Television: Paul McCartney on MTV Unplugged

Paul McCartney’s appearance on MTV Unplugged took place on 25 January 1991.

The live acoustic performance was recorded at Limehouse Studios in Wembley, London. It was produced by Joel Gallen MTV.

MTV Unplugged had begun broadcasting in November 1989, and offered musicians a chance to perform their songs acoustically in an intimate setting, without the high production values of normal live shows. The show was not promoted heavily by the network, mainly because it initially struggled to attract big name acts.

The show gained momentum during its first season, but McCartney’s appearance in the second season was a pivotal moment. MTV Unplugged’s producer Alex Coletti later claimed that had McCartney not released it, the concept would have never gained the cult status that it went on to enjoy.

The episode’s success – and that of the subsequent album – encouraged big names of the early 1990s, including REM and Nirvana, to take part. It also allowed older artists including Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Tony Bennett – whose Unplugged albums each became million sellers – to connect with younger audiences.

Paul McCartney on MTV Unplugged, 25 January 1991

McCartney had recently concluded a world tour, as documented on the 1990 live album Tripping The Live Fantastic. His band on MTV Unplugged was almost the same: Linda McCartney on vocals, harmonium, and percussion; Hamish Stuart on vocals, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass guitar; Robbie McIntosh on vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, and dobro; Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens on vocals, piano, acoustic bass guitar, accordion, and shaker; and Blair Cunningham on drums, percussion.

No amplifiers were used. Instead, a range of microphones were positioned around the stage to pick up sound from vocals and acoustic instruments.

Although the album Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) featured 17 songs, a further five were performed on the day of recording: ‘Mean Woman Blues’, ‘Matchbox’, ‘Midnight Special’, ‘The Fool’, and ‘Things We Said Today’. ‘We Can Work It Out’ was performed twice, once with a false start.

The album contained three songs which were not featured in the television broadcast: ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’, ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’, and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’.

The full performance setlist:

* Not included on Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)
** Not included on MTV Unplugged

The band also rehearsed a number of other songs ahead of the show, including ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, ‘Figure Of Eight’, ‘Cut Across Shorty’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Heart Of The Country’, ‘She’s My Baby’, and ‘Mrs Vandebilt’.

McCartney’s performance on MTV Unplugged was aired on 3 April 1991. The album Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) was released on 13 May 1991 in the UK, and 4 June 1991 in the USA. It was McCartney’s third post-Beatles live album, following Wings Over America and Tripping The Live Fantastic.

Last updated: 25 January 2023
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  1. Rick P Tuesday 25 January 2022

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