First created way back in the late 80’s, MTV Unplugged was an American television show built to shine a light on megastars through live performances, with “Unplugged” referencing the acoustic nature of the music played. The show ran regularly for two decades, eventually moving on to a more infrequent schedule in 2009, and gave the stage to countless artists to put on iconic performances. Mid-90’s MTV, a host of superstar artists performing acoustic renditions of their electric repertoire, what’s not to like? We took a trip through the history books and pulled together some of our favorite MTV Unplugged performances, from LL Cool J to Nirvana.
Oasis performed in ‘96m firing on all cylinders, taking a break from their Morning Glory tour to give a live performance in the London Royal Festival Hall and breaking convention from their blockbuster, stadium-filling gigs of the time. Liam backed out minutes before the show because of a “sore throat”, and rather than shelving the performance for another day Noel took over, becoming front man and making for a novel show like no other. Even better, the sick brother sat in the audience and heckled Noel all night long.
In the first few episodes, Unplugged featured multiple artists at once – the most popular of these shows was Yo! Unplugged Rap, which saw LL Cool J, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest perform together in the first iteration of the show featuring hip-hop artists. LL Cool J is so, so good, rapping over smooth jazz with effortless swag before going on to strip shirtless to perform “Mama Said Knock You Out”, only to be ridiculed for years after the show for wearing flakey white deodorant. De La Soul come on after LL Cool J, donning cozy fits and playing the hit single “Ring Ring Ring” with finesse.
Unplugged felt like Nirvana’s final flourish, with the legendary rock band disbanding after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The set was – per Cobain’s insistence – themed after a funeral, laden with black candles and flowers, setting the stage for a dark, eerie performance that fans will never forget. For many, however, the performance was frustrating in that the band opted to sideline many classics and instead cover the likes of David Bowie’s “The man who sold the world”. The most memorable moment from the show was Kurt’s disturbing – particularly so when considering his subsequent death – rendition of “Come as you are” which saw him repeat the line “no, I don’t have a gun” over and over again. Even lacking their heavy hitter songs, the performance is hailed as one of the most iconic live concerts of all time.