Eric Clapton’s ‘Unplugged’ Album Turns 20
It may not have been a studio record, but Eric Clapton‘s ‘Unplugged’ was one of the most successful releases of his career. The album, released Aug. 25, 1992, turns 20 this year and remains both a timeless representation of his career and an enduring document of a period in time for the guitar great.
MTV enjoyed quite a bit of success with their ‘Unplugged’ series, which launched in 1989 with an episode featuring Squeeze, Syd Straw and Elliot Easton. After humble beginnings the series continued to pick up steam with more artists drawn to the acoustic environment. By the time 1992 rolled around, they began to attract more well-known acts like Paul McCartney. Eric Clapton, whose chart dominance had started to wane a little bit, decided to take advantage of the increasingly popular series.
The end result was one that would both be a victory for Clapton himself as well as the ‘MTV Unplugged’ series, as the disc immediately shot at No. 1 in six countries, was the top selling album of the year in Canada, and became the No. 30 selling disc for the entire decade. In the U.S., it reached Diamond status, for 10 million copies shipped.
When Clapton took the stage at Bray Film Studios in Windsor, England on Jan. 16, 1992, it was a particularly emotional time for the musician. The singer, still reeling from the death of his four-year-old son Conor months earlier from a bizarre incident where he fell out of the window of his 53rd floor apartment building, had penned the track ‘Tears in Heaven’ for the soundtrack to the film ‘Rush’ in honor of his son. The soundtrack had just been released just prior to the taping.
Clapton’s raw, heartfelt performance immediately struck a cord with listeners upon the first airing of the ‘Unplugged’ special, and the song shot straight to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts. The track was also Grammy bait, as the song helped Clapton earn Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance en route to six Grammy wins total off the ‘Unplugged’ record.
The other big success off of the ‘Unplugged’ set was a radically rearranged and bluesy version of Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos favorite, ‘Layla.’ The new version went on to receive the Grammy for Best Rock Song, and gave the singer options of how to present the track for an audience for years to come as the ‘Unplugged’ version was equally as successful as the original.
Before the record cycle was done, Clapton would also get some love for a third track, ‘Running on Faith,’ which initially appeared on his 1989 album, ‘Journeyman.’ Though it failed to reach the chart success of ‘Layla’ and ‘Tears in Heaven,’ the song did land Top 40 on both the Adult Contemporary and Mainstream Rock Tracks charts.
The ‘Unplugged’ album also provided Clapton the opportunity to trot out a few lesser known songs, as early versions of ‘My Father’s Eyes,’ ‘Circus Left Town,’ and ‘Worried Life Blues’ didn’t make the final track list, but did come about during the session, and Clapton finished the set with a rare performance of the Muddy Waters classic, ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’.’
In 2004, Clapton sold the Martin 000-42 acoustic guitar he played in the ‘Unplugged’ special at an auction for just shy of $800,000, which was the record for the highest sale price of a Martin guitar at the time.
Watch Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ From His ‘Unplugged’ Disc