It was one of the greatest moments in the history of MTV — and it’s at least somewhat arguable that it may have been the last great MTV moment, before the channel surrendered the unique place it had held at the center of worldwide musical culture for much of a decade.
What Was It? The series MTV Unplugged was, for several years in the early ’90s, the jewel in MTV’s crown, and the place every band wanted to be seen. The series produced enormously successful acoustic albums by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, and Paul McCartney, and also featured appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Elton John, Pearl Jam, and many others.
But the members of Nirvana hadn’t been impressed by many of the episodes they had seen. When they finally agreed to appear, they didn’t want to simply do their greatest hits acoustically. Instead, they chose their setlist based on what they thought best suited an acoustic show — and the hits were few.
The set was unlike any other in the series — “like a funeral,” Kurt Cobain said to a producer. Nirvana’s choice of guest artist — two members of the Meat Puppets — did not provide the additional star power MTV was hoping for.
After a couple of days of rehearsal, the show was taped on November 18, 1993. What was seen on TV (and eventually heard on the CD and DVD releases) was a straight run-through without retakes. Cobain was going through drug withdrawal at the time, which helps account for his demeanor, and perhaps, the intensity of his performance.
The show was first broadcast on December 16, 1993. After Cobain’s suicide the next April, it was as if MTV put it on a continuous loop. The performance was released on CD in November 1994 as MTV Unplugged in New York. It went to #1 and won a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Album. The performance came out on DVD in 2007.
Here’s the closing track, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”