MTV Unplugged premiered rather quietly in the fall of 1989 as an acoustic showcase for serious musicians. These folks didn’t go into it for the fame, but they did hope to further establish themselves in a new setting.
Within a year, those artists were eager to prove themselves as serious musicians. From there on, at that point, Unplugged became a prestige platform for the music industry.
Stone Temple Pilots Performance Was A Memorable One
The set was performed live worldwide on MTV in 1993. The set features a few songs from the band’s first album, Core. Stone Temple Pilot’s performance remains a memorable performance, mainly because the song “Big Empty” was played live for the very first time ever.
Other songs from the performance include Andy Warhol, a cover by David Bowie, and Sex Type Thing, which was added to the album as a bonus track.
Korn’s Appearance Marked Their Second Ever Acoustic Set
The band’s first acoustic set was on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2006, but a year later, Korn did another performance that was broadcast in America, Europe, and Asia. The exclusive acoustic set had the participation of artists such as The Cure and Amy Lee.
The album debuted on the U.S. at #9, with over 50,000 copies sold. The band played “Blind” “Falling Away from Me” and a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
Shakira Was On America’s Radar When She Recorded Her Acoustic Set
The year is 1999 and the Latino musician is climbing up the superstar ladder. When she recorded her acoustic set, the closer “Ojos Asi” crossed over the U.S. Top 40 radio. Within a year, the “Hips Don’t Lie” singer was under America’s radar with a vengeance.
The set throttled her to become a global phenomenon to this day. However, it can be said that she’s never topped this brilliant acoustic album.
Tony Bennett Showed The Young Kids How It’s Done
At the time, the founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts was 68 years old when he made a comeback. In 1994, his tremendous voice did not disappoint throughout the set. Bennett easily made it through “It Had to Be You,” “Rags to Riches,” and Sinatra’s iconic hit “Fly Me to the Moon.”
He might have been too relaxed, but he joined Elvis Costello for a rendition of Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”
Rod Stewart Briefly Returned To His Rock-And-Roll Roots For Unplugged… and Seated
The pop star used MTV’s acoustic format to briefly return to his old rock-and-roll form. Unplugged… and Seated reunited the musician with Ronnie Wood, his Faces bandmate. The pair would ultimately tear into classic hits including “Stay with Me” and “Every Picture Tells A Story.” Stewart even went as far as to dig up more obscure tracks.
They performed”Handbags and Gladrags” which became the theme song for the U.K. version of The Office.
Alicia Keys Celebrated Her Stardom With Her 2005 Unplugged Set
The early-2000’s saw the musician rise to fame. But, it was her Unplugged set that really showed off her vocal and instrumental talents. Her duet with Adam Levine on The Rolling Stones "Wild Horses" fell flat, but she redeemed herself with Prince’s "How Come You Don’t Call Me". Then, she wowed the crowd with her trademark single "Fallin’."
The finale featured Common, Mos Def and others for the song "Love It or Leave It Alone/Welcome to Jamrock."
It Was Alice in Chains’ First Concert In Over Two Years
Despite the set being the Seattle band’s first appearance, it marked the final one for lead singer Layne Staley. For a band that hadn’t done a live performance in a while, Alice In Chains did have some rust, with the acoustic arrangements being basic. However, it’s Staley who gives it his all throughout the night.
The late frontman did well despite his personal struggles at the time, especially with the song “Nutshell.”
R.E.M. Had Two Sessions In 1991 And 2001
Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions was released three years after the band’s 2011 breakup. It’s a listening feast for anyone who’s a fan of the band’s music. The 1991 set was the band in their commercial prime. Most of the near-20 song set were taken from the album Out of Time.
Ten years later, the band played tracks for the 2001 album Revival. The band would eventually break up because they felt that all their hits were still in the past.
The Long-Time Reunion Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
The duo wasn’t hesitant about getting Led Zeppelin back together for special occasions. Sure, this wasn’t Live Aid, but the concert in 1994 felt like a new chapter in Zeppelin’s history. Considering John Paul Jones was absent, and John Bonham died in 1980, Jimmy and Robert played “No Quarter.”
The song was so popular that Page and Plant took the show on the road for a world tour the following year.
There Was One Downside To The Former Beatle’s Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)
His setlist contained just 17 songs, which is far and away less than 100, but the Brit was sure to add in plenty of Beatles tunes that made the crowd sing along. However, he threw some curveballs to keep the fans on their toes all night long.
His rendition of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” make you wish the Grammy winner would release an Unplugged LP once a year.
Neil Young Was Fresh Off His Crazy Horse Days
Neil Young started his career in the 1960’s, and would bring his iconic sound to the Unplugged set in 1993. It closely followed the release of “Harvest Moon” one of his most critically acclaimed songs of all time. Young then took it back further with another iconic single off of his “Harvest” album.
Needless to say, it felt right to hear his critically acclaimed music return to the folk-country sound fans know him for.
Kiss Performed Without Their Customary Theatrics
For a seventies rock band that wore a lot of makeup, Kiss rose to the occasion in 1996. The group ended up delivering an energetic set that was fairly similar to their longtime critics.
Even if you subtract all of the razzle-dazzle of Kiss, they’re simply one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands ever. Interestingly enough, the set marked the returned of two former members — guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss.
Eric Clapton Went Back To His Bluesy Grass Roots
The legendary guitarist went back to his old style in 1991. Clapton’s set is the top-selling live album of all time, and it’s best known for the rearranged version of “Layla.” Clapton’s heartfelt performance of “Tears of Heaven” was absolutely breathtaking. But, it’s the moments when he transitions back into his blues tracks that really hold steady.
Songs like “Before You Accuse Me” and “Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out,” really stood out.
Mariah Carey’s Set Was More Of An EP Than An Actual Album
Carey’s 1992 performance was a polished affair that preaches the looseness associated with the format. The pop singer played it safe and stuck it out with her hits. She played "Emotions," "Someday," and "Vision of Love." But, it was one of her last songs of the night that was mesmerizing.
She brought down the house with a virtuoso rendition of Jackson 5’s "I Want You Back," later becoming Carey’s sixth No. 1 hit.
Jay-Z’s Performance Was An Exhilarating Effect For The Unplugged Format
In 2001, the Brooklyn rapper did his session with hip-hop group The Roots. From the start of the opener with “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” the rapper is dialed in and ready to spit out hot freestyles from the microphone. Essentially, the performance almost felt like a party was about to burst out at any second.
But, when Mary J. Blige showed up for “Can’t Knock the Hustle/Family Affair,” the night was just getting started.
Maxwell Was The Newcomer On The Scene When MTV Landed Him
As soon as MTV handed the singer the keys, it was going to be hard for every other artist to match up. He made his brief moment in the spotlight count when he did an incredible rendition of “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush. However, it was impossible to listen to his impassioned vocals without breaking out into goosebumps.
The soul crooner was sure to make his performance one of the greatest moments for MTV Unplugged.
10,000 Maniacs Broke Through The Mainstream
In 1992, the band broke through with the single “Our Time in Eden.” One year later, their commercial victory lap was the Unplugged release. That performance ended up producing a single that nobody saw coming.
It was nothing more than a perfectly competent cover of “Because the Night” by Patti Smith. However, if you’re someone who is a fan of safe, unthreatening music, this is essentially Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Bob Dylan’s Performance Was An Intro For Fans
It was a show that explained to kids why their parents couldn’t stop talking about Dylan. The legendary musician is known for drawing up eclectic set lists whenever he puts on a show. He performed “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watch Tower,” and “Rady Day Women #12 and 35.”
These are all obligatory run-throughs for Dylan, but his diehard fans were over the moon with his final song “With God on Our Side.”
Baby Face Didn’t Hit It Big As A Solo Artist
Kenneth Edmonds was one of the founding fathers of New Jack Swing. But, he didn’t hit it big until 1996 with “The Day.” This Unplugged LP arrived one year later, and it opened with a duet of Clapton’s “Change the World.” The set doesn’t become alive until Babyface cuts loose with “Whip Appeal.”
Shanice and Sheila E. drop by for a song apiece, but it’s all set up for the ecstatic grand finale with Stevie Wonder.
Bruce Springsteen Broke The Rules And Plugged In
Yeah, MTV wasn’t too pleased with Springsteen. But, The Boss wasn’t very keen on the acoustic rehearsals. The 1992 set was somewhat of a disappointment for the rock icon. He relied heavily on singles from his two most recent LP’s Human Touch and Lucky Town.
But, somehow, he managed to get through a stellar performance of “Atlantic City, “Thunder Road” and “Light of Day.” So, while it might have bent the rules, it was still a memorable night.
What Was Uptown MTV Unplugged?
This 1993 LP was a showcase for Uptown Records. It featured the top recording artists at the time, and it’s an excellent piece of promotion. First off, Jodeci led off with a soulful performance of “Forever My Lady.” However, the real star of the night went to Mary J. Blige.
The musician scorched the microphone for a powerful performance of “Sweet Thing,” and “Reminisce” and reminded folks about the power her voice has in any setting.
Nirvana’s Majestic Album Hinted At Kurt’s Unrealized Potential
There is a lot to tackle with the grunge band’s set. Not only was this recorded five months before Cobain took his life, but you can hear the anguish in his voice. The Seattle boys were joined by the Germs’ Pat Smear, cellist Lori Goldston and the Meat Puppets Curt Kirkwood.
They gave additional instrumentation for “Come As You Are”, “Polly,” and “All Apologies,” but this really was Cobain’s sad farewell.
Oasis Agreed To Do Unplugged At London’s Royal Festival Hall
It was a rare chance to see the group outside of a stadium or giant festival, but shortly before showtime Liam Gallagher backed out due to a “sore throat.” Whatever his excuse was, most groups would never dream of playing a gig without their lead singer.
But, for Noel, he simply shrugged it off and decided to simply take over vocal duties. After all, he wrote the songs himself and was a great singer in his own right.
It Was Three Years After Lauryn Hill Released The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
With her label desperate for new Lauryn Hill music of any sort, they released it as a double album. The former Fugees star had a ton of new songs. But, she was just learning to play guitar and clearly was in no position to be presenting them to the public.
It was Ms. Hill who was battling a shredded throat, the cursing weight of industry expectations, and her fragile appearance that caused her to have a bit of a meltdown on stage.
Courtney Love’s Band Hole Played A Year After Cobain’s Death
Courtney Love and her band played an Unplugged show to promote their album Live Through This. It was a ballsy move since it would invite comparisons to her husband’s Unplugged set. Cobain’s set was already the stuff of legend, but Love not only delivered killer versions of “Doll Parts” and “Miss World,” but she even did “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran.
However, seeing Cobain’s widow try to grapple with an unimaginable loss onstage for the whole world to see was very moving.
LL Cool J/ A Tribe Called Quest/ De La Soul Was The Most Successful Hip-Hop Rendition
Yo! Unplugged Rap, featured LL Cool J, MC Lyte, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul. This was MTV’s first attempt at bringing hip-hop into the Unplugged universe, and it was a huge success.
The highlight was LL Cool J tearing through “Mama Said Knock You Out.” That was enough to teach kids all over America to never wear white, flakey deodorant when playing shirtless on national television. Lesson learned.
Pearl Jam Was Just Beginning To Gain A National Profile
The band just wrapped up an exhausting European tour. As soon as they arrived in New York, they did the show that same night. Eddie Vedder’s singing was great, almost as if he didn’t leave for a tour.
The group had wished that they had more time to put together a whole set, but it would be Nirvana who beat them to the punch a year later. It’s still amazing that this band was starting to realize their incredible power and range.
Steven Tyler Actually Sat Throughout Aerosmith’s Set
The band didn’t release an album of their 1990 performance, but that doesn’t mean it was any less memorable. They eschewed the post-comeback hits in favor of more obscure songs like “Seasons of Wither” and “One Way Street.” Although, their choice of covers reminded us of their blues roots nearly 15 years before Honkin’ on Bobo.
We also believe that this may have been the longest Steven Tyler has remained seated in his entire life.
The Eagles Return After A Near Breakup In 1980
For these guys, a shot on Unplugged wasn’t about selling their newest product; it was their newest product. In their 1994 episode called Hell Freezes Over, it was the first time they had performed together since Glenn Frey and Don Felder almost fought in 1980.
They played a handful of their biggest hits, including “Hotel California,” and unveiled several new songs. The resulting album has sold over nine million copies.
Bon Jovi Was The Start Of It All
It wasn’t a full episode. Heck, Unplugged hadn’t even premiered yet. But the acoustic versions of “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora at the 1989 Video Music Awards is widely considered to be the inspiration for the entire series.
Almost 30 years later, the musician promoted their country album Lost Highway, with a 90-minute Unplugged that aired on MTV’s sister station, CMT.