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MTV Unplugged Turns 30: Here Are the 30 Best Performances

Alicia Keys, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley on MTV Unplugged

20. Bryan Adams (1997)

Canadian rocker Bryan Adams took over Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom, running through his extensive catalogue of hits with the assistance of Irish piper Davy Spillane, his co-writer Michael Kamen, and several amateurs he enlisted from Juilliard’s student body. No covers, alas, but Adams did perform 16 songs, debuting three new tunes for fans: “Back to You,” “When You Love Someone,” and “A Little Love.”

Performance Highlight: “Summer of ’69”

Buy Bryan Adams’ Unplugged vinyl on Amazon

19. Alanis Morissette (1999)

With two records’ worth of personal material to pull from, Alanis Morissette got the Unplugged treatment in 1999, and issued an album from that session less than two months later. Along with rousing reinventions of hits such as “You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” and “Head Over Feet,” the Canadian songwriter paid homage to Sting and the Police, doing justice to their track “King of Pain.” 

Performance Highlight: “You Learn”

Buy Alanis Morissette’s Unplugged vinyl on Amazon

18. Queensrÿche (1992) 

Seattle metal group Queensrÿche—riding high off the success of their radio hit “Silent Lucidity”—played an Unplugged set of just seven songs before a captivated audience. In addition to “Silent Lucidity,” the band performed “The Lady Wore Black,” “Della Brown,” “I Will Remember,” and “The Killing Words.” The Geoff Tate-fronted act also covered Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and a well-received rendition of the traditional English ballad “Scarborough Fair.”

Performance Highlight: “Killing Words”

Buy Queensrÿche’s Unplugged vinyl on Amazon

17. Florence and the Machine (2011)

Florence and the Machine recorded a soulful performance in New York City’s oldest synagogue. The English indie rockers, fronted by Florence Welch, dazzled those lucky enough to have attended. The evening featured several magical moments, including Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme joining the group for “Jackson,” a song popularized by June and Johnny Cash, and “Try a Little Tenderness,” a song made famous by Otis Redding.

Performance Highlight: “Shake It Out”

Buy Florence and the Machine’s Unplugged vinyl on Amazon

16. Duran Duran (1993)

The English rock legends had the Unplugged audience in its collective pocket during their performance. Simon Le Bon and crew ran through 11 tracks—both timeless hits, such as “Rio,” “Notorious,” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” as well as deeper tracks including “The Chauffeur”—before tackling The Doors’ “Crystal Ship” and delivering a rousing rendition of “Come Undone.” 

Performance Highlight: “Come Undone”

15. The Cranberries (1995)

Simple, beautiful, yet elegant in their own way, Irish rockers The Cranberries sat close together in chairs and churned out nine glorious tracks, including “Yesterday’s Gone,” which was never officially recorded in a studio setting. Another Unplugged with no covers, the band did use their appearance on MTV as a chance to debut two songs that would eventually appear on their forthcoming album, To the Faithful Departed: “I’m Still Remembering” and “Free to Decide.”

Performance Highlight: “Free to Decide”

14. Shakira (1999)

Before her Unplugged performance at New York City’s Grand Ballroom, Shakira’s fanbase was largely Spanish-speaking. That all changed after she agreed to go cordless in 1999. The 11-song set featured some of her best loved tracks, including “Ojos Asi” and “Ciega, Sordomuda,” and introduced English audiences to her immense talent. Two years later, she’d issue her breakthrough LP, Laundry Service.

Performance Highlight: “No Creo”

Buy Shakira’s Unplugged vinyl on Amazon

RELATED: When Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, and Duran Duran Covered Bowie on Unplugged

13. Annie Lennox (1992)

MTV approached Eurythmics alum Annie Lennox about an Unplugged show in 1992, and she obliged, allowing the network’s cameras in for her scheduled performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. All smiles throughout, Lennox performed a number of her former band’s songs acoustically before doing a few of her own. She also delivered epic covers of “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner, “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles, and “Feel the Need,” a song written by the Detroit Emeralds.

Performance Highlight: “Little Bird”

12.  Bob Dylan (1994) 

For his Unplugged, Bob Dylan tapped several musicians (including record producer Brendan O’Brien and his longtime sideman, bassist Tony Garnier) and taped a dozen songs over two days—all with MTV’s cameras there to capture it all. The Godfather of Folk’s set was a veritable best of, with tracks such as “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Critics hailed Dylan’s contribution to the series as outstanding, and when the album hit store shelves, Bob enjoyed some of his best sales in years.

Performance Highlight: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s  Door” 

Buy Bob Dylan’s Unplugged vinyl on Amazon

11. George Michael (1996)

A crowd of close to 300 fans sat in awe as pop megastar George Michael rearranged a dozen of his songs for an Unplugged set that was filmed in London. Michael’s riveting, lively performance included tracks “Father Figure” and “Freedom,” along with a beloved tune from his Wham! days: “Everything She Wants.” The concert, which was the final one Michael’s mother would see him perform before her death, also included covers of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down” and Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Performance Highlight: “Freedom! ’90”

Buy George Michael’s Unplugged vinyl on Amazon