|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Part of a series on|
in the United States
|Programs on MTV|
|Censorship on MTV|
|Viacom Media Networks|
MTV Unplugged is a TV series showcasing many popular musical artists usually playing acoustic instruments. The show has received the George Foster Peabody Award and 3 Primetime Emmy nominations among many accolades.
The term Unplugged has come to refer to music that would usually be played on amplified instruments (such as an electric guitar or synthesizer) but is rendered instead on instruments that are not electronically amplified, for example acoustic guitar or traditional piano, although a microphone is still used.
The word became incorporated into the title of a popular MTV series that began in the 1989/1990 US TV season, MTV Unplugged, on which musicians performed acoustic or "unplugged" versions of their familiar electric repertoire. Many of these performances were subsequently released as albums, often featuring the title Unplugged.
Inspiration for MTV Unplugged
The underlying concept behind the Unplugged series has been attributed to the popularity among musicians of a variety of informal musical performances on stage, film, television and record in earlier decades. The casual "in-the-round" sequence in Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special, and The Beatles' informal studio jams documented in the 1970 film Let It Be were both precursors of the "Unplugged" concept, though they were neither conceived nor promoted as such at the time they occurred.
The direct inspiration for the series came in the decade immediately preceding the creation of the MTV program. The catalyst was a series of highly publicized "unplugged" performances that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first of these was the June 1979 appearances by Pete Townshend at The Secret Policeman's Ball, a series of benefit shows in London for human rights organization Amnesty International at which the usually electric guitar-wielding Townshend was persuaded by benefit producer Martin Lewis to perform his hits "Pinball Wizard" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" on acoustic guitar. The performances were widely seen and heard on the 1980 live album and the UK-only movie of the benefit and inspired other rock performers to emulate Townshend.
Two years later in September 1981 Lewis produced a sequel benefit show The Secret Policeman's Other Ball that featured similar performances by other rock performers including Sting, Phil Collins and Bob Geldof. The 1982 live album of these performances and the US version of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball movie (which incorporated a "flashback" of Townshend's 1979 performances) both became very successful and were widely seen and heard in the USA.
The phenomenon of rock stars re-creating their hits in an acoustic manner was thus well established by the early 1980s though the word "unplugged" had not yet been applied to the concept.
In addition, the late 1980s saw a renewed interest in folk and acoustic music in general (accompanied by a wave of nostalgia for the music of the 1960s, which also had a significant folk/acoustic movement). Many new acts established during the period had a strong folk/acoustic influence, e.g. The Indigo Girls, R.E.M., Sinéad O'Connor, Suzanne Vega, Lyle Lovett, Michael Penn, Enya, and Bruce Hornsby and the Range. At the same time, many established folk and folk-influenced artists of the 60s and 70s experienced renewed success – some reaching the greatest commercial success of their careers – such as Paul Simon, The Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler, Yes, and Bob Dylan.
The first rock artist to perform in an "unplugged" mode on MTV was Jethro Tull, who, on November 17, 1987 as an acoustic trio (Ian Anderson, Dave Pegg, and Martin Barre), performed a portion of "Serenade to a Cuckoo" and "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)". XTC performed acoustically in May 1989, and Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed "Livin' on a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" during the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.
The concept of an MTV show titled Unplugged drawing on this phenomenon has been attributed to producers Robert Small and Jim Burns together with songwriter Jules Shear, who hosted the first 13 episodes. The pilot and first seven episodes were produced by Bruce Leddy, after which Associate Producer Alex Coletti took over for the remainder of the series. After the first 13 episodes, the role of host was eliminated. The show was produced by Viacom and RSE Inc and was most frequently directed by Milton Lage and Beth McCarthy.
Selected list of artists
- The series first aired November 26, 1989, featuring Squeeze, Syd Straw and Elliot Easton. The first 13 episodes were hosted by American singer-songwriter Jules Shear.
- Paul McCartney's 1991 appearance was later released on the successful Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album. Show producer Alex Coletti went on to say that had McCartney not released it, the concept would have never gained the cult status that it went on to enjoy.
- Joe Walsh appeared on the show in 1990 with Dr. John. According to the book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks, Joe Walsh wanted to perform the Eagles classic, "Desperado" but Joel Gallen received a three page fax from Don Henley denying the use of the song. MTV invited Henley to perform on the show, but Henley wanted to have a show featuring only himself. At that point, TV was sharing the time between different artists.
- On April 10, 1991, Unplugged aired its first ever acoustic rap show. The special kicked off with individual performances by LL Cool J along with MC Lyte (Cappucino), De La Soul (Ring Ring Ring), and A Tribe Called Quest ("Can I Kick It?") and a five piece back-up band, Pop's Cool Love. The highlight of the show was LL Cool J's energetic renditions of "Jingling Baby" and "Mama Said Knock You Out".
- In 1992, Mariah Carey performed a cover version of The Jackson 5's hit "I'll Be There" along with backup singer Trey Lorenz. That live version was released as a single and went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as in Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, and became a hit elsewhere. Due to high demand, the performance was released as an album which eventually sold over 10 million copies worldwide making it the most successful Unplugged release ever. The performance was released in a video form too, achieving success particularly in America, Europe, Japan, and Australia.
- In 1992, Eric Clapton recorded an Unplugged performance at Bray Studios in London. He rearranged many of his famous songs for the acoustic context, and the resulting Unplugged album went on to become the bestselling Unplugged album in the U.S., with sales of 10 million. Clapton earned six Grammy Awards for the album, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Rock Male Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.
- While MTV has filmed over 101 Unplugged performances, fewer than 30 of them have been released as albums. Pearl Jam's March 1992 set wasn't released until 2009 as a DVD for their reissue of their debut album, Ten.
- On April 27, 1992, Seattle-based heavy metal band Queensrÿche filmed their Unplugged performance, playing such songs as "Silent Lucidity", "The Lady Wore Black", "I Will Remember", "The Killing Words", and a very well received cover of "Scarborough Fair".
- On January 9, 1993, Swedish duo Roxette became the first non-English speaking artists to perform at MTV Unplugged. They recorded the show at Stockholm Circus. During the show they covered songs from other artists such as Aretha Franklin, Neil Young and The Byrds.
- On November 17, 1993, British rock group Duran Duran filmed their acoustic performance after a brief hiatus from their world tour due to lead singer Simon Le Bon's vocal straining after 11 months on the road. Viewers witnessed a strong musical performance by the band of many classic hits as well as "Serious", a single released from Duran Duran's Liberty album from 1990, played in peak form. Duran Duran's MTV Unplugged remains a memorable performance not only for the band's return to the charts, but also as Le Bon's return to the stage.
- Nirvana's performance on Unplugged was one of the last televised performances by Kurt Cobain, recorded on November 18, 1993, about five months before Cobain's death. Nirvana's set list consisted of some of their lesser known originals, and covers of songs by the Meat Puppets, Lead Belly, David Bowie and The Vaselines. The only real "hits" played during this performance were "Come as You Are", "Polly" and "All Apologies". This contrasts with other Unplugged performances, where artists largely perform their hit singles and other original material. Nirvana's performance was released on CD a year later as MTV Unplugged in New York, which would later win Best Alternative Music Performance at the 38th Grammy Awards in 1996 and was released on DVD in 2007.
- Bruce Springsteen's 1993 performance included a twist in where most of his set was performed with amplified instruments. The show was released later on album and video as In Concert/MTV Plugged.
- 10,000 Maniacs performed their last televised concert with vocalist Natalie Merchant in 1993. The performance was released on CD. Their cover of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen song "Because the Night" was released as a single. David Byrne was a guest vocalist.
- Bob Dylan recorded an Unplugged concert in 1994 over two nights that was combined into one show.
- Eagles' 1994 acoustic reunion concert was broadcast on MTV as a one-off special called Hell Freezes Over. Nevertheless, the show, which was produced by the Unplugged team, is generally regarded as part of the MTV Unplugged series. The concert was released on CD (with 4 new studio tracks), VHS, and DVD, as Hell Freezes Over.
- On September 29, 1994, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs performed the first Latin/Spanish show at MTV Miami studios. The playlist included covers of The Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" and reggae artist Keith & Tex's "Stop That Train".
- On October 14, 1994, (recorded in August 1994), the long awaited reunion between Jimmy Page and Robert Plant occurred on a 90-minute "UnLedded" MTV project, recorded in Morocco, Wales, and London, which rated highly on network television. It was not a reunion of Led Zeppelin, however, as former bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones was not present. In fact, Jones was not even told about the reunion by his former band mates. In addition to acoustic numbers, the album features a reworking of Led Zeppelin classics, along with four Middle-Eastern and Moroccan-influenced songs: "City Don't Cry," "Yallah," (or "The Truth Explodes") "Wonderful One," and "Wah Wah".
- In 1993, Stone Temple Pilots filmed an episode of MTV Unplugged, where they debuted the song "Big Empty".
- In 1994, a compilation album was released called The Unplugged Collection, Volume One
- On May 4, 1995, Argentine musician Charly Garcia appeared at the MTV studios, bringing together his "Cassandra Lange" band for his third live album. Garcia included some of his classics and the result was issued as a live album, after Garcia re-recorded some of the material.
- On August 9, 1995, Kiss performed on an episode that would lead to the reunion of the original members. (See Kiss Unplugged). Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons contacted former members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley and invited them to participate in the show. Fan reaction was so positive that the following year the original Kiss lineup officially reunited, together for the first time since 1979.
- On February 14, 1995, Hole performed on Unplugged with memorable performances of "Miss World," and "Doll Parts," and covers of the Nirvana songs "You Know You're Right" (as "You've Got No Right") and "Old Age", and also the Duran Duran song "Hungry Like the Wolf."
- On March 12, 1996, Soda Stereo was invited to Miami by MTV to record a session for MTV's acoustic show, MTV Unplugged. After a few refusals by the band, Soda was able to convince the network to accept an offer where the band would play plugged in, but with modifications such as orchestration including new arrangements of some of their classic songs. The result was an eclectic mix of music, some electric, some acoustic, but all bearing the Soda signature style. A highlight of the album was a soaring rendition of “En La Ciudad De La Furia.” where the chorus was sung by Andrea Echeverri of the Colombian rock band Aterciopelados. The recording of the MTV show were partially released on the album Comfort y Música Para Volar (Comfort and Music to Fly By) (1996), and in its entirety in a new version of Comfort released in 2007. The album cointained 4 new tracks from the Sueño Stereo sessions as well as an interactive cd-rom with pictures and videos from the show.
- On April 10, 1996, Alice in Chains would give their first performance in three years and one of their last concerts as a group for 9 years. During the show, lead singer Layne Staley looked visibly weak due to his ongoing drug addictions, but was able to deliver a strong performance. Being one of Layne Staley's last performances, the Unplugged session is considered to be one of the most popular and most memorable Unplugged sessions.
- Oasis were due to tape the show at the Royal Festival Hall on August 23, 1996, when lead singer Liam Gallagher pulled out at the last minute, citing a sore throat. The band performed despite this, with songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher handling the vocals, earning much critical praise. Liam watched the performance and heckled the group from a balcony. The performance has never been officially released.
- In 1997, neo-soul singer Maxwell performed Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" and Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" to high acclaim.
- On September 26, 1997, Bryan Adams performed on Unplugged at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City and released an album. Adams was joined by Irish piper Davy Spillane and Michael Kamen who wrote orchestrations for many of the songs and brought students from the Juilliard School to play them. Three new songs were included; "Back To You", "When You Love Someone", and "A Little Love". The song "If Ya Wanna Be Bad – Ya Gotta Be Good" made its debut on an album. The record sold over 5 million units worldwide.
- On September 8, 1999, Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette performed on MTV Unplugged, later released on November as Alanis Unplugged. Twelve tracks were included on the album, but Morissette performed several others, including "Baba", "Thank U" (both from 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie) and "Your House" (the hidden track on 1995's Jagged Little Pill), during her Unplugged concert. In addition to material from Morissette's first two U.S. albums, MTV Unplugged featured performances of "No Pressure over Cappuccino" and "Princes Familiar", two previously unreleased songs from her tours, a cover of The Police song "King of Pain", and "These R the Thoughts", a previously released b-side.
- In 1999, Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira's concert became the first episode of the program to be broadcast entirely in another language – her native Spanish. Her MTV Unplugged release was particularly successful in introducing Shakira into the English speaking world. As well as charting at number one in the Billboard Latin Charts, and being the first Latin Unplugged album to win a Grammy Award.
- In October 1999, Irish band The Corrs performed live on MTV Unplugged recorded in Wicklow, Ireland.
Since 2000, the Unplugged format has been revived on a number of occasions for specials.
- In 2001, Hikaru Utada became the youngest singer and the third Japanese, the first and second being Chage and Aska, to be featured on MTV Unplugged.
- Lauryn Hill unveiled her much-anticipated new material on a 2002 MTV Unplugged special, and later released it on the album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. It had been three years since the release of Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Hill appeared with her hair cut off and performed in a stripped-down, minimalist style. Her set included her playing an acoustic guitar, spoken word segments, and occasionally breaking down in tears.
- Chilean rock band La Ley performed on MTV Unplugged in 2001, and released an album of the performance, which went on to win a Grammy award.
- Jay-Z recorded a performance of Unplugged on November 18, 2001, with The Roots serving as his backing band. The subsequent album sold over 600,000 copies and made it to No. 20 on the Billboard 200 chart.
- Dashboard Confessional recorded an Unplugged show in New York in 2002, and became the first band without a platinum record to do so.
- MTV Unplugged is introduced in Italy for the first time on June 16, 2005 with Italian singer Giorgia's own successful Unplugged experiment.
- Alicia Keys' Unplugged special aired on MTV on September 23, 2005. It was the first Unplugged for MTV in nearly three years, and special guests for Keys' performance included Mos Def, Common, Damian Marley and Maroon 5's Adam Levine. The show was released on CD and DVD in October 2005. The album debuted at No. 1 (see Unplugged).
- On December 9, 2006, Korn performed on Unplugged with guests Amy Lee, Robert Smith, and Simon Gallup (the former of Evanescence and the duo latter of The Cure) on some of their well-known songs, along with others. The performance was released on a CD entitled MTV Unplugged: Korn on March 6, 2007, where it debuted on the U.S. Billboard 200 at #9.
- In 2009, Nagase Tomoya, of the idol group TOKIO, performed on MTV Unplugged as the sixth Japanese performer to hold a performance on the program, after artists such as Chage and Aska and Hikaru Utada
- During the summer of 2009, MTV.com officially revived the Unplugged franchise with a 6-episode season produced and directed by Matthew C. Mills of Spacestation. It was the first time Unplugged was shot in HD. Artists in this incarnation were Adele, Silversun Pickups, All Time Low, Paramore, Vampire Weekend and Katy Perry. The shows debuted on unplugged.mtv.com while single song excerpts appear on MTV and Palladia in video rotation. Palladia is also premiering some of the full shows, air dates TBD. The revamped series was stripped of pretense and made more sparse. The result was the Unplugged series' first Emmy win. Adele Unplugged premiered on Palladia June 26 and Silversun Pickups August 1.
- The MTV Unplugged with the German rapper Sido was recorded on January 28, 2010 in Berlin
- MTV revived the show on March 10, 2010 with Adam Lambert.
- On September 2, 2010 an MTV Unplugged with the Swedish band Mando Diao was recorded in Berlin.
- In 2011, MTV Unplugged: Vampire Weekend was named an official Honoree of the 15th Annual Webby Awards, overseen by the IADAS. Matthew C. Mills was the Director/Executive Producer of this episode.
- In March 2011, K-os performed an MTV Unplugged in Toronto recorded for a future album and DVD.
- On March 4, 2011, 'MTV Unplugged with Lykke Li debuted on MTV.com
- In May 2011, Los Tigres Del Norte MTV Unplugged was aired on MTV Tr3s. They became the first Regional Mexican group to ever record an Unplugged.
- On May 13, 2011, Thirty Seconds to Mars recorded an Unplugged performance at Sony Music Studios in New York City. The band's set list consisted of songs extracted from their third studio album, This Is War (2009) and cover versions of songs by U2 and The Police. The performance was later released as a four-track extended play with a video accompaniment package. The Unplugged version of "Hurricane" won the MTV Award for Best Live Performance.
- On June 12, 2011, an MTV Unplugged with Lil Wayne premiered on MTV and MTV2.
- On June 19, 2011, MTV Unplugged with Lil Wayne had a "re-cut" edition that premiered on MTV2 only with footage not seen in the original airing.
- In April 2012, popular band Florence and the Machine starred in an MTV Unplugged special.
- In September 2013, Scorpions performed and taped three nights in Athens, Greece for a future MTV Unplugged episode.
- On January 28, 2014, American actress and recording artist, Miley Cyrus performed an Unplugged show from Los Angeles. The show aired the next day on MTV During the performance, Cyrus performed several songs from her album, Bangerz. She also performed a duet of her song, We Can't Stop with Madonna's song, Don't Tell Me.
Performances using the "Unplugged" format
The fourth season of Canadian Idol featured an Unplugged night which was held at Toronto's Masonic Temple. This episode of Canadian Idol was a tribute to MTV in two ways: a direct tribute to the Unplugged Format, and to celebrate the recent licensing of the new MTV Canada which is, to this day, still located in the Masonic Hall.
[WAM], a website focusing on Music in Warrington features local bands playing unplugged around the town on their YouTube channel.
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