30 Best live albums countdown: 21 – MTV Unplugged Live in NY – Nirvana

Nirvana unplugged in New York cover

This is not easy listening, it’s uneasy listening!

MTV Unplugged in New York is a live album by the American rock band Nirvana. It features an acoustic performance taped at Sony Music Studios in New York City on November 18, 1993 for the television series MTV Unplugged. The show was directed by Beth McCarthy and first aired on the cable television network MTV on December 14, 1993. As opposed to traditional practice on the television series, Nirvana played a set list composed of mainly lesser-known material and cover versions of songs by The Vaselines, David Bowie, Meat Puppets (during which they were joined by two members of the group onstage) and Lead Belly.

Rolling Stone ranked MTV Unplugged in New York at #311 in its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”

The album start with About a Girl:

Why is Nirvana’s unplugged album so much better than any other MTV unplugged effort?

It could be the stark contrast to their normal albums or the sparse, naked arrangements that shows that Nirvana could really play. This time they didn’t hide behind a wall of grunge, they displayed their vulnerability and, man, they could be just as intense in this format.  It could also be the choice of songs, almost no hits, obscure songs were included, new and old cover versions also. It could come down to pure stage presence from a band at their peak.

It is probably all the above.

Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York

There are no weak performances on this album, and every time I hear it, I marvel at how good it really is. It was instrumental in lifting Nirvana from a great rock band to an iconic group. It showed the diversity of Nirvana. They were sensitive, desperate and true. A band that belongs among the best in rock history.

Where did you sleep last night with a great introduction:

It’s a nakedly emotional record, unintentionally so, as the subtext means more than the main themes of how Nirvana wanted to prove its worth and diversity, showcasing the depth of their songwriting. As it turns out, it accomplishes its goals rather too well; this is a band, and songwriter, on the verge of discovering a new sound and style…No other band could have offered covers of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” and the folk standard “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on the same record, turning in chilling performances of both — performances that reveal as much as their original songs. (Allmusic)

Nirvana MTV Unplugged Rehearsals

The rehearsal was reportedly about three hours long, a large portion of which was spent checking sound and tuning.

This clip includes “Come As You Are” (first take), “Polly,” “Plateau” (second take), “Pennyroyal Tea” (both takes), and “The Man Who Sold The World” (one take). “Pennyroyal Tea” (second take) cuts in.

Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York

“Not only did Kurt Cobain transcend alt-rock by rocking so hard, he transcended alt-rock by feeling so deep. On this accidental testament, intended merely to altify the MTV mindset by showcasing the Meat Puppets and covering the Vaselines, Cobain outsensitives Lou Barlow and Eddie Vedder in passing. His secret is sincerity, boring though that may be–he cares less than Barlow without boasting a bit about it, tries harder than Vedder without busting a gut about it. The vocal performance he evokes is John Lennon’s on Plastic Ono Band. And he did it in one take.   A ” – Robert Christgau

Unplugged in New York Nirvana (Behind the Scenes) short documentary:


The cover songs are fantastic and the original compositions lose none of their power in their stripped down renditions.

– Hallgeir

Sources: Youtube (info), Rolling Stone Magazine, Wikipedia, Allmusic, RobertChristgau.com

Posts in this series:
21. MTV Unplugged Live in New York by Nirvana (this post) 

22. Kick Out The Jams by MC5 
23. One night stand! Live at the Harlem Square Clum 1963 by Sam Cooke
24. Live At The Apollo by James Brown
25. The Band of Gypsys – Jimi Hendrix
26. The Köln Concert by Keith Jarret
27. On Stage by Elvis Presley
28. One for the road by The Kinks
29. Waiting for Columbus by Little Feat
30. Wings over America by Wings

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