We’re back with part two of our MTV Unplugged iconic performances rundown.
In this edition, we’re covering three more of the show’s legendary episodes and what made them so special. If you’ve not read the first part yet, catch up here.
So without further ado, let’s dive in with a ‘70s superstar rediscovering his roots…
For many a 1990s youth, Rod Stewart was the antithesis of hip. In an era where grunge reigned, the famously bouffanted singer’s string of 1980s megahits – “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, “Young Turks” etc – were regarded as relics from a bygone age.
But before the era of ‘80s excess, before the leopard print and the spandex, Rod the Mod was a song interpreter of note, regarded for his unique, gravelly take on many an American songbook staple. And, for his MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, Stewart wisely went back to the source, revisiting many of the tracks that propelled him to stardom in the 1970s. He even brought his former Faces bandmate (and current Rolling Stone) Ron Wood along for the ride.
Stripped back to their bare bones, the likes of“Have I Told You Lately” and “Reason to Believe” showed a young audience that Rod brought more than just pomp to the table. And, for old-school Stewart fans, the show was a reaffirmation of what drew them to the singer in the first place.
Normally, if your lead singer ducks out on the eve of a gig, it’s game over. But, when Liam Gallagher refused to appear at the taping of Oasis’s MTV Unplugged episode, it resulted in one of the most memorable performances of the band’s career.
Liam’s non-appearance was attributed to a “sore throat.” Given that the taping took place during the band’s debauched “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” tour though, it’s hard to know what to believe. Either way, Noel Gallagher was unfazed by his brother’s absence and assumed lead vocal duties for the entire performance.
For those in attendance – including Liam, who bizarrely heckled his own band throughout the show – it was a revelation. Sure Noel had written the songs, and sung “Don’t Look Back in Anger” on “…Morning Glory,” but seeing him in the spotlight was something else. It changed peoples’ perception of the band, and affirmed Noel’s status as a true musical talent.
When you’re talking about MTV Unplugged episodes, they don’t come much more iconic than this one. Nirvana’s performance, which originally aired in December 1993, would take on a whole new meaning after the death of frontman Kurt Cobain in April 1994. Endless reruns in the wake of Cobain’s suicide turned the episode into a defining ‘90s moment. Given just how much added significance the program gained following the front man’s passing, the songs themselves often get forgotten. But, as the Atlantic notes:
“…it’s worth considering the performance as a work of music, not mythology. Because as music, it’s incredible. The band run through a tense and brilliant 14-song set in one scintillating take, something unusual at the time for the popular MTV series, and the result is one of the greatest live albums ever—an unforgettable document of raw tension and artistic genius.”
To those who dismissed Nirvana as nothing more than noise merchants, Unplugged was an eye-opener. Laid bare, it proved Cobain as a songwriter and arranger par excellence, while a wisely chosen song selection eschewed the obvious hits and showcased the breadth of the band’s catalogue. Today, Nirvana is recognized as one of the true greats of guitar-based rock music. MTV Unplugged played a huge part in that.
Do you remember watching these performances on MTV? Which is your favorite? And what are your favorite acoustic versions of songs normally played on electric? Share your stories in the comments.
“If you want to be a rock star or just be famous, then run down the street naked, you'll make the news or something. But if you want music to be your livelihood, then play, play, play and play! And eventually you'll get to where you want to be.”
“I'm not a rock star. Sure I am, to a certain extent because of the situation, but when kids ask me how it feels to be a rock star, I say leave me alone, I'm not a rock star. I'm not in it for the fame, I'm in it because I like to play.”
The revolutionary impact of his playing reverberated pretty much from the get-go. Legend has it that when Van Halen supported Black Sabbath at London’s Hammersmith in 1978, half of the crowd vanished after Eddie and co. finished their set; decamping to nearby pubs to try and make sense of what they’d just witnessed. In the face of the literal Eruption that Edward brought to the stage, the lumbering, power chord chug of Iron Man was positively Jurassic.
“I never played one live! They were horrible," Stanley told Vintage Guitar in 1997. He was perhaps being uncharitable with that comment. Anyone who’s played a Marauder will likely tell you that they’re a fine – if unconventional – instrument. But you can see why Stanley, in a quest for KISS’s hard rock thunder, didn’t get on with the Fender-like axe. In the end, Stanley did find a purpose for the Marauder during KISS’s live shows...