But if there’s anything we miss the most on MTV, it would have to be its Unplugged concert series. Launched in 1989, Unplugged features a live audience with minimal to no amplified instruments. The idea was for artists to present more stripped-down versions of their songs in an intimate setting with their fans. In honor of these wonderfully raw performances, here’s a look at some of the best Unplugged episodes of years past.
Eric Clapton (1992)
Although “Tears in Heaven” first appeared on the soundtrack of “Rush” in 1991, it was the Unplugged performance that fans would remember. Clapton wrote the ballad in memory of his four-year-old son, who tragically passed away. An emotionally fragile Clapton went on to deliver one of his most memorable performances to date. In addition, a stripped-down version of “Layla” as part of the episode became wildly popular.
Alice in Chains (1996)
When Alice in Chains stepped onto the stage in 1996, lead singer Layne Staley was battling a crippling addiction. The band hadn’t played a single show for over two years. But during this performance, Staley poured his emotions into the concert. The world saw unforgettable acoustic renditions of “Down in a Hole,” “Over Now,” and “Rooster.”
Jay-Z’s Unplugged performance proved beyond a doubt that the show works for any genre of music. He had the Roots serve as a backing band, which paid off beautifully. The band’s energy was unbeatable that night! Jay-Z sand with Mary J. Blige for “Can’t Knock the Hustle” while Pharrell Williams joined him on “I Just Wanna Love You.” It was proof of concept – with the right arrangements and backing band, Unplugged is home for any artist.
Pearl Jam (1992)
Pearl Jam taped their Unplugged concert soon after a whirlwind Europe tour. They got off the plane and went straight into the studio to record the show without time to prep. Still, Eddie Vedder’s vocals were powerful and gave fans exactly what they were looking for.
Perhaps the most haunting Unplugged concert was Nirvana in 1993. It wasn’t the band’s last concert, contrary to popular opinion. But the show was dark and felt like a final statement in many ways. Kurt Cobain thought the stage looked like a funeral, with its black candles and lilies. His rendition of “Come as You are” gave the audience chills. Fans not only saw the band’s songs in a completely new light, but an emotionally overwrought Cobain putting everything he had into his music. It was a performance that would go on to haunt the music world after.