Beating up on David Guetta at this point is about as fun as slapping around a middle aged accountant in a leather mask and gimp suit: it’s not really that satisfying and you get the creepy feeling that the gimp probably likes it.
Guetta has been oddly quiet for the last year or so – whether he’s lost his touch, whether the kids have moved on to worshipping mice instead of French muppets or whether he’s doing backflips into swimming pools full of money instead of releasing more tracks sounding as if they’d been created by committee or the industrial songwriting machines of Orwell’s novel 1984 …
… whatever it is, Guetta’s peak seems to have passed. We can probably expect that he’ll either milk it on the road for awhile longer or retreat to a spot behind the scenes as some kind of pop record doctor, lobbing a gob of spit and strychnine on the next disastrous Liz Phair or Avril Lavigne comeback album.
Whatever he’s up to now, for years I’ve heard people talk about this obscure track made in the mid-’90s by Guetta and Robert Owens as his calling card to street credibility. Like Wolfgang Gartner (aka The Original Bro), we’re to believe Guetta already walked the scuzzy alley of the underground where we dwell like morlocks in fedoras before moving on to a more meaningful career paving the way for DJs to throw cakes.
Or so the story goes. I’m not going to pretend to be an authority on All Things Guetta. One’s interest in crap – even amusingly kitschy crap – is limited, really. But that’s not exactly how it happened.
This was a thing: David Guetta & Sidney’s Nation Rap
Many have claimed “Up and Away” is Guetta’s first recording, but it’s not. That dubious distinction belongs to a hilariously cheesy French “hip-hop” record put out in 1990 called “Nation Rap”. It’s been rumored that certain people have tried to bury “Nation Rap” for the last decade, much like George Lucas’ desire to take a sledgehammer to every copy of the The Star Wars Holiday Special in existence. If you think back to your school days and remember those D.A.R.E. videos in which ersatz hip-hop idols warn children of the dangers of smoking via “streetwise rhymes”, you have a pretty good idea of the monstrosity that is Guetta’s “Nation Rap”.
Don’t Copy That Floppy: A Worthy Companion to Nation Rap
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. “Up and Away” is not really an awful track – or at least it gave us few warnings of the Jesus-Posing Guetta to come. The original mix is to House Music what “Nation Rap” was to contemporary Hip-Hop – it’s possible to write it off as some cheesy artifact of the time only if you ignore everything going on around it. The Shocklee Brothers’ astonishing orchestration on “Fight The Power” predates “Nation Rap” by more than a year. Similarly, I suspect the awkward strings on the original mix of “Up and Away” already sounded old in 1994, at least based upon what I’ve preserved of that era.
Up and Away (Original Mix)
If you’re a fan of the neo-Smooth Jazz that the Soulful House crowd really gets into these days, you won’t find “Up & Away” too objectionable. In fact, it presages the mid-’00s obsession with absurdly overwrought “soulful” vocal performances rather uncannily. There’s also a “Paris Remix” – sometimes uncredited as such, but I have confirmation from the man himself that this is indeed a remix by Dimitri from Paris. It’s not terribly remarkable but as the most restrained, it’s the best mix of the lot.
Up and Away ([Dimitri from] Paris Mix)
I’ve heard “Up & Away” referred to as a “minor hit”, but I’ve been unable to locate it on a Billboard chart (or any charts at all, for that matter). As the story is most frequently told, Guetta was playing at a club in France and came across Owens at a gig. After hearing some of the tracks Guetta was working on, Owens agreed to cut the vocals. And that was it: after it was released, Guetta spent most of the ’90s as a promoter, DJ – doing everything related to the industry, really, except for making music. Which doesn’t really sound like a guy following up on a “minor hit”.
Until his breakthrough, Guetta’s reputation musically, for most of the next decade, depended largely on these two tracks. And then, of course, the magic happened. Jesus wept.