Vinyl of the Week: Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York

Looking back on what would become Kurt Cobain’s last recording and an Unplugged classic.

In the 90s, MTV’s Unplugged series gave us many memorable moments from some of the best artists of the time. Personally, I wish it was still a regular show as some of today’s artists would be perfect in that setting.

Last weekend, I was going through my vinyl collection looking for something to listen to and since I’d just discussed how Nirvana’s Unplugged performance of Where Did You Sleep Last Night, I decided to give the whole album a listen.

Especially considering it has become my go-to album to listen to when I feel like some Nirvana. You may question me on that one, but their MTV Unplugged performance is a true masterpiece. For that reason, it’s my Vinyl of the Week.

Photo Credit: MTV

After the release of In Utero in 1993, MTV put all their cards on the table to get Nirvana on Unplugged as it would be a huge set for the show. This makes sense, as Nirvana had quickly become one of the most famous bands in the world.

Initially, the band was hesitant as they’d seen the show and felt that all it was was bands playing their hits with acoustic guitars. Being the band that changed music with the release of Nevermind, they wouldn’t want to take the same path as everyone else, they had to do something different.

So when they finally accepted the invite, the band looked to change things up. Instead of using their hits in the setlist, they decide to go with deep cuts from their albums and covers of some of their favorite artists and songs.

Photo Credit: MTV

The band practiced for two days leading up to the show, with everything under scrutiny. Dave Grohl had to purchase softer drum sticks and wire brushes because he was such a hard-hitting drummer that it could throw everything off.

Cobain asked for a lot of flowers on stage so it looked like a funeral and stayed nervous and not happy all the way up to the performance time. The entire 14-song set was recorded in one take so what we hear is what we get. Cobain wouldn’t have it any other way as he was not your typical musician.

As the set kicks off, the band opens with About A Girl from their first album Bleach. While risky to open with a song most fans weren’t even familiar with, this version has become one of the band's most beloved songs over the years.

From there, the band went into what was the only hit song that they included in the set, Come As You Are, which of all their hits to that point, worked the best in this setting. Cobain’s vocals being delivered in this strained sounding way add even more emotional depth to the songs he’s performing.

The first of six covers on the album, The Vaselines’ Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam, shows us the diversity in Cobain’s voice and the rest of the band as we get a song they played as a pure rock song in concert in the past and turned it upside down.

For their next cover the band went with a classic that most would say they were crazy to take on, David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World. The band knocks it out of the park and it has become one of the most popular songs on the album as it got tremendous airplay back when the album was released.

Nirvana goes back into their catalog for a series of deep cuts to the average listener, but to die-hard fans, we all loved what we heard. Pennyroyal Tea starts off with the band stumbling to find the right key to play it in which adds authenticity to the moment and really is what Kurt always was, an authentic musician who marched to his own beat.

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

After some great acoustic versions of Dumb, Polly, and On A Plain the band goes into a personal favorite of mine, Something In The Way. One of Cobain’s most personal songs, the original was so dark and slowed down and this version added a little more depth and life to an already amazing song.

This is a true highlight for me here.

Nirvana is the joined on stage by members of the Meat Puppets as they cover three songs by the fellow Seattle band and a favorite of Cobain’s. For me the highlight of the three is Lake of Fire, although all three are great and show a totally different side of Nirvana’s musicianship as along with Plateau and Oh Me felt like a campfire set.

All Apologies off In Utero is next. At the time of this performance, the song wasn’t even a single yet on radio, but has since gone on to be the song most associated with In Utero and the acoustic version from this set has been a huge hit in its own right.

The band never made a video for the original version of the single, so MTV used this version as the video. This amazing album and set come to a close with what I have said plenty of times before is Kurt Cobain’s finest moment, Where Did You Sleep Last Night. I still get chills when I heart this song.

Look no further than the last verse of the song as Kurt puts every emotion and then some into his delivery. It was like he knew he didn’t have much time left and left us this song as his final statement. Just an amazing moment that we are all lucky was recorded for us to have forever.

Five months after the band recorded their Unplugged set, Cobain was gone. The surviving members of Nirvana wanted to put together a live album with Unplugged as second disc, but couldn’t emotionally deal with the process of putting an album together so Unplugged was released on its own in November 1994.

It gave fans like myself something to use to cope with the loss of our generation's voice and Unplugged in New York became Cobain’s final statement and a perfect one it was as no Unplugged has ever compared to Nirvanas. RIP Kurt.

For more on Nirvana’s legacy, check out our 25th Anniversary tribute to Nevermind. After Nirvana, Dave Grohl carved out his own musical legacy that still continues today. Learn why he is a Game Changer.