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MTV Unplugged is a TV series showcasing popular musical artists playing acoustic instruments. The show has received the George Foster Peabody Award and 3 Primetime Emmy nominations among many accolades.


The term Unplugged has become a term used to describe music usually heard on amplified instruments such as electric guitar and synthesizer that is rendered instead on instruments that are not electronically amplified - for example acoustic guitar or traditional piano.

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 Doane Perry), performed a portion of "Serenade to a Cuckoo" and "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)". XTC performed 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. 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.

Memorable moments on MTV Unplugged


When the series first aired on November 26 1989, it featured Squeeze, Syd Straw and Elliot Easton. The first 13 episodes were hosted by American singer and songwriter Jules Shear.

On December 13, 1990, Poison recorded an episode, of which four songs then appeared on their Crack A Smile...And More! album.

After Paul McCartney himself appeared on the show (first aired January 25 1991), he chose to release his performances as an audio album titled Unplugged that became commercially successful. Show producer Alex Coletti has stated his opinion that had McCartney not released his successful album, the concept would have never gained the cult status that it went on to enjoy.

In 1992, TNT were featured doing an acoustic version of their songs Lionheart and What I Need. Also, in 1992, Mariah Carey performed a cover version of The Jackson 5 song "I'll Be There" along with back up singer Trey Lorenz. That live version was released as a single and went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

10,000 Maniacs were the first act to perform on the show twice. They were featured on the February 4 1991 show as well as their more well-known performance in 1993, which was released on their MTV Unplugged album. R.E.M. was the second band to have performed twice, in 1991 and 2001. Other artists like Robert Smith (one with his band The Cure, the other as a Korn guest), MC Lyte and Maggie Estep also appeared more than once in the show.

In 1992, Eric Clapton recorded an Unplugged performance at Bray Studios in London. He rearranged many of his famous songs for the acoustic context, some becoming quite dramatically transformed. The resulting Unplugged album went on to become the bestselling Unplugged album in the U.S., with sales of 10 million.

MTV has filmed over 100 Unplugged performances, but less than 30 of them have been released as albums. Although Pearl Jam's March 1992 set was not released at the time, their Unplugged appearance was released on DVD as part of the reissue of the band's debut album, Ten, in 2009.


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.

Nirvana's performance on Unplugged was one of the last televised performances by Kurt Cobain, recorded about five months before his death. Nirvana's setlist 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 "hit" played during this performance was "Come as You Are." This contrasts with other Unplugged performances, where artists largely perform their hit singles and other original material. Nirvana's performance was released on CD one year later as MTV Unplugged in New York and then on DVD in 2007.

Bruce Springsteen also performed in 1993, and in a twist on the program's theme, most of his set was performed with amplified instruments. The show was released later on album and video as In Concert/MTV Plugged.

Some songs from Midnight Oil's 1993 performance on Unplugged appear on their album The Real Thing. Stone Temple Pilots' 1993 performance saw the debut of the song "Big Empty", which would go on to be a hit as a track on the band's 1994 album Purple.

Bob Dylan recorded an Unplugged concert in 1994 over two nights that was combined into one show.

On September 29 1994, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs performed the first Latin/Spanish show at MTV Miamimarker studios. The playlist included covers of The Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" and reggae artist Keith & Tex's "Stop That Train".


The MTV Unplugged 2.0 logo used for the show's return in the 2000s.

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 to Criss and Frehley at the Unplugged show was so positive that in 1996 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."

Los Tres recorded an Unplugged concert in September 14 1995. It was released in CD as Los Tres MTV Unplugged.

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. On July 30 of the same year, Alice in Chains released an Unplugged album from the performance, including a new song, "Killer Is Me," which had been introduced at the performance. The songs "Angry Chair," "Frogs," and "Killer Is Me" were not broadcast on the original show, but were included on the album.

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. Liam watched the performance and heckled the group from a balcony.

The show was taken off the regular schedule after 8 seasons: the 10th and last new Unplugged show of 1997, which aired on October 29, featured the Mexican band Jalisco Jalisco.


Since 1998, the Unplugged format has been revived on a number of occasions for specials.

Alanis Morissette's performance in 1999 featured songs from her album Jagged Little Pill as well as her recently released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Her unplugged show was also released as Alanis Unplugged, featuring 12 performances from the night. Also that year, Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira's concert on MTV unplugged became the first episode of the program to be broadcast entirely in another language - her native Spanish.

Jay-Z: Unplugged is rapper Jay-Z's 2001 music album containing some of his past songs performed by Jay-Z with the hip-hop group The Roots. The album was recorded during the taping of an MTV Unplugged 2.0 episode on November 18, 2000, which debuted on December 8. It sold more than 600,000 copies.

In 2000, the German band Die Fantastischen Vier performed in the Balver Höhlemarker.

In 2001, Japanese Pop Singer Hikaru Utada became the youngest singer and the third Japanese Pop Singer, 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.

Dashboard Confessional recorded an Unplugged show in New York in 2002, and became the first band without a platinum record to do so. The show was released in CD and DVD as MTV Unplugged 2.0.

Die Toten Hosen performed their unplugged Concert in the Wiener Burgtheatermarker on the first and second September 2005. MTV released the show on CD and DVD as Nur zu Besuch: Unplugged im Wiener Burgtheater.

MTV revived the series when 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 (see Unplugged ).

Ricky Martin performed in October 2006. The album was issued on separate CD and DVD releases on November 6, 2006, and reissued on May 2, 2007 in a combo-package CD+DVD format. In addition, Wal-Mart exclusively carries the bonus DVD "Making of Ricky Martin MTV Unplugged."

In December 2006, Face Baukchoice performed on MTV Unplugged, and was later released as an album on February 20, 2007.

On March 2, 2007, MTV aired Korn Unplugged. Featuring guest appearances by Amy Lee of Evanescence and also The Cure, the show's setlist was a selection of the band's hits including "Got the Life", "Falling Away from Me", "Freak on a Leash", and "Blind", as well as a cover version of The Cure's In Between Days, which was performed with The Cure themselves.

Mexican Grammy and Latin Grammy award-winning artist Julieta Venegas' MTV Unplugged session premiered on June 5, 2008. She collaborated with Spanish rapper La Mala Rodriguez on her classic hit "Eres Para Mi", sang along with Juan Son on her song " ", and released new material such as " ", " " featuring Gustavo Santaolalla, and " " featuring Marisa Monte. The performance marked the first time a Mexican female artist was featured in the series. Her audio CD and DVD of the performance was released on June 17, 2008.

It was announced via Hayley Williams, of Paramore, that the band has begun rehearsing for an MTV Unplugged appearance. The broadcast was recorded June 25, 2009. No broadcast date has been released yet.

As of Summer, 2009, officially revived the Unplugged franchise with a 6-episode season produced and directed by Matthew Mills of Space Station Media. Artists in this latest incarnation are Adele, Silversun Pickups, All Time Low, Paramore, Vampire Weekend and Katy Perry. The shows debut on while single song excerpts appear on MTV and Palladia in video rotation. Palladia is also premiering some of the full shows, air dates TBD. Adele Unplugged premiered on Palladia June 26 and Silversun Pickups August 1.

In January 2009 the german Band Sportfreunde Stiller performed their MTV Unplugged called "MTV Unplugged in New York" in the Bavaria Film Studios in Munich. The title of the album is made up by the New York background and as a hommage to the same-named MTV Unplugged from Nirvana. It was aired first time on May 21 2009 on MTV Germany, the Album was released one day later. This concert includes some guest singers like Udo Jürgens, who sang his famous song Ich war noch niemals in New York (I have never been in New York) with the Stillers.

Performances inspired by the "Unplugged" format

The success and popularity of the series has inspired artists to emulate the format in other venues.

Tesla released one of the first unplugged albums in 1990, Five Man Acoustical Jam.

Jethro Tull had a semi-unplugged European tour in 1992; the tour and subsequent album were both titled A Little Light Music.

MTV's sister channel, VH1, made the format even more intimate by interspersing semi-acoustic performances with the artists discussing the history and memories of the songs, in VH1 Storytellers.

Bon Jovi performed unplugged in 2007 on CMT. The Police, Mary J. Blige, Kenny Chesney and John Mayer were scheduled to perform, but it appears these were scrapped.

The fourth season of Canadian Idol featured an Unplugged night which was held at Torontomarker's Masonic Templemarker. 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. The highlight of the night was Eva Avila who wowed the judges, the nation and even the back-up singers. She would continue to build on this standout performance and claim victory of Canadian Idol's fourth season.

Rockband Seether recorded a Live & Acoustic Album at a show in Philadelphiamarker called One Cold Night in 2006.

The Foo Fighters did an all acoustic American tour in 2007, with shows that resembled the Unplugged format.



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