25 Years Ago: Nirvana Appears On 'MTV Unplugged'

November 19, 2018

On November 18th, 1993, Nirvana performed one of the most legendary sets to ever appear on MTV Unplugged. Sadly, less than six months later, Kurt Cobain would commit suicide on April 5th, 1994. After airing the special on December 16th, MTV replayed it endlessly following his death.

Normally, most artists that would appear on MTV Unplugged would mostly perform acoustic versions of many of their hit songs. In Nirvana's case, they did the exact opposite. Playing only a small handful of singles like "All Apologies" and "Come As You Are", the band put greater emphasis on covering lesser-known acts like the Vaselines and bringing cellist Lori Goldston, future Foo Fighter Pat Smear, and their touring band, the Meat Puppets into the limelight to cover "Lake of Fire," "Oh, Me," and "Plateau." Despite Cobain's choice to not play any of their major hit songs or bring out A-list guests, it did not hinder the band's performance from being any less legendary.

Leading up to their Unplugged session, Novoselic was most excited to show off Nirvana's softer side, proving that they were not all about blaring guitars and exploding amplifiers. But the nerves were also there too, given that they described their limited rehearsals as "underwhelming."

Dave Grohl later admitted that he was expecting their Unplugged performance to be awful, given that they hardly ever play acoustic and both the band and the MTV crew agreed that they sounded terrible during rehearsals.

At first, Nirvana's Unplugged setlist would have appeared to be done for the sole purpose of doing the exact opposite of what MTV wanted. But with a haunting cover of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World" and a hair-raising closer of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" by Leadbelly, it set the new standard for future Unplugged performances.

Following Cobain's death, Nirvana's acoustic performance was released as an album under the name, MTV Unplugged in New York. Its first week, it hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 300,000 copies, which is the highest-selling debut release for Nirvana.