Twenty-five years ago, audiences were dazzled across the nation, tuning in to watch Kurt Cobain strum a 1959 Martin D-18E guitar while wearing a green cardigan straight out of a thrift store on MTV Unplugged.
From 1989-1999, Nirvana and various artists, were part of a magical MTV Unplugged run. If we’re being honest, the last great performance of MTV Unplugged was a strung out Layne Staley carrying Alice in Chains through an hour long set in 1996. Regardless, the show started to lose its luster at the turn of the twenty-first century.
The show has technically existed since its premiere in 1989, but the intrigue started to fade in the early 2000s. VH1 had Storytellers in the late-90s, which had a similar format. However, Storytellers never had the same curiosity factor as Unplugged once did. We know bands and artists can play on a small stage, but can they do so acoustically?
Storytellers always felt like an extended Saturday Night Live set, while Unplugged truly tested a band’s musicianship. There was something special and intriguing about wondering how a song would sound acoustically when, in many cases, the original track was far from it.
Sadly, somewhere between Room Raiders and Jersey Shore, MTV told music to “fuck right off.” It’s a shame indeed, but there is hope on the horizon.
I have devised a blueprint for MTV Unplugged to be rereleased as a 12-episode Netflix series. The only criteria involved is that each episode will run for sixty-five minutes and feature artists that have never performed an MTV Unplugged session. Additionally, I will receive all of the money from the series reboot.
That’s showbiz, baby.
Episode 1: Post Malone
Post Malone is a logical choice to kick off the series. While predominantly a rapper, Malone’s music delves into other genres. Additionally, Malone has street cred in the rock and metal communities, which was evident at last year’s Grammy Awards and with this Bob Dylan cover.
3. I Fall Apart
4. Better Now
5. All Apologies cover
6. Candy Paint
8. White Iverson
9. Take What You Want feat. Ozzy Osbourne
10. Mama I’m Coming Home cover feat. Ozzy Osbourne
Malone, as expected, crushes it in his first true Unplugged performance, roping in masses of new fans. Older fans were pleased to see that Ozzy still has it, especially after his recent health issues. Critics applauded his performance, praising Malone for his “Mama I’m Coming Home” collaboration with Osbourne. Likewise, Boomers took to Facebook comment sections, raving about Malone. Scott Johnson commented on AlternativeDumbshit.com’s link, “Malone may look like he’s both rich and poor at the same time, but that boy can sure sing!!!”
Episode 2: Metallica
Though MTV Unplugged had its golden era during the release of The Black Album, Metallica never had an episode. However, that changes now. Metallica released a well-respected record in recent years with Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, along with their Helping Hands acoustic session and sequel to the legendary S&M performance, which features many “unplugged” vibes.
1. Moth Into Flame
2. Seek and Destroy
3. For Whom the Bell Tolls
4. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
5. Nothing Else Matters
6. Hero of the Day
7. Tuesday’s Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover)
9. Master of Puppets
10. Enter Sandman
Diehards were skeptical about a few song selections. “How in the hell are they going to pull off ‘Puppets’ acoustically?” Well, they are legends for a reason, and found themselves a way. That’s the beauty of Unplugged. Bands have to figure out how to acoustically perform their hits in a pleasing manner. Metallica did just that. What an episode.
Episode 3: Green Day
Green Day is a nice combination of “legacy band” and “relevant band.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are on the brink of releasing a new album, all while celebrating the 25th anniversary of Dookie. Green Day is the perfect fit for an Unplugged episode, being that a dozen of their tracks are the first songs beginners learn on guitar (myself included).
1. Father of All
2. Welcome to Paradise
4. Brain Stew
5. When I Come Around
6. 21 Guns
7. Wake Me Up When September Ends
8. Pulling Teeth fade into Good Riddance
9. Jesus of Suburbia
10. Basket Case
Green Day, to no one’s surprise, brings the house down. They are one of the better arena acts out there, and were no slouch in an acoustic setting. Highlights from this performance were the nine-minute ballad of “Jesus of Suburbia” and Tre Cool treating this acoustic session as if it were Wembley Stadium. The band also chose to dress like mid-nineties era Green Day, which was a nice touch.
Episode 4: Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire is one of the greatest bands of the twenty-first century and needs to be recognized as such. The Montreal outfit would shine in an Unplugged setting, as they do in most live settings. Since 2006, Arcade Fire has won one Grammy and nominated for nine others. Frontman Win Butler also won Most Valuable Player at the 2016 NBA Celebrity All Star Game.
1. Wake Up
2. Keep the Car Running
3. We Exist
4. Everything Now
5. Modern Man
7. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
8. Neighborhoods #1 (Tunnels)
10. Rebellion (Lies)
As predicted, a flawless performance. “Wake Up” followed by “Keep the Car Running” fired up the crowd, while the “Rebellion (Lies)” finale made fans yearn for more. However, there was a stretch during the middle of the set, where Butler ranted for three-minutes about the 2017 NBA Celebrity All Star Game, where he was robbed of a repeat MVP from Brandon Armstrong, despite scoring 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Episode 5: Kanye West
This will be the first truly unique episode of the newly rebooted series. The MTV Unplugged of yesteryear did feature rappers, and did so fairly often in the mid-2000s. However, this one will feature the most polarizing artist of the century, Kanye West. Love him or hate him, Kanye is relevant, interesting, and a talented performer.
1. All of the Lights (Interlude) into All of the Lights
2. Gold Digger
3. Bound 2
4. Jesus Walks
5. Homecoming feat. Chris Martin
6. All Falls Down feat. Syleena Johnson
7. Amazing feat. Jeezy
8. Through the Wire
10. Good Life feat. T-Pain
Kanye elects to play a safe set, cracking the hits rather than newer, questionable material. Plus, West’s older material plays better in an acoustic setting. Kanye was a pleasant surprise to viewers that weren’t expecting much. Coldplay’s Chris Martin joined West for a stripped down rendition of “Homecoming.” West, moved to tears, even apologized to Taylor Swift for the 2009 VMAs debacle, claiming he is a changed man. The moment of the night came when T-Pain joined Ye for “Good Life.” Mr. Pain, unbeknownst to many, has a beautiful fucking voice.
Episode 6: Zac Brown Band
Though Rolling Stone recently claimed a new solo Zac Brown track to be “The worst song of the year,” the band can absolutely bring it. Their style has adapted over time, but they are the first true country act of the series. Zac Brown Band put on a fun performance, showcasing many covers and genres of music. Brown was also featured in the HBO series Sonic Highways, earning the ever-so coveted Dave Grohl street cred.
2. Chicken Fried
3. Day That I Die feat. Amos Lee
4. Someone I Used to Know
5. Dress Blues (Jason Isbell cover)
6. All Alright
9. Free/Into the Mystic (Van Morrison cover)
10. Colder Weather/Sweet Baby James cover feat. James Taylor
Zac Brown Band, much to some fans’ discontent, normally perform a buttload of covers at their shows. Personally, I think they are amazing. I would gladly watch an entire set full of covers. Then again, I’m not a diehard Zamily member. This set, however, the covers are sparse, but bring the house down. The fan favorite of “Free/Into the Mystic” is a crowd pleaser, followed by a repeat of the 2011 ACM Awards performance of Colder Weather/Sweet Baby James performance featuring the legendary James Taylor.
Episode 7: Jack White
This is a logical choice. Jack White is one of the greatest remaining ambassadors for rock ‘n’ roll. Likewise, he’s a performer that can easily adapt to any setting, albeit a hockey stadium, a theater, or a parking lot. White is part of three successful rock outfits including the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and, of course, his solo work. This music needs to be put on display.
1. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes cover)
2. Over and Over and Over
5. Love Interruption
6. We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes cover)
7. Icky Thump (The White Stripes cover)
8. Sixteen Saltines
9. Steady, As She Goes (The Raconteurs cover)
10. Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes cover)
Unlike Jack at a Cubs game, fans were in awe of White’s set. Fifteen fans in attendance, unfortunately, were physically thrown out of the building for cell phone usage during the performance. Other than that, a near flawless presentation.
Episode 8: Lizzo
Lizzo is one of the more well-respected artists in pop music today, and is on the brink of superstardom. The Minneapolis product is carrying the musical torch that Prince once bestowed upon the Twin Cities. Lizzo has the pipes, stage presence, charisma, and overall talent to absolutely destroy an Unplugged set. I mean, look at her Tiny Desk concert.
2. Good as Hell
4. It’s Raining Men (The Weather Girls cover)
5. Water Me
6. Tempo feat. Missy Elliot
7. Exactly How I Feel feat. Gucci Mane
8. Cuz I love You
9. Proud Mary (Tina Turner cover)
10. Truth Hurts
Unlike most of the artists in the series, Lizzo does not have a large catalog of songs to choose from. “Juice” and “Truth Hurts” are obvious choices. However, for this Unplugged set, Lizzo has to incorporate some cover songs into her set. After the “It’s Raining Men” and “Proud Mary” covers, fans heads were exploding like an artillery shell on the Fourth of July.
Episode 9: Ghost
Ghost is arguably the biggest metal band of the last decade. Some dismiss Ghost as a metal act and claim the band is experiencing an identity crisis, but that argument is irrelevant for this Unplugged set. In fact, it makes it even better. Ghost is a visionary band that put on an electric live show. Expect nothing less from an acoustic performance. Also, let’s be honest, how hilarious would it be watching Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghouls sitting on barstools, strumming acoustic guitars in full garb?
1. Dance Macabre
2. Mary on a Cross
5. Year Zero
6. He Is
7. If You Have Ghosts
10. Square Hammer
This turned out to be a show-stopping episode (literally). Ghost had to cut their opening performance of “Dance Macabre” short, due to a bushel of screaming children in the audience. Unfortunately, these children (and parents) thought they were seeing a live musical performance of Casper the Friendly Ghost. The family was quickly escorted out of the arena and the show continued. Ghost is essentially the result of an Alice Cooper and ABBA love child. This was put on full display in Episode 9.
Episode 10: Bruno Mars
Musically, Mars is like a Michael Jackson/Prince hybrid. Obviously not nearly as polarizing or transcending as those two, but Mars simply can entertain a crowd. He can sing, dance, and play a plethora of instruments. In an acoustic set, the latter is extremely important, believe it or not. He’s performed at the Super Bowl, now it’s time to strut his stuff at a much smaller, intimate venue.
1. 24K Magic
2. That’s What I Like
3. When I Was Your Man
4. Just the Way You Are
5. So Lonely/Message in a Bottle cover (The Police cover)
6. Locked Out of Heaven
7. Smells Like Teen Spirit/Billie Jean mashup (Nirvana, Michael Jackson cover)
10. Uptown Funk feat. Mark Ronson
Bruno Mars had the greatest Super Bowl Halftime performance this decade. He can now boast having one of the more entertaining Unplugged episodes in recent memories. Fans were stunned at Mars’ ability to play guitar, pound the drums, slay a key-tar solo, and dance…..AT THE SAME TIME. Mars definitely benefited from having a superb backing band. Highlights included some stellar Police covers and a Nirvana/Michael Jackson mashup that nobody knew they needed in their lives.
Episode 11: Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl was part of maybe the most iconic MTV Unplugged of all time. While behind the kit for Nirvana in 1994, Grohl gets to lead the way this time around. In 2006, the band released a live record called Skin and Bones, featuring acoustic renditions of their songs. With this in mind, the setlist will leave out several tracks from Skin and Bones, with the exception of “Big Me,” “Best of You,” and “Everlong,” because, well, they just fucking rule, okay?
2. Learn to Fly
6. Come Alive (accompanied by the Sweet Charity Choir)
7. The Pretender
8. Big Me
9. Best of You
A Foo Fighters concert never disappoints. However, if there are any fan nitpicks, they normally involve “Too many hits” or “covers.” Grant it, most of this setlist is hits, but the covers will be scarce in a ten-song set, though the band usually crushes any cover it plays. The greatest moment of the set came at the sixth track, “Come Alive.” A performance of the song by the Sweet Charity Choir went viral two years ago. The Sweet Charity Choir is an organization that raises mental health awareness within the music industry. Definitely the most touching moment of the series.
Episode 12: Taylor Swift
This is the logical choice for the series finale. Taylor Swift was born to do an Unplugged set. Her roots are in country, but musically has ventured out into the pop and hip hop realms. She puts on epic live shows and has the respect of every rock star from Paul McCartney, to Dave Grohl, and Bon Jovi. Plus, this Unplugged set will give her a breather from the war on Scooter Braun.
1. You Need to Calm Down
2. Bad Blood
3. Shake It Off
4. I Knew You Were Trouble
5. Sparks Fly
7. Love Story
9. Blank Space
10. You Belong with Me
Taylor played a safe set, cranking out the hits. At this point, she has a surprisingly vast catalog and used that to her advantage. The best moment of the set, and really the entire series, was for the encore. Yes, after Swift’s finale track, every musician from the series jumped on stage to perform the 1985 USA for Africa benefit anthem “We are the World.” The song choice was, umm, interesting, but god dammit was it beautiful.
There you have it, MTV and Netflix executives. An action-packed, 12-part Unplugged series, right there for the taking. Artists young and old, from all walks of life, performing acoustic masterpieces. It’s time for Unplugged to make its way back into the mainstream. Fans want it, the bands want it, and I want it, dammit.
Now, where do I sign that contract?
Nate is a graphic designer as well as an avid appreciator of live music, pop culture of most kinds, and cats. Devon Rexes to be exact. He lives in Fargo, ND with his pop culture-loving wife Melissa Vosen Callens and 3 Devon Rexes: Huey Lewis, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks. They’re pretty rad. Send your questions, comments, concerns, swag, and music to [email protected]. Follow Nate on Twitter @natecallens and Instagram @fargonate. Cheers!