MTV’s Unplugged is back! To celebrate MTV’s 35th birthday (Aug. 1), the network rechristened the former VH1 Classic as MTV Classic and, with that, the new channel will boast encore presentations of its most memorable programming from the 1990s — including the famed Unplugged series.
The series featured top musicians like Nirvana, Mariah Carey and Eric Clapton performing acoustic versions of their hits in an intimate setting. Often, the recordings were later packaged and released as albums, becoming widely popular with fans and earning critical and commercial recognition.
With the return of Unplugged, let’s take a look at the five best-selling MTV Unplugged albums in the United States (as measured by Nielsen Music).
5. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged (1993), 2.3 million
Before frontwoman Natalie Merchant left 10,000 Maniacs to pursue a solo career, the band convened for an Unplugged set that included what became its biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100: a cover of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith‘s “Because the Night,” which rose to No. 11.
4. Mariah Carey, MTV Unplugged EP (1992), 2.7 million
Carey, who often battled stage fright early in her career, appeared on Unplugged to silence critics who claimed she couldn’t replicate her studio performances, especially her whistle register, in a live setting. Of her set’s seven songs, five were already top five-charting hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and a sixth quickly followed: Her Unplugged cover of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” with Trey Lorenz, raced to become the diva’s sixth No. 1 on the Hot 100.
3. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…and Seated (1993), 3.4 million
Stewart’s live set logged five straight weeks at its No. 2 peak on the Billboard 200 and features a whopping 17 tracks, not including six further cuts that were recorded during the performance. Among the hits in the set: “Tonight’s the Night” and “Maggie May,” two of Stewart’s then-three No. 1 hits on the Hot 100. (He later earned a fourth in “All for Love” with Bryan Adams and Sting in 1994.) The album launched three Hot 100-charting singles in “Have I Told You Lately” (No. 5), “Reason to Believe” (No. 19) and “Having a Party” (No. 36).
2. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York (1994), 5.1 million
MTV Unplugged in New York was Nirvana’s first album after Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994, and it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. (The album was recorded on Nov. 18, 1993, aired on MTV the next month, and then released as an album in November 1994.) Though the 14-song set avoids most of the band’s bigger hits in favor of lesser-known tracks and covers, it won Nirvana its first — and only — Grammy Award: for best alternative music performance.
1. Eric Clapton, Unplugged (1992), 7.7 million
Recorded during a vexing emotional period for the singer-songwriter, Unplugged features new takes on “Layla” and “Tears in Heaven,” the latter of which was composed months after the death of Clapton’s 4-year-old son, Conor. “Tears” eventually climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992 and won Clapton three Grammy Awards. Unplugged, meanwhile, leapt to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for three weeks and scored the singer-songwriter another pair of Grammys, including album of the year. (It’s one of two Unplugged albums to win the Grammy for album of the year. Tony Bennett also took home the trophy for his MTV Unplugged.)