Unplugged presents the full spectrum of Eric Clapton’s playing, so it sounds like him. Still, when he plays an old blues tune such When Eric Clapton appeared on “MTV Unplugged,” the show had been on the air for three years. His performance—and the resulting LP—doubtlessly rank as two of the most remarkable outcomes from the series’ 10-year history. Clapton, playing with a group of musicians he’d used on then-recent tours and recordings, appeared in a relaxed acoustic setting and revisited a few hits. He also covered some blues tunes by artists he’d championed over the years.
Two of the album’s 14 tracks, “Tears in Heaven” and a reworking of “Layla,” received heavy airplay and contributed to the recording’s enormous popularity. Indeed, since its release in 1992, the album has sold 26 million copies worldwide—10 million in the U.S. alone. The effort shows Clapton’s versatility, and its laidback journeying through his career all but assured its appeal to classic-rock radio and its listeners.
Although Unplugged appeared on vinyl in Europe on a single LP, Reprise’s two-LP Pallas-pressed set mastered by Bernie Grundman marked its first appearance on wax in the U.S. I was pleased at the amount of space and ambiance conveyed by the earlier pressing, but the newer pressing puts you in the middle of the audience and closer to the stage.
Importantly, Clapton’s voice also benefits from more focus and clarity. While some sibilance that remains inaudible on the earlier pressing occasionally surfaces, such instances are rare, and are a small price to pay for the more intimate view of the performance—not to mention the enhanced transparency and soundstaging. Even if you know this recording well, you may be surprised by how much of Clapton’s mastery on the blues tracks is made clearer—and by how much more of himself he gave to his own popular tunes.