for the Broken EP, Reznor brought his dog, Maise, to the studio and used her voice for the release. On “Physical,” you can hear her barking as well as a clip of musician and producer Sean Beavan saying “Ow! Fucker” after Maise playfully bit him during the session.
“Reptile” – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
“Reptile” is one of the hallmark songs of Nine Inch Nails’ career. And to fit the terrifying, ominous vibe of the track, the band pulled from one of the most extreme classic horror films. In the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Teri McMinn’s character says the line “Anybody home?” before the chaos in the backwoods home takes place, making a perfect match for the mood of both artworks. While spread throughout the song, it’s most notable around the 5:08 mark.
“The Great Destroyer” (Live 2017-2018) – Donald Trump speeches
Over the years, Reznor has been quite outspoken against Donald Trump and his political affiliates. Throughout Nine Inch Nails’ 2017 and 2018 touring cycles, they pushed their feelings into their live sets. While performing “The Great Destroyer,” the band sampled various speeches highlighting Trump’s vile statements from his rallies.
“Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)” – “Funky Drummer” by James Brown
Sampling James Brown was the foundation of hip-hop, and as the most sampled artist ever, there’s quite a bit of history behind using “Funky Drummer.” That track, as well as “Funky President,” are some of the most used songs in sampling. For the remixed variation of “Piggy” on Further Down The Spiral, NIN found their own unique twist for how to use it.
“15 Ghosts II” – “Bioshock Halloween” by Chatwithaninja
Nine Inch Nails famously gave the music industry a huge middle finger and their fans a gift with Ghosts I-IV. Not only did they release it independently and at a scaling cost starting for free, but also under a Creative Commons license for others to use. Keeping in line with the experimental idea of the album, they sampled a sound from a brief YouTube video of a Halloween costume based on the video game Bioshock.
“30 Ghosts IV” – Saddam Hussein’s trial verdict
Given Nine Inch Nails’ tendency to highlight politics in and out of their music, “30 Ghosts IV” sampling the trial verdict of Saddam Hussein isn’t surprising but rather extremely intriguing. The track pulls in one of the most pivotal political moments of the past few decades, with a banging sound in the room popping throughout.
“Ringfinger” – “Alphabet St.” by Prince
Reznor is a huge fan of Prince, and the feeling was mutual, with The Purple One being massively into Broken. Reznor highlighted his fandom on “Ringfinger” with Prince’s “Alphabet St.” cropping up and tucked away in Pretty Hate Machine’s liner notes as a thanks to the artist. Sadly, Reznor’s views of Prince were torn down a bit when they crossed paths in the same studio a few years later, and he wasn’t impressed with Prince’s celebrity attitude.
“While I’m Still Here” – “Weary Blues From Waitin’” by Hank Williams
Although country music isn’t the first thing associated with Nine Inch Nails, they’ve had a strange history with the genre. From Johnny Cash’s groundbreaking cover of “Hurt” to the mainstream success of Lil Nas X’s NIN-sampling “Old Town Road,” the band somehow have become a part of the genre’s history. In a fitting way, the Hesitation Marks track “While I’m Still Here” uses country-pioneer Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues From Waitin’,” further cementing this strange link between industrial and country.
“Only” – “Down In It” by Nine Inch Nails
For a band who love subtleties and progressively building their career as a sum of parts, it’s fitting that “Only” throws back to their origins. On the 2005 track, Nine Inch Nails make references to “Down In It” from their debut and further link a short clip into the song’s instruments.
“A Warm Place” – “Crystal Japan” by David Bowie
After successfully establishing a working relationship and friendship with Bowie, Reznor went on to sample his music numerous times. The best example comes on “A Warm Place,” with a serene sample from “Crystal Japan” breaking up the visceral noise on The Downward Spiral. The continuing odes to Bowie netted them an opening slot on his 1995 Outside tour, too, as he took notice and the pair linked their sets to overlap with each other.
“Something I Can Never Have (Natural Born Killers)” – Natural Born Killers
Reznor spearheaded the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers, so it makes sense that he would remix a classic Nine Inch Nails track. His approach to the soundtrack was unique in that he made it a point to include dialogue from the film to make the record flow like a movie. The film and its soundtrack are staples of the ’90s, and Nine Inch Nails’ inclusion in the process makes that abundantly clear.
“Sin” – “Change The Beat (Female Version)” by Beside
It isn’t surprising that Nine Inch Nails sampled “Change The Beat (Female Version)” by Beside. But not because there’s a strong connection between the two musical acts. This track is one of the most sampled songs in history, with everyone from Justin Bieber to Linkin Park and thousands of others incorporating it into their music.
“The Perfect Drug (Meat Beat Manifesto Remix)” – “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons
Originally written for David Lynch’s film Lost Highway, “The Perfect Drug” is one of Nine Inch Nails’ best standalone singles. And it further developed the group’s connection to the film world. The song received several remixes, including Jack Dangers’ Meat Beat Manifesto collaborating with the band and sliding in a sample of “Amen, Brother” by the Winstons, which holds the place of the most sampled song in existence. At last, NIN joined the ranks of countless artists who used the classic track in their work.
“Closer” – “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop
From one legendary musical act to another, Iggy Pop has only had good words to say about Nine Inch Nails. Some were cemented into history, namely his speech inducting the band into the Rock Hall this year. Coincidentally, he mentioned “Closer” as a pinnacle of the musical genius the group hold, as the track uses a sample of Pop’s “Nightclubbing” throughout.
“Mr. Self Destruct” – THX 1138
The Downward Spiral’s horror movie-like atmosphere made it ripe for including samples from some of the best sci-fi and horror films ever created. The intro track is a prime example of that. Opening with a sample from George Lucas’ directorial debut THX 1138, “Mr. Self Destruct” kicks the most iconic NIN album off in a suitably eerie manner through the sounds of a man being beaten.
“Into The Void (Final Destination Version)” – “Cryptorchid” by Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson’s career started to take off once Reznor paid attention to his music after some live shows together. And while they’ve had a rocky relationship over the years, Reznor had his hands in creating some of Manson’s most memorable work. On Nine Inch Nails’ remix of “Into The Void” for the first Final Destination movie, he took a blip of sound from “Cryptorchid” (which he played on) and layered it into the track.
“Starfuckers, Inc.” – “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“Starfuckers, Inc.” actually pulls in two great samples, with KISS’ “Shout It Out Loud” from Alive II making an appearance as well as Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” The latter track is a hallmark of her storied career. Bringing things together many years later, the duo (as well as Peter Frampton) shared the stage at the 2012 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards, receiving career achievement nods. The sample appears around the three-minute mark, with a much more somber tone than the original.
“Get Down, Make Love” – “We Will Rock You” by Queen
Nine Inch Nails have paid homage to several musical icons over the years, with one of their earliest instances being a cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” for the B-side of the “Sin” single. The track uses a sample of the trailer for The Cabinet Of Caligari, but on a more meta level, they close out their cover with a sample from the very end of “We Will Rock You.”