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The Ten Greatest Acoustic Takes on Beloved Rock Songs

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Bruce Springsteen performing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 10, 1988.

'Born To Run' on 1988 Tunnel of Love Express tour

On 1988's Tunnel of Love tour, Bruce Springsteen had grown weary of his touring routine and decided to make some changes. He had the E Street Band reverse their standard spots onstage, and he played "Born to Run" solo acoustic. "When I sing it now I feel young and I feel old at the same time," he said. "The song kind of opens up and lets in all the years and breathes it in sort of gracefully."

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Neil Young

Neil Young performing in 1999.

'Ohio,' Akron Ohio, April 1999

Neil Young's 1999 solo acoustic tour is perhaps the finest outing of his career. Exclusively playing theaters, Young varied his setlist wildly from night to night — by the end had played sixty-seven different songs. The only night he played "Ohio" was when the tour touched down in Akron, Ohio, just twelve miles away from the site of the Kent State Massacre. Nearly thirty years after the tragedy, you can still hear the pain in his voice when he repeatedly moans "four dead in Ohio."

Paul McCartney

'And I Love Her,' MTV Unplugged, 1991

Paul McCartney tries to break out a previously unplayed Beatles song every time he goes on tour. At the taping of his 1991 MTV Unplugged special he dusted off this Hard Days Night gem, singing it for the first time since the original recording in 1964. The tender, slowed-down arrangement was the highlight of the special.

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Elton John

Ray Cooper and Elton John performing in 1979.

'Funeral for a Friend/Tonight,' live with Ray Cooper, 1977 tour

In 1979 Elton John decided to drastically scale back his touring band, hitting the road with just his piano and percussionist Ray Cooper. The shows featured wonderfully stripped down arrangements of his classics, but none was as effective as a medley "Funeral for a Friend/Tonight." Both songs give John freedom to show off his amazing piano skills, and the sorrow of both tracks becomes all the more apparent in the sparse arrangements.

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The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones performing in 1995.

'Let It Bleed,' Paris, 1995

The Rolling Stones' 1994/95 Voodoo Lounge tour was staged almost entirely in stadiums, but the accompanying live album Stripped was recorded at a handful of club gigs in Europe and Asia. Obviously inspired by the recent success of Unplugged, the disc presents acoustic versions of hits ("Street Fighting Man," "Wild Horses") and fan favorites ("Dead Flowers," "Sweet Virginia"). Best of all was the title track to Let It Bleed, featuring great slide guitar by Ron Wood.

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U2 performs in London, August 1, 1997.

'Staring at the Sun,' Popmart Tour, 1997/98

U2's ill-fated 1997 disc Pop didn't translate well to the stage, and after a handful of disastrous gigs they rejiggered the show, dropping some of the new songs and reworking others. The most successful alteration was "Staring at the Sun," in which Bono and the Edge both played acoustic guitars. It was easily one of the best parts of the show.

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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan performing in Verona, Italy, 1984.

'Tangled Up In Blue,' 1984 European tour

Bob Dylan's 1984 European tour with Joan Baez and Carlos Santana was a complete mess, making this complete re-write of "Tangled Up In Blue" all the more astonishing. Dylan's been reworking his songs for fifty years, but rarely do the lyrics get totally altered. Even tiny things — like changing "I'm still on the road headed for another joint" into "Me I'm headed for the sun, trying to stay out of the joint" — bring new meaning to the work.

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Thom Yorke

'After The Gold Rush,' Bridge School Benefit 2002

The night before the 2002 Bridge School Benefit, Thom Yorke asked Neil Young if he could play "After the Gold Rush" at the show. "He said, 'If you're going to play that, you should play it on the piano it was done on,'" Yorke told the BBC. "It was one of the craziest experiences of my life, having him stand beside me at the side of the stage as I played his song. It was the best way I could say to him how much I loved his music."

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The Who

Pete Townshend performing in Rotterdam, May 5, 1997.

'Won't Get Fooled Again,' Quadrophenia tour 1996

When the Who reformed in 1996 to play Quadrophenia, they decided that the encores shouldn't be familiar versions of their hits. Instead, they opted to do many of them in a dramatically stripped-down fashion. "Won't Get Fooled Again" was played by just Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, with John Entwistle joining in midway through on acoustic bass. With the drum solos and synths removed, Townshend's brilliant lyrics about the futility of revolution sounded even more bitingly cynical.

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Simon & Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel performing in New York City, 1993.

'America,' Bridge School Benefit 1993

Simon & Garfunkel briefly buried the hatchet for a series of shows in 1993, in what Simon then characterized as farewell concerts. Their rendition of "America" at the 1993 Bridge School Benefit was so achingly gorgeous we're lucky he broke that promise a decade later — though none of those shows quite captured the magic of this singular performance.