To celebrate the anniversary of Nirvana's MTV Unplugged
James Moore

14:33 18th November 2015

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On this day in 1993, Nirvana recorded their MTV Unplugged special at Sony Studios, New York. Kurt and co played mainly lesser-known material and cover versions of songs by The Vaselines, David Bowie, Meat Puppets and Lead Belly. The seminal album went on to win the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996, deservedly so. 

It got us thinking about how god damn great acoustic music can be when it's done right.

Listen, we all love percussion, electric chaos and very loud music, but sometimes you've just got take a couple of steps back, strip away the fat and bring things back to beautiful basics. 

That's why we've compiled a list of 16 of the greatest acoustic albums currently in existence. Forgive us if we've missed any or feel free to throw unnecessary abuse in our general direction on social media.  

  • Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws (2010): Bombay Bicycle Club's acoustic album came about almost by accident, when the band were playing around during a few days off from touring. Single 'Ivy And Gold' made everyone sit up and listen, and when they did, they discovered an absolute gem of an album.

  • Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972): Drake was always predominantly acoustic, but third and final album Pink Moon was the first to be recorded completely unaided by a backing band. The achingly beautiful melancholy of the songs is made even more poignant by the singer's death only two years after the album's release.

  • Foo Fighters - Skin And Bones (2006): Showing that he could front a classic acoustic album as well as play drums on one, Grohl released this live album with Foo Fighters at the height of the band's powers. The title track and 'Everlong' are both stunning.

  • Eric Clapton - Unplugged (1992): Another from the MTV series. The re-working of 'Layla' is so powerful that some now see it as the definitive version of the song, despite the original's huge success at the time.

  • Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008): Bon Iver's second eponymous album brought in many more plugged-in sounds, but debut For Emma, Forever Ago was Justin Vernon at his intimate best. The album laid the foundation for what has been a stellar career so far.

  • Beck - Sea Change (2002): Beck's gone off on a lot of musical tangents over the years, some significantly more successful than others. Sea Change went down the acoustic route, and showed that for all the eccentricities, Beck is never better than when writing simple but incredibly effective guitar based ballads.

  • Mazzy Star - So Tonight That I Might See (1993): 'Fade Into You' was one of THE definitive acoustic songs of the 1990s. All of Mazzy Star's albums are fairly stripped back, but this album shows their acoustic side with incredibly powerful results. Simply stunning.

  • Johny Cash - American IV The Man Comes Around (2002): Notable for the acoustic version of NIN classic 'Hurt', this album, which consists mostly of covers, also contains an outstanding acoustic version of Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus', among other beautiful versions of well known songs.

  • Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (1994): The one that everyone thinks of when you mention unplugged albums. Stunning versions of Nirvana classics such as 'Come As You Are' mixed with brilliant covers. The version of Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World' is especially moving.

  • The Rolling Stones - Acoustic Motherfuckers (1993): Another widely available bootleg, this album consists of outstanding acoustic versions of some of the band's biggest hits, including 'Angie' and 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. Jagger's 2013 acoustic monstrosity 'Glastonbury Girl' was thankfully 20 years too late to make the album.

  • Smashing Pumpkins - Unplugged: Not another MTV session, but a widely available and high quality bootleg. You wouldn't really expect Corgan's occasionally grating vocal delivery to work on tracks like 'Mayonnaise' and 'Rocket' on an acoustic level, but give it a go. You'll be very pleasantly surprised.

  • Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans (2004): Sufjan Stevens is a master of music both the rich and the understated, and this album is a perfect example of his incredible songwriting talent. The LP's title track itself is beautifully stark, with Sufjan's harmonies resting above tightly tweaked acoustic guitar as he spills his soul onto the song, "My father burned into gold" 

  • The Mountain Goats - All Hail West Texas (2001): This stripped back project really shouldn't work, with Mountain Goats at their best when they're throwing a wall of sound alongside John Darnielle's raspy vocals, cut-throat lyrics and talent for truly unique and blunt story telling. Somehow, though, when you pull everything away, the band still pack a truly might punch.

  • Rodrigo y Gabriela - Self Titled (2006): This one is a no brainer. The technical finger picking and frenetic style of guitar wizardry doesn't need swells of percussion and other madness to smack you around the head with its ridiculous levels of awesome. Listen as you speed down the highway on a road-trip, or if you're just nipping down the shops for a pint of milk. It's just too great.

  • J Mascis - Several Shades of Why (2011) : This acoustic album is wonderfully rich and immersive considering the lack of heavy instrumentation. Mascis's vocals wash over you with resonance and purpose without any unnecessary interference. If you make it through this record without shedding a tear or two, we suggest you seek psychiatric help immediately, you cold hearted son of a gun.

  • Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (1994): The one that everyone thinks of when you mention unplugged albums. Stunning versions of Nirvana classics such as 'Come As You Are' mixed with brilliant covers. The version of Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World' is especially moving.

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