Bell Centre, May 9, 2003. Two-thirds of the way through a Ginette Reno concert, Jean-Pierre Ferland steps on stage to duet with the evening’s star on “Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin” (“A little higher, a little further”). The concert was part of a series that celebrated Reno’s decades-spanning (‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s) career and hits, and Ferland’s appearance took on the air of a major event in and of itself.
As I sat in seat 5, row M of section 123, I thought to myself that the surprise guest could also show up during the next night’s concert, where her hits of the ‘70s would be performed. It is, after all, during that decade that the singer made Ferland’s classic song hers. But there was no chronological mistake, since the song was indeed written in the sixties.
The song, a true monument in the “Chanson Québécoise” catalog, has, it turns out, quite an uncommon story. It’s a song that was a hit twice, with two different titles, and many, many singers, and its very meaning has evolved with time.
“I wanted this song to be an anthem for hope. A song is the reflection of the songwriter’s mood.”
How does a homegrown hit come to be? Sometimes, they’re born on foreign soil. “It was composed and written in a small hotel room in Paris’ eighth arrondissement,” Ferland recalls.
Back in 1969, the singer-songwriter was signed with Barclay Records. “Un peu plus loin” was its original title. It would become the title song of the upcoming 1969 album, which also contained “Les femmes de 30 ans” and “Qu’êtes-vous devenues?”
It would also be featured on the greatest hits compilation launched three years later – Les grands succès Barclay de Jean-Pierre Ferland – but it wasn’t released as a 45 rpm single, and was overshadowed by Ferland’s other hits at the time. “Je reviens chez nous,” the 45 launched in June of 1968, became a huge hit and his signature song. Then came the album Jaune, in December 1970, which firmly established Ferland’s output in the ‘70s.
The artist, however, has a different explanation for the the lack of initial success for “Un peu plus loin.”
“The song didn’t get to have much of a solo career,” he says. “When I first recorded it, it was with a large orchestra. But that didn’t work. When we started singing it in a more pop, and sometimes even rock, way – after re-recording it in 1972 – that’s when people started noticing it.”
In the meantime, it had also found its way onstage. Renée Claude, who’d been singing Ferland’s songs since 1962’s “Feuille de gui,” frequently sang “Un peu plus loin” during her shows. But the song’s true renaissance would come during the 1975 St. Jean-Baptiste Day (Quebec’s “National Holiday”) celebrations in Montreal.
On June 24th – which also happens to be Ferland’s birthday – of that year, he was the star of a free concert on Mount Royal that also featured Ginette Reno, Renée Claude, Emmanuelle, and many more.
“Ginette was just back from her foray in the U.S.,” remembers Ferland, who the previous year had recorded the duet “T’es mon amour, t’es ma maîtresse” with her. “She felt like her trip was somewhat of a failure. She’s the one who asked to sing “Un peu plus loin.” She thought it was ‘a good song for (her) comeback.’ I asked Renée Claude if she minded letting Ginette sing it. Renée was incredibly generous to agree and the rest, as they say, is history.”
The rest, in this case, is a mythical interpretation of “Un peu plus loin” by Ginette Reno in front of hundreds of thousands of people. That night’s rendition became epochal, and is still flabbergasting to this day.
That is also the exact moment where Ferland’s song took on a whole different meaning, where it transformed into something else in the collective mind. What was, at first, a song about broken love, became a whole people’s anthem for hope and emancipation in a tense political context.
“Contrary to popular belief, it was a song about breaking up,” confirms Ferland. “I’d just lived through a painful breakup and it was my own personal way of finding solace. But I also didn’t want it to be overly sad. I wanted it to feel like a hymn to hope. One story ends and you move on. A song is the reflection of the songwriter’s mood. Yet, a song can have several layers of meaning: revolutionary song, love song, dream song…”
Ironically, Ferland never thought “Un peu plus loin” would become a hit, but that was before he sang it alongside stellar signers such as Reno, Mireille Mathieu and Céline Dion.
“I never thought it could become a hit. No more than ‘Le petit roi,’ for that matter. But I knew all along, however, that ‘Je reviens chez nous’ would be a huge hit.”
Nowadays, the song is known as « Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin. » It’s been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Goes to show a song can, through time and popular recognition, not only become a major pop song but even change titles.