Sarah Burke hosts the Weekend Top 10 Saturday & Sunday at 6pm
I want to start this week with a quote about the program we’ll be looking at for this weekend’s Top 10.
“It’s hard to remember now, but at one time, MTV really was watched just like commercial radio was listened to: you would turn it on and see what came around, and if you particularly liked a video, you’d wait a while and hope you heard it…We don’t wait very much anymore.”
When was the last time you waited to hear music? Likely a new single from a band’s upcoming album on the radio, perhaps this station. As soon as that’s even available though, you can usually find a teaser or lyric video on YouTube within minutes.
MTV made people sit around and wait for music from their favourite artists, but MTV is also blamed in that whole video killed the radio star argument. So what might MTV’s impact be if we’re looking for something more positive?
Authenticity. That rockstar or popstar had to muster up some evidence to prove that they could be genuine. That they could entertain without the amp and glitter. A little program called MTV Unplugged would step-up to the cause.
November 26th, 1989, MTV Unplugged made its debut.
Unplugged – a term that brings images of acoustic guitars and mood lighting to mind. No amplified instruments. An intimate performance.
Consider this; MTV Unplugged launched at the height of synthesizers and amped-up rock and the crunchiest guitar sounds our generation has ever known.
How did this idea even start? Who would have even been interested at the time?
A singer/songwriter by the name of Jules Shear was looking to promote his acoustic album titled The Third Party. It was originally pitched for HBO, but they weren’t interested. Enter MTV and producer Alex Coletti. The first rough performance for MTV Unplugged featured Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze, with singer Syd Straw and Elliot Easton, the guitarist from The Cars. Shear would host and help tie together the songs; song originals, and some covers including The Monkees I’m A Believer. The concept began with acoustic guitars and electronic pickups, but moved more towards the idea of all instruments being acoustic, as insisted by Paul McCartney in 1991. That idea was welcomed by popular artists returning from an extensive tour, looking for something more intimate.
That set the stage for other artists to join. Over the years, everyone from Eric Clapton, Elton John and Bob Dylan to Katy Perry and Jay- Z have performed.
By 1992 though, we saw the power of MTV Unplugged, as Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album won six Grammys including Album of the Year – a first for MTV.
Here’s a quote from Clapton bassist Nathan East:
“There’s no way to know in advance that a thing you recorded and that took three hours, tops, one afternoon out in England is going to sell 26 million records and win half a dozen GRAMMYs.”
That was the beauty of it. Every imperfection became part of the beauty.
It’s the inspiration behind our Canadian TV counterpart’s (and now debunk) Much Music Intimate & Interactive and even the inspiration behind our Sunday morning staple, the FM96 Acoustic Brunch.
This weekend’s Top 10 looks back at Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged, recorded November 1993, a moment in music history. Below, we see Krist Novoselic, a scrawny Dave Grohl, and Kurt Cobain (four months before his death) rehearseing for what MTV wanted to be a set of their familiar hits, but unplugged. Of course, they had something else in mind as they got ready to record unfamiliar material and covers with tension between band members and the MTV crew. Rehearsals supposedly lasted three hours with Kurt getting more and more frustrated with a buzzing sound and tuning.
The performance would air December 16th, 1993 with a CD release a year later in November 1994, after Kurt Cobain’s death.
George Stroumboulopoulous joins me to talk about the Canadian equivalent at Much Music.
Top 10 FM96 MTV Unplugged Songs
- #1 Nirvana Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
- #2 Nirvana All Apologies
- #3 Nirvana The Man Who Sold the World
- #4 Nirvana Come as You Are
- #5 Nirvana About a Girl
- #6 Pearl Jam Porch
- #7 Alice in Chains Rooster
- #8 Neil Young Harvest Moon
- #9 Stone Temple Pilots Wicked Garden
- #10 Eric Clapton Layla
#1 Nirvana - Where did you sleep last night?
The last song Nirvana would play at their MTV Unplugged performance, a Lead Belly cover.
#2 Nirvana - All Apologies
#3 Nirvana - The Man Who Sold the World
A David Bowie cover.
#4 Nirvana - Come As You Are
This would be the only “hit” the band would agree to play.
#5 Nirvana - About a Girl
The first song on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album.
#6 Pearl Jam - Porch
From Rolling Stone:
Pearl Jam recorded their MTV Unplugged special on March 16th, 1992. Their debut album Ten had been on shelves since the previous August, though they’d only released a lone single in America and the LP was sitting under the likes of Mr. Big and Ugly Kid Joe on the Billboardalbum chart. But “Alive” was getting a lot of radio play, they’d just wrapped up a now-legendary tour with Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and it was clear they were about to absolutely explode.
#7 Alice in Chains - Rooster
Alice in Chains recorded their MTV Unplugged performance in April 1996, when the band hadn’t played a show since 1993. They didn’t tour in support of their self-titled third album, not even a small tour! Health & addiction were the main reasons, but they had not played live together for three years ahead of this performance.
#8 Neil Young - Harvest Moon
Neil Young recorded this performance at MTV on February 7, 1993. A leather jacket, a Harley Davidson T-shirt, jeans, and boots, sitting hunched over his guitar. In the 14-song set, he found a way to have a broom used on stage for percussion.
#9 Stone Temple Pilots - Wicked Garden
Stone Temple Pilots taped their MTV Unplugged performance in November 1993 with only one album out (Core). They would debut the single Big Empty during this performance, ahead of releasing Purple.
#10 Eric Clapton - Layla
Eric Clapton won three Grammys for this song in 1993, including Best Rock Song – at the time, it was unheard of for an unplugged song to win in that category! He beat out Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Pearl Jam’s Jeremy!