Today, we look at five songs that became more popular on the charts when they were performed on MTV Unplugged.
In Drawing Crazy Patterns, I spotlight at least five things from pop culture that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently enough to be worth pointing it out). Note that these lists are inherently not exhaustive. They are a list of five examples (occasionally I’ll be nice and toss in a sixth). So no instance is “missing” if it is not listed. It’s just not one of the five examples that I chose. You can always feel free to suggest ANOTHER example that fits the theme, if you’d like, but nothing is “missing” from this list.
MTV Unplugged was like a breath of fresh air when it debuted in 1989, famous artists doing acoustic versions of their iconic songs (plus, of course, some interesting cover songs). It started slowly, but when Paul McCartney did one, then a lot of major artists soon followed suit, and a number of the episodes were released as albums which were major hits (interestingly, though, only about a third of the episodes were released as albums, which you would think would have been an obvious move for all of the people involved to release every episode as an album).
Most of the time, while the songs were popular, they were ALREADY popular songs, so the MTV Unplugged versions of the songs weren’t, like, BIGGER hits. For instance, Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” was a HUGE deal at the time, but the ORIGINAL version of “Layla” was a huge deal, as well, so the MTV Unplugged version did not do BETTER than the original. However, a number of times the MTV Unplugged version of a song DID do better than the original. Here are five of those such examples. Thanks to my pal, Troy Brownfield, for indirectly suggesting this one (Troy’s actual suggestion of live versions of songs that were bigger hits than the studio version of those songs will also be featured in the future, but I felt that I had to give MTV Unplugged its own post first).
I’ll put the five examples in order of least successful to most successful.
“The Man Who Sold the World”
This is an interesting one, as the classic David Bowie original version of “The Man Who Sold the World”….
wasn’t even released a single at first (it was eventually released as a B-side to a re-released version of “Space Oddity” in 1973), and it was mostly just a song that Bowie aficionados were familiar with, until Lulu, of all people, did a cover of “The Man Who Sold The World” that was a minor hit in the United Kingdom.
So when Nirvana did a version for their iconic MTV Unplugged concert, their version of “The Man Who Sold the World” was a minor hit, landing on a few of the Billboard charts (but not on the Hot 100, though)…
As a bonus, Nirvana’s “About A Girl” was in a similar boat. Not a single at all off of Nirvana’s debut, Bleach, to start, but the MTV Unplugged version of “About a Girl” was a minor hit…
“Freak on a Leash”
This is a weird one. Korn’s original version of “Freak on a Leash” was obviously a hit for them, but it was a hit for them in their specific niche field of mainstream rock.
It never hit the Billboard Hot 100, bubbling just a bit under (I believe it peaked at 106).
The MTV Unplugged version of “Freak on a Leash,” though, with Amy Lee, was a bigger mainstream hit, cracking the Hot 100 (just barely, but still)…
Again, it seems odd to feature a song that was obviously a big enough of a hit that it helped them GET an MTV Unplugged episode, but still, it fits.
“Reason to Believe”
Tim Hardin released “Reason to Believe” in 1965, but it didn’t chart at all…
The Carpenters had a minor hit with it when they covered it, and Rod Stewart covered it, as well, and had a much bigger hit with it, cracking the Billboard Hot 100 (but only peaking at #62).
Years later, Stewart had much more success with the song with his MTV Unplugged version of “Reason to Believe” (done with his old bandmate, Ronnie Wood) hitting the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100…
“Because the Night”
This was a close one, as the original Patti Smith version of “Because the Night,” penned by Bruce Springsteen and Smith, WAS a big hit, reaching #13 on the Billboard Hot 100…
However, the 10,000 Maniacs version of “Because the Night” on MTV Unplugged, which launched Natalie Merchant into stardom, reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100…
“Have I Told You Lately”
Van Morrison’s original version of “I Told You Lately” was a hit on the adult contemporary scene when it came out in 1989….
However, when Stewart covered “I Told You Lately” for MTV Unplugged, it was a Top five hit…
Interestingly, Stewart had a third big hit single from his MTV Unplugged, a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” but Cooke’s original version of “Having a Party” was a bigger hit than Stewart’s cover.
Thanks to Troy for the suggestion!
Okay, folks, if you have suggestions for a future Drawing Crazy Patterns, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!