Shawn Mendes will perform stripped-down versions of his hits like “Nothin’ Holdin’ Me Back” and “Treat You Better” tonight (September 8), in a performance MTV are hoping will breathe new life into their Unplugged format.
MTV Unplugged was responsible for some landmark performances in the ’90s and ’00s, with artists as varied as Florence and the Machine, Tony Bennett, and The Eagles putting away their big sets and pyrotechnics in favor of a microphone stand and acoustic guitar.
Here are 10 of the most memorable performances to celebrate its return.
10. Bruce Springsteen (1992)
This performance shouldn’t be included on technical grounds, of course — but you can’t argue with The Boss. After playing “Red Headed Woman” on acoustic guitar, he and his band promptly plugged in their Fender Telecasters, forcing MTV to cross out the first two letters of “Unplugged.”
9. Lauryn Hill (2002)
The award-winning Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had only come out four years previously, but the ex-Fugees star made the bold decision not to include anything from it in her Unplugged set. Instead she performed a slew of polticized folk songs, including “Mystery of Iniquity,” later immortalized by Kanye West in his 2004 hit “All Falls Down.”
8. Bon Jovi (1989)
Okay, so technically this wasn’t an episode of Unplugged, but Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora‘s stripped-back performance of “Livin’ On a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” at the 1989 Video Music Awards gave MTV bigwigs the idea for a series of acoustic sets in the first place.
7. Rod Stewart (1993)
Old muckers Rod and Ronnie Wood were reunited for this show, for the first time since The Faces broke up in 1975. Rod played hits like “Have I Told You Lately,” but it was the inclusion of the gorgeous lesser-known “Handbags and Gladrags” that gained it inclusion in the Unplugged Hall of Fame.
6. Adele (2009)
Long before she was playing huge stadiums, the “Hello” songstress wowed viewers with this vocal performance accompanied only by a guitar and violins. It turned out to be a showcase not only for her voice, but for her larger-than-life personality as well. Before launching into an acoustic version of “Cold Shoulder,” she threw shade at her ex, saying, “I’m over that boy, I’ve gotten my revenge back on him… I’m doing MTV Unplugged, he still works at a phone shop”.
5. Maxwell (1997)
Singer-songwriter Maxwell performed his version of “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush for the first time during his Unplugged, leading some to argue it was better even than the original. The rendition was so warmly received, in fact, he included a studio version of it on his 2001 album Now.
4. Paul McCartney (1991)
The former Beatle provided an unplugged masterclass early on, mixing Beatles songs that fit the format perfectly (“Blackbird,” “And I Love Her”) with a handful of covers (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”) Unplugged is at its best, however, when it brings to light a little known obscure song from an artist’s back catalog, and this performance was no exception: during it Paul played a beautiful rendition of “Every Night,” a song written in 1969 during the fallout of the Beatles’ break-up, and eventually included on his 1979 McCartney album.
3. Mariah Carey (1992)
Mariah was considered a studio artist only when she agreed to perform live and unplugged. The result blew her critics away: released to the public as an EP, it went on to become one of her best selling records to date — with the standout track being her version of Jackson 5 classic “I’ll Be There.”
2. Eric Clapton (1992)
From the reworked “Layla” to the moving “Tears in Heaven,” this episode became one of the format’s most popular episodes ever, leading it to it being released as an album that sold 10 million copies and won six Grammys, including Album of the Year.
1. Nirvana (1993)
This show first aired on 14 December 14 1993, but was played constantly throughout 1994 in the wake of lead singer Kurt Cobain‘s untimely death the following April. The band played only one of their hits (“Come As You Are”), but it was the more obscure songs and their cover of David Bowie‘s “The Man Who Sold the World” that resonated the most.
Which Unplugged performance do you think was the most memorable?