In 1989, MTV launched a series called ‘Unplugged’, where artists would ditch their electric instruments and play acoustic sets for a live audience. The underlying concept for the show was inspired by informal musical performances by Elvis Presley, with his 1968 Comeback Special, and The Beatles studio session’s documented in the 1970 film Let It Be. Then in 1979, Pete Townsend performed a series of acoustic concerts for human rights organization Amnesty International, which was filmed and later released as a movie and a live album.
People really responded to the informal style and acoustic sound, and in the ‘80’s, there became a renewed interest in folk music, which opened the doors for many new acts including R.E.M, The Indigo Girls, Sinéad O’Connor, Suzanne Vega, Lyle Lovett, Michael Penn, Enya and Bruce Hornsby and the Range. There was also a resurfacing of older folk-style musicians from the 60’s and 70’s like Paul Simon, The Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straights/Mark Knoffler, and of course Bob Dylan.
The first artist to perform for MTV Unplugged was Jethro Tull, who performed a portion of “Serenade to Cuckoo” and “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)”. In 1989 Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed, and after that it became a very popular venue for artists to perform, and recreate some of their best songs – artists like Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Kiss, Neil Young, Nirvana and Alice in Chains.
There are many great performances, and if you haven’t seen them I’d recommend checking them out on YouTube. Here are some of my favorites.
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out:
The Man Who Sold the World:
Lake of Fire:
Alice In Chains:
Down In a Hole:
Needle and the Damage Done: