MTV’s Unplugged series had an insanely good run when it debuted more than 25 years ago. Now that the network is bringing it back, it’s maybe time to revisit the whole concept. This is from The Ringer.
It’s the big things: Mariah Carey hammering god-tier high notes while insisting that “I’m not used to doing this.” LL Cool J steamrolling through “Mama Said Knock You Out” for a frenzied audience of fist-pumpers and shadow-boxers. Eric Clapton converting “Layla” from a desperate rager to a graceful shuffle and walking off with an armload of Grammys. A teary-eyed Lauryn Hill reclaiming her time and radically transforming her career.
It’s the little things: Kurt Cobain’s last ragged breath before he finishes howling through “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” The two teenage girls standing behind Dashboard Confessional who high-five immediately after screaming, “SO WE CAN GET SOME!” Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez scrawling “Friends don’t let friends get Friends haircuts” on his acoustic bass in a gleeful jab at Metallica. The guy in the animal mask who delicately plays piano as Korn and Evanescence singer Amy Lee turn “Freak on a Leash” into something freakishly beautiful.
MTV Unplugged, one of the channel’s most prestigious franchises, helped launch a few careers and revitalized quite a few more. Hatched in 1989 with a deceptively simple premise—big stars play their big hits, stripped down and acoustic—the show was a massive ’90s phenomenon that, unlike many other ’90s phenomenons, has modestly endured since. It generated unlikely radio hits (see 10,000 Maniacs covering “Because the Night”). It inspired breakthrough moments for everyone from Pearl Jam (see Eddie Vedder scrawling “PRO CHOICE” on his arm during a manic “Porch”) to Maxwell (whose harp-driven version of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” is an all-universe highlight). And it scored mid-period Album of the Year Grammys for both Clapton and, why not, Tony Bennett.
Keep reading. It’s good music history.