Twenty one years ago today, Unplugged aired its first-ever show featuring Squeeze. Only two years later, it had upgraded to Paul McCartney and earned brand-name recognition. Tracking the kind of artists that were deemed worthy to appear on Unplugged throughout the years presents an interesting picture of popular music in the 90s and 2000s, with its selection as curated as Saturday Night Live appearances, and maybe only a notch under an exclusive Rolling Stone cover. In 1995, Kiss played without makeup; Nirvana’s 1993 version was the first album released after Kurt Kobain’s death. Many artists actually went on to release albums of their Unplugged appearances and cement their status as the real thing — as SuChin Pak said in a MTV special on Unplugged: “It was the show that gave lip synching the finger.” Earlier today we wondered about its future, and now here are some of our favorite appearances, with the help of former Unplugged director Matt Mills.
Perhaps the most well-known Unplugged, Nirvana’s set is a favorite among many for capturing the nakedness that Kobain usually showed live, and for the moment it embodied. Matt Mills writes in: “He took his life not long after the show aired and I just remember being shellshocked. I taped the show on my VCR and must have watched it 50 times.”