On November 1st, 1994, Nirvana‘s highly-acclaimed MTV Unplugged special was released as a full album, only months after Kurt Cobain‘s death.
Recorded in 1993, Nirvana saw their popularity skyrocket as they became regular faces on MTV thanks to their music videos for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Heart-Shaped Box”, “In Bloom” and “Come As You Are.” They had just released In Utero two months before the taping and decided to go down a different route compared to previous Unplugged performances.
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Since other artists on the program would often perform acoustic versions of their greatest hits, Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear chose to go in the opposite direction by performing b-sides, deep cuts, and cover songs like “Plateau”, “Oh Me”, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam”, “Lake of Fire” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” Nirvana’s hit song “Come As You Are” was one of the only exceptions. They also brought in members of the Meat Puppets, who had been on tour with the band months earlier, for a few of their covers.
The days leading up to the show weren’t without their fair share of obstacles. After two days of rehearsals, the band was not happy with how Grohl’s drumming sounded for an acoustic performance. Because he was such a powerful drummer, if he could not dial it down enough, they would consider having him sit out the show. However, they replaced Grohl’s drumsticks with wire brushes and sizzle sticks, which took care of their percussion problem.
Cobain was also seen as very nervous about everything before the taping. Staffers recall him never joking around or smiling at all leading up to the performance, which also made the people around him nervous about it as well. He had even asked that the set be filled with stargazer lilies and candles to resemble a funeral.
Worrying aside, the show went off without a hitch and the band delivered one of the best-known MTV Unplugged performences ever.
Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart the week of its release and would go on to be certified 5x platinum. It also won the 1996 Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and the full-length DVD with bonus features was released in 2007.