A lot of exciting things were happening on the music scene in 1992. Some people, including myself, consider it to be one of the last years of fine rock music. Among the pile of fascinating 1992 releases was an album, which not only became one of the most important live records but went on to sell 26 million copies worldwide. It even won three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Rock Male Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song. When such a tremendous success is at present, we can’t but think about the significance of Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album.
In January 1992, armed with an acoustic Martin, backed by just a couple of musicians, in front of a small audience, legendary guitar hero Eric Clapton performed acoustic versions of original compositions, along with a few blues classics for the infamous MTV Unplugged TV series. The concert album became one of the first-ever MTV albums and consequently, a turning point in Eric Clapton’s career.After a series of ’80s AOR jewels, including “August” and “Journeyman”, Clapton successfully went on to complete a once in a lifetime project, which critics often consider his best, most sincere release of all time.The classy, yet charming and immensely soul-soothing “Unplugged” record was as important to Clapton as it was to MTV – it enhanced the reputation of the music medium, proving that it’s a place where icons, such as the great Eric Clapton himself, can freely express and re-define the boundaries of their musicianship.
It takes a great deal of courage and inner strength to overcome the endless trials of life and Eric Clapton surely had to face so many of them. On top of being a drug and alcohol recovering addict and burying good friends, Eric had to experience the tragic loss of his 4-year old son, Conor in 1991. Out of his grief and indescribable pain, one of the most tearing and emotional ballads was born. “Tears in Heaven” debuted as a soundtrack to the movie “Rush”; however Eric Clapton recorded a new version of the song for the “Unplugged” album. The tender and absolutely heartbreaking hit single went on to become one of Clapton’s highest career achievements and ultimately the highlight of the concert record.
Tears in Heaven
Eric Clapton’s most famous work during his time with Derek & The Dominos – “Layla” is re-invented into a cozy acoustic bliss on “Unplugged”. Comparing it with the original 7-minute epic ballad would be unreasonable, though many fans found more comfort in this slower, less-aggressive and more easily-digested version of the legendary song. The gentle guitars, along with Clapton’s heart melting vocal delivery, turns “Layla” into the perfect lullaby.
One of Journeyman’s (1989) most successful singles – “Old Love” was also chosen as one of the 14 performances on “Unplugged”. The equally deserving revised version of the bluesy tune guarantees an experience of a lifetime.
“Unplugged” is filled with fine moments, capturing Eric Clapton’s honesty and pure effortless talent. One thing he never forgets to do on his projects is to pay his respects to the legendary bluesmen he grew up listening to, by immortalizing their songs and introducing them to newer generations. Among the blues classics he chose to cover on “Unplugged” are “Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me”, Leadbelly’s “Alberta” and of course, Robert Johnson‘s “Walkin’ Blues” and “Malted Milk”.
On the deluxe edition of “Unplugged” we also get to listen to early versions of “My Father’s Eyes” and “Circus”, which would eventually be featured in “Pilgrim”, six years later.
“Unplugged” was Eric Clapton’s 90s coming out party. The ‘80s were gone and with them his radio-friendly, AOR, highly produced approach to music. Don’t get me wrong, his ‘80s releases are actually among my favorite records of all time; however we have to keep in mind that musically they did reflect the time period. As much as he kept his authenticity as a bluesman, those ‘80s records still fall under the category of contemporary ‘80s soft rock. Then, when the ‘90s came, Clapton took off on a new journey – a journey of self-discovery and absolute frankness. That’s exactly why “Unplugged” became so enormously successful – it was the perfect “what you see is what you get” record. Eric Clapton just rose from the ashes with ease and comfort. You could feel his confidence and sincerity coming out of every note.
No wonder “Unplugged” won three Grammy Awards and sold millions of copies all over the world. The audience already knew and loved Clapton but this stripped down album, featuring new interpretations of his classics gave them a new perspective. This album revitalized his career and I think it helped him move on with his life, after the tragic loss of his son. On top of it all, the biggest musical force – MTV, was backing him up. After the enormous popularity of “Unplugged”, the show turned into a much bigger force, hosting some of the most talented musicians of all time – Roxette, Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Eagles and so on.
Familiar, relaxing, cozy…what else can I say? “Unplugged” celebrates a career of an outstanding musician and because of its unique format you can feel like you are a part of the audience and the whole experience. It has been over 20 years since its release, but this concert album will forever remain one of the highest moments of Eric Clapton’s career and as a matter of fact, one of the biggest legacies of MTV.