'MTV Unplugged' debuted 34 years ago: Who was the first act to release their set as a LIVE album?

The first 'MTV Unplugged' episode aired on November 26, 1989, although the first act didn't quite grasp the "unplugged" idea.
MTV Unplugged: Nirvana
MTV Unplugged: Nirvana / Frank Micelotta Archive/GettyImages

MTV Unplugged would air the first episode of the long-running series on November 26, 1989. Many artist have used their unplugged sets for LIVE albums. Do you remember who the first one was?

The first guests of MTV Unplugged in 1989 were Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze, but they misunderstood the assignment. Both came ready for rehearsal with electric guitars. Producer Alex Coletti remembers: ”I said: ‘Very funny, guys. Where are the acoustics? It’s Unplugged.’ They looked at each other and went, ‘Riiight… Make a phone call, quick!”’

Jim Burns and Bob Small claim they came up with the idea for the series after attending a Bruce Springsteen concert that featured an acoustic encore. Springsteen would be featured on the series in 1992. HBO and PBS passed on the concept, as did MTV at first. But when friend and ally Judy McGrath was promoted within MTV, the duo got a green light for a pilot.

In 1991, Paul McCartney would be featured in an episode and was the first artist to release his set as an album. His main concern was that the set would be used illegally, so to get ahead of that, he created the album.

" I figured that as MTV Unplugged would be screened around the world there was every chance that some bright spark would tape the show and turn it into a bootleg, so we decided to bootleg the show ourselves. We heard the tapes in the car driving back. By the time we got home, we’d decided we’d got an album – albeit one of the fastest I’ve ever made"

Paul McCartney via PaulMcCartney.com

Through the years, the format has been the same, an artist or group showcasing their hits with some covers in an unplugged format. Many would follow McCartney's idea of a live album, with Eric Clapton's Unplugged (1992) becoming the best-selling live album ever. Other Unplugged albums that went platinum include Mariah Carey (1992), Rod Stewart (1993), 10,000 Maniacs (1993), Tony Bennett (1994), Nirvana (1994), and Lauryn Hill (2001).

MTV Unplugged ran regularly from 1989-1999 and then less from 2000-2009 when it was titled MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. Since then, many unplugged specials have aired most frequently online. Many episodes can be viewed on YouTube or streaming channels, with 2020 and newer episodes available on the MTV Unplugged site.

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