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‘MTV Unplugged’: The 15 Best Episodes

To celebrate the show’s return, we look back at its greatest moments – from Jay-Z to Nirvana

nirvana mtv unplugged 15 best kurt cobain acoustic

MTV's 'Unplugged' is coming back to the airwaves, and we're celebrating by counting down the 15 best episodes, from Jay-Z to Nirvana.

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MTV’s newest reinvention scheme involves getting back to their roots, which means recreating their iconic Times Square studio for a revival of Total Request Live. It also means they’re bringing back Unplugged. For those not around in the Nineties, that’s the show where big musical acts played acoustic renditions of their songs. It gave a new lease on life to veteran artists like Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart and offered newer groups like Pearl Jam and Nirvana a chance to strip their music back down to its essence and offer their fans some fun surprises. 

The new edition of the show kicks off tonight with Shawn Mendes; to celebrate, here’s a chronological look at the 15 best Unplugged episodes of years past. Before commenters go insane, we are excluding performances by the groups like the Eagles and Page & Plant that merely used the Unplugged name, or variations of it, for their concert specials. Also, even Bruce Springsteen’s most die-hard fans probably feel that Plugged wasn’t exactly his finest moment. 

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Pearl Jam (1992)

Pearl Jam were just beginning to gain a national profile when they taped their Unplugged special at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens on March 16th, 1992. They’d just wrapped a grueling European tour and had little time to prep. “We literally got off the plane from Europe, spent all day in a cavernous sound studio in New York, and did the show that night,” said bassist Jeff Ament. “It’s pretty powerful, and Ed’s singing great. Yet it’s kind of naive, which is awesome.” The group later said they wished they had more time to put together a whole set of newly arranged songs like Nirvana would do late the following year, but it’s still an amazing look at a band just starting to realize their own incredible power and range. 

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Nirvana (1993)

Unplugged wasn’t Nirvana’s last concert. Just one week after it wrapped they’d resume the American leg of the In Utero tour and then head to Europe early the following year for two months of additional shows. But in many ways, the show felt like their final statement to the world. The vibe was dark before they even walked on since Kurt Cobain insisted that the stage look like a funeral, complete with lilies and black candles. Joined by touring guitarist Pat Smear and cellist Lori Goldston, the group skipped over nearly all of their obvious hits in favor of covers like David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” The Vaselines’ “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” and no less than three Meat Puppets songs, where they were joined by bandleaders Cris and Curt Kirkwood themselves. Near the beginning, Kurt delivered a chilling rendition of “Come as You Are,” repeating the line “no, I don’t have a gun” through gritted teeth, a moment that became very hard to watch in light of later events. The show wraps up with “All Apologies” and a cover of Lead Belly’s “In The Pines,” which they renamed “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” It’s hard to think of a more powerful double shot from any live concert in the entire 1990s, or perhaps even the entire history of rock & roll. 

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