Single Stories: Metallica, “Nothing Else Matters”
25 years ago today, Metallica released their third single from their 1991 self-titled album, ultimately securing themselves a top-40 hit with the track.
Composed by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich and produced by them as well, along with Bob Rock, “Nothing Else Matters” has a surprising origin story: it first came into existence when Hetfield was on the phone with his girlfriend.
“It was a song for myself in my room on tour when I was bumming out about being away from home,” Hetfield told the Village Voice in a 2014 interview. “It's quite amazing, it's a true testament to honesty and exposing yourself, putting your real self out there, and taking the risk, taking a gamble that someone's either going to step on your heart with spikes on or they're going to put their heart right next to it, and you never know until you try.”
In the same interview, Kirk Hammett confirmed a running gag from the band documentary A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica: he had trouble learning how to play “Nothing Else Matters.”
“We kept putting it in the set and taking it out until we were certain we were actually able to play it,” said Hammett. “I had to relearn that whole intro part to play by myself onstage, which was a little bit intimidating for me at that point, we never had a song that started that way. After a while, once we got it down, it was no problem. Once we put our sights onto whipping a song into shape and getting it together and ready to play, we're pretty good about putting it together and making it happen.”
While “Nothing Else Matters” sounded like none of the Metallica songs that had preceded it, that uniqueness didn’t stop it from finding an audience. Upon being released as a single, the song hit #34 on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to #6 on the UK Singles chart, and has actually charted in multiple years in various countries in Europe. Not bad for a song that Hetfield had feared would inspire vomiting from the audience.
"I was just waiting for 'Nothing Else Matters' to come on," said Hetfield in K.J. Doughton’s 1992 book Metallica Unbound. "You know, to see if these people just look at each other and throw up! I was wondering how much peer pressure people were going to put on each other; people going, 'Do you like this?' 'I dunno – do you like it?' [But] people were pretty into it, which was pretty amazing."