The MTV Unplugged 2.0 logo used for the show's return in the 2000s.
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Original channel|| MTV|
The term Unplugged has come to refer to music that would usually be played on amplified instruments (such as an electric guitar or synthesizer) but is rendered instead on instruments that are not electronically amplified, for example acoustic guitar or traditional piano, although a microphone is still used.
The word became incorporated into the title of a popular MTV series that began in the 1989/1990 US TV season, MTV Unplugged, on which musicians performed acoustic or "unplugged" versions of their familiar electric repertoire. Many of these performances were subsequently released as albums, often featuring the title Unplugged.
Inspiration for MTV UnpluggedEdit
The underlying concept behind the Unplugged series has been attributed to the popularity among musicians of a variety of informal musical performances on stage, film, television and record in earlier decades. The casual "in-the-round" sequence in Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special, and The Beatles' informal studio jams documented in the 1970 film Let It Be were both precursors of the "Unplugged" concept, though they were neither conceived nor promoted as such at the time they occurred.
The direct inspiration for the series came in the decade immediately preceding the creation of the MTV program. The catalyst was a series of highly publicized "unplugged" performances that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first of these was the June 1979 appearances by Pete Townshend at The Secret Policeman's Ball, a series of benefit shows in London for human rights organization Amnesty International at which the usually electric guitar-wielding Townshend was persuaded by benefit producer Martin Lewis to perform his hits "Pinball Wizard" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" on acoustic guitar. The performances were widely seen and heard on the 1980 live album and the UK-only movie of the benefit and inspired other rock performers to emulate Townshend.
Two years later in September 1981 Lewis produced a sequel benefit show The Secret Policeman's Other Ball that featured similar performances by other rock performers including Sting, Phil Collins and Bob Geldof. The 1982 live album of these performances and the US version of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball movie (which incorporated a "flashback" of Townshend's 1979 performances) both became very successful and were widely seen and heard in the USA.
The phenomenon of rock stars re-creating their hits in an acoustic manner was thus well established by the early 1980s though the word "unplugged" had not yet been applied to the concept.
In addition, the late 1980s saw a renewed interest in folk and acoustic music in general (accompanied by a wave of nostalgia for the music of the 1960s, which also had a significant folk/acoustic movement). Many new acts established during the period had a strong folk/acoustic influence, e.g. The Indigo Girls, R.E.M., Sinéad O'Connor, Suzanne Vega, Lyle Lovett, Michael Penn, Enya, and Bruce Hornsby and the Range. At the same time, many established folk and folk-influenced artists of the 60s and 70s experienced renewed success – some reaching the greatest commercial success of their careers – such as Paul Simon, The Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler, Yes, and Bob Dylan.
The first rock artist to perform in an "unplugged" mode on MTV was Jethro Tull, who, on November 17, 1987 as an acoustic trio (Ian Anderson, Dave Pegg, and Martin Barre), performed a portion of "Serenade to a Cuckoo" and "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)". XTC performed acoustically in May 1989, and Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed "Livin' on a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" during the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.
The concept of an MTV show titled Unplugged drawing on this phenomenon has been attributed to producers Robert Small and Jim Burns together with songwriter Jules Shear, who hosted the first 13 episodes. The pilot and first seven episodes were produced by Bruce Leddy, after which Associate Producer Alex Coletti took over for the remainder of the series. After the first 13 episodes, the role of host was eliminated. The show was produced by Viacom and RSE Inc and was most frequently directed by Milton Lage and Beth McCarthy.