“Nothing Else Matters” is a song by American heavy metal band Metallica. It was released in 1992 as the third single from their self-titled fifth studio album, Metallica. The song peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, number 6 on the UK Singles Chart as well as top-ten on many other European charts. “Nothing Else Matters” was featured as a playable track in the music video game Guitar Hero: Metallica. Recognized as one of Metallica’s best known and most popular songs, it has become a staple in live performances.
Lead singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield wrote the song (credited to Hetfield/Ulrich) in 1990 while he was on the phone with his then girlfriend. Since he held the phone with one hand, he plucked the four open strings of a standard E-minor chord with the other, which eventually made up the first two bars of the song. The lyrics, which talk about being “so close, no matter how far”, were also dedicated to his girlfriend, indicating the bond they shared even when Hetfield was on tour. Initially, the song was not meant to be released, as Hetfield had written it for himself, but after drummer Lars Ulrich heard it, it was considered for the album.
The song’s demo was also called “Nothing Else Matters” and was recorded in Lars Ulrich’s home musical studio “Dungeon” on August 13, 1990.
Its intro is an E minor arpeggio (transposed one half-step lower on stage performances) beginning with the open low E followed by the open G, B and high E strings.
It is one of the few Metallica songs in which Hetfield plays the guitar solo. Given that Hetfield recorded all rhythm and most harmony tracks on the band’s first five albums and that Hammett has stated he didn’t learn how to play the song until they were well into the tour for the album, Hammett does not play on the studio recording, making it one of the few in the whole Metallica repertoire, along with Cliff Burton’s “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”, in which he does not appear.
The orchestral arrangements were written by award-winning composer Michael Kamen, who would later go on to collaborate with the group on S&M.
The music video premiered on MTV on February 26, 1992. It was directed by Adam Dubin, and edited by Sean Fullan. The clip consists of parts of the A year and a half… video tape which was shot during the recordings of Metallica. One of them shows Hetfield playing a Gibson EDS-1275 guitar during the second chorus. MTV will not air the video during daytime hours anymore because it features nudity in the form of pin-up posters and Playboy centerfolds that are taped up in the studio. It also has a picture of Winger’s Kip Winger which Lars Ulrich is seen throwing darts at. On the band’s 2006 music video compilation DVD, the posters are censored, as was done with the nudity featured in the music videos for “Turn the Page” and “Whiskey in the Jar”.
The song has now become a staple in Metallica’s live performances, and has been dedicated to their fans. When played live nowadays, Hammett does the first part of the intro, and Hetfield joins in for the second, to then sing and play it alone until after the first chorus, when the whole band kicks in. Also, the last verse is left out, ending the song with the heavily distorted guitar solo by Hetfield, and usually fading into “Enter Sandman”. A live version on which this can be heard, can be found on the CD/DVD Orgullo, Pasión y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de México. Other live recordings can be found on Live Shit: Binge & Purge, on S&M, Cunning Stunts DVD as well as the DVD/Blu-ray The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria as well as on the soundtrack for the band’s feature film “Through the Never”.