Staff writer, and long term music fan Bill Spruce is an avid concert goer. From time to time Bill will stop by and share his latest experience at a show, review on an album, or commentary on  happenings in music.

What You Hear First Often Sounds Best

By Bill Spruce


Alice In Chains... I personally believe their "unplugged" performance on MTV in April 1996 and the album it produced is iconic. It is an incredible recording… and, yes I am one of those who actually remembers that MTV did do-music once; no shit, I am telling you it's true. I’m so old, I saw MTV’s birth with “Video Killed the Radio Star” and their death by “reality TV.”  Somewhere in the middle they produced cool programming like “Head Banger’s Ball”; raise your hand if you remember White Zombie ‘s “Thunder Kiss ’65.!” Man, those were the days. It was on every other week or so long before the days of text messages so you couldn’t tell your friends, “man you have to see this band!” 


It seems that what a person hears first, becomes what they are used to and what they prefer… or I should say, what they expect.  Listen, I know an Iron Maiden fan or three who still swear that singer Paul Di’ anno, with Maiden’s punkish beginnings, should still be living happily ever after but I have to believe Maiden would not be flying across the globe in “Ed Force One” if Bruce Dickinson had not come along.  Don’t get me wrong, I deeply love Maiden’s roots and their first two records, but my Maiden fandom started with “Number of the Beast” in1982 and in my world, the older stuff was weird and took the getting used to.  Dickinson-Maiden is what I heard first, so it is what I expected and became used to first.    


Holy wow, did I digress…  I was talking about Alice In Chains; I like them a lot but I came along late to the party and I think my first real full-time, spin the CD over and over again, exposure to them was the “unplugged” recording from their appearance on MTV in ’96, but they were three records-in at that point.  I was watching that show when it was first broadcast; warts and all.  The only thing great about getting older is I can say, “I was there man, and you weren’t even born!”


So, what is my point anyway?  I have, of course, since those days come to listen to the original studio recordings of the songs played during that unplugged show and I think I prefer the unplugged versions; especially the songs “Frogs” and “Sludge Factory.”  There seems to be a deeper and clearer passion in the music on the “unplugged” versions.  I guess “deeper and clearer passion,” are my way of saying, I think I like the way they sound better less amplified, with cleaner sound, and less distortion than the amplified sludge fest. In fact, the studio original recordings seem to me as over produced, having heard and loved the unplugged version first.


My opinion is actually in direct contradiction to the paid subscription, reviews of the day, which did not receive the record favorably; I went back and looked.  My dad always told me, though, what opinions were like, and honestly I couldn’t care less what others think, especially those from 25 years ago.  The “MTV Unplugged” Alice in Chains record is top notch and to these old ears are better than the originals. Again, though… this was the Alice In Chains I spun the most first.  


This brings me to my request for comments and questions...  is there any incarnation of a band or version of a record that you heard first, that wasn’t the original, that you find best?  Alice in Chains, plugged or unplugged… and why or why not? Thanks for reading!