The format of MTV Unplugged was already tried and true when Paul McCartney decided to tape an episode himself in 1991. Artists would come in, trade their electric guitars for acoustics, and otherwise pretty much play the exact same concert that they would otherwise do. Occasional fun collaborations, like the one between Joe Walsh and Dr. John in 1989, were just about the only variations that came to the otherwise tried-and-true programme.
When McCartney entered the studio to record his special, however, he decided that he wanted to make some tweaks to the normal format. The truth was that most ‘Unplugged’ episodes weren’t actually unplugged – acoustic instruments would still be fed through amplifiers in most cases. But McCartney insisted on doing his show completely unplugged, meaning that electric guitars, synths, and effects pedals were not allowed.
McCartney also saw the show as an opportunity to play with his live show, bringing in rare songs from across his setlist and well-chosen covers that rubbed elbows with some of the more obvious hits. Nirvana received quite a bit of publicity for not playing hits like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘In Bloom’ during their appearance on the programme, but McCartney beat them to the punch two years prior by looping in old school rock and roll covers and lesser-known material.
That included the first performance of ‘I Lost My Little Girl’, the first song that McCartney had ever written. Shortly after his mother’s death, McCartney channelled his heartbreak into his first real composition, setting the stage for his massively acclaimed catalogue that he would accumulate as an adult. Also included were rare performances of ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’, which Denny Laine took on during the Wings days, and a couple of songs from McCartney: ‘That Would Be Something’, ‘Every Night’, and an instrumental version of ‘Junk’.
McCartney even ceded the spotlight to instrumentalist Hamish Stuart on two occasions, letting the former Average White Band member take the lead on ‘And I Love Her’ and a version of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. McCartney even lets loose a version of ‘Things We Said Today’ that hadn’t been played since the band’s 1964 tours.
Check out McCartney’s appearance on MTV Unplugged down below.