Music

Miguel Migs: Nude Tempo One

Andy Hermann

Miguel Migs

Nude Tempo One

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
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San Francisco's Naked Music has released a lot of fantastic house music over the last few years, but for my money their all-time greatest disc remains 1999's Nude Dimensions Vol. 1, mixed by a then little-known DJ from Santa Cruz named Miguel Migs. That set's sublime mix of kicked-back grooves and soulful, bittersweet songs put Migs on the map in a big way, and solidified Naked's reputation as America's preeminent deep house label.

Since that landmark release, Migs has kept busy producing and remixing tracks under his Petalpusher alias (he even remixed a track for Britney Spears, "Stronger", off Oops! I Did it Again). He also released another DJ set on the German label NRK's nite:life series, but for the most part, he's saved his DJ skills for the clubs, touring almost non-stop. But when Astralwerks teamed up with Naked Music last year, they wisely sent Migs back to the studio, where he's cooked up two releases for 2002 -- his Petalpusher artist debut, set for later this year, and Nude Tempo One, another DJ set that's almost, but not quite, as delicious as Nude Dimensions Vol. 1.

The biggest difference between Nude Tempo and any previous Naked Music release is its heavy use of dubbed-out vocals. Five of the disc's 16 tracks are identified as "dub" remixes, but many more than that feature dub's echoing, fractured vocal effects, giving the overall mix a spacey vibe that contrasts nicely with Migs' trademark bouncy basslines and four-on-the-floor beats. The slightly new sound is established early on with Hajime Yoshizawa's "Endless Bow", a dreamy soundscape of swirling synths and jazzy percussion. "Endless Bow" leads into a more conventional Naked Music track, Onda's "Happiness is Free", a great deep house tune featuring a tricky bassline and the sort of sexy, breathy female vocals the label is famous for. Migs' mixing skills are on full display as he segues effortlessly into a more uptempo remix of Blue Six's "Love Yourself". This tune, featured on Blue Six's debut album Beautiful Tomorrow, just gets better and better with each reinvention -- Migs himself served up a marvelously groovy breaks remix of it on Nude Dimensions Vol. 3, and here he presents an irresistibly bouncy version of it from the Italian duo Basti and Vincenzo, complete with a George Benson-style guitar/scat solo. For my money, it's Nude Tempo's best track.

From "Love Yourself", Migs travels into cheesier terrain, laying down Fusion Groove Orchestra's overly discofied "The Dream (Deep Dreamer Dub)" and then really going cornball with "Show You My Love", with an over-emotive David Ruffin Jr. (yes, son of the famous Temptation) snarling over a falsetto male chorus. Both tracks have great funky basslines and that classic four-on-the-floor house sound that keeps dance floors hopping, but those vocals are just a little too silly for all but the most dedicated old-schooler to stand. The Discorados' "Get Down" is a little more bearable, but it's still as steeped in old disco sounds as its title would suggest.

Things get more interesting again with a dub version of Derrick White's "Soul 2 Let Go", which cruises along on synths as dreamy as any meditation tape, even as its shuffling bassline urges you to move your feet. It gives the mix a nice bit of breathing room, before Migs shifts back into more high-energy terrain with Headstock's percussive, horn-heavy "Highly Strung" and the dub version of his own "You Bring Me Up", with the seductive voice of longtime Naked Music vocalist Lisa Shaw reverberating over a rising horn line and a thick, syncopated beat.

Migs wraps up the horns/Latin beat section of his set with an effectively brief piece of Batidos' "Tengo Sed" in an all-percussion remix by Batidos' own Ron Trent. Then he moves into his heavy hitters: back-to-back tracks from leading house producers Nathan Haines, Kerri Chandler, and Andy Caldwell. "Spiritual", from Haines' Reel People (in yet another dub mix), is a nicely breezy piece of cocktail house, but Om Records' Caldwell stumbles badly with the wretchedly cheesy "I Can't Wait", featuring the worst lyrics of Migs' entire set ("Hurry, hurry, don't be late / Don't make this love wait"). The unquestionable standout is Chandler's "Atmospheric Beats", which uses a classic breakdown filled with bubbly synths and layered horns to build the energy up to late-night levels. It's a simple but wonderfully assertive dance track.

Satin Souls, who have made nice contributions to previous Naked Music compilations, represent themselves well again with a dreamy version of "Aziza", another track that flirts with disco camp (with punchy keyboard effects straight out of Blondie) but manages to avoid going over the deep end into outright cheese. Migs then gives us a preview of Lisa Shaw's forthcoming solo debut with her track "Ultimate High". Shaw's voice has leant many a Naked Music track a certain kind of sensual authority, avoiding the usual house diva excesses in favor of a rich, throaty delivery that falls somewhere between Annie Lennox and Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn. Shaw's her usual smooth self here, making a solid piece of deep house soar with her unmistakable warmth. Migs cleverly loops a throaty Shaw hum into his final track, Mindflight's "Release", giving its simple, uplifting wash of organs and synths a distinctly Naked sound, and giving his set a satisfyingly rich finish.

That last line sounds like I'm describing wine, but that's as fitting a metaphor as any for Migs' sound, which has always had a sophistication and polish that a lot of club house music tends to lack. His target audience might be likened to old bar hounds who have graduated from drinking Budweiser to Bordeaux. Nude Tempo One isn't Migs at his premium vintage, but it still goes down smoother than many another house mix, and proves that Naked Music, under their new partnership with Astralwerks, hasn't lost its knack for finding some of the grooviest deep house in the land.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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