“Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latterday sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?”

Although the artist in question was Stevie Wonder, to my mind it applied just as much to Elton John.

Incidentally, this exchange takes place between Dick, Barry and Rob in High Fidelity’s High_Fidelity_FiveChampionship Vinyl – a breeding ground for deep observations such as Wonder’s “crimes in the 80’s and 90’s”.

While Elton John undeniably created some of the best pop music EVER in the early 70’s, he has grossly under-performed for stretches since – my observation for Dick and friends if given the chance.

Of course a fan could argue that drugs and drink got in the way and that he’s now back at the top of his game.  Still, I’d have a hard time getting past the Disney catalog and the new hair.  Sorry.

Not a fan of Elton John post-Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, nor musicals as films post-West Side Story for that matter, I was blown away by the recent biopic Rocketman.

Where Across the Universe used the Beatles’s music, but not their story, it’s another example of compelling storytelling through an artists’ work.  Only this time the story is John’s tragic life pre-sobriety – heavy on the 70’s.

Although I’m a HUGE fan of the Beatles and I highly doubt anyone will touch their sixties output, Elton John and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin gave them a run for their money from ’69 – ’74.

Although the lyrics came from Taupin, you’d be forgiven for thinking young Reg Dwight aka Elton John had written the songs himself –  “I’m a juvenile product of the working class…whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass.” – “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” ’73


I know there’s an argument to be made that Stevie Wonder’s early 70’s output is just as impressive.  And, he wrote the music and the words.

However, I didn’t grow up with his music.  In fact, my first memory of Wonder is of him accompanied by pre-Sir Paul McCartney on the number one hit, “Ebony and Ivory”.  After Sunday church I could just catch the last ½ hour of Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40”.  Sadly, the crimes weren’t far off.

One of the albums in my family’s collective record collection was Elton John’s Greatest Hits from 1974 – a collection of 10 songs from his first 5 albums.

That record collection included a box of my mom’s old 45’s.  Yes, from a time back “when me and Suzy had so much fun”.

Like Wonder, John’s early – mid 70’s work is brilliant.  I reckon he could have easily filled another 2 or 3 albums with great songs.

So brilliant in fact that it would overshadow anything that came afterwards.

Sadly, even if John, Wonder or even McCartney continue to crank out great music, there’s no overcoming the “nothing could possibly be better than this” curse.

One of my favorite points in Rocketman comes when John makes his American debut at the Troubador in West Hollywood circa 1970.

As a native of Los Angeles and a big fan of John’s early 70’s output, I’ve always loved this story – long before I saw the movie.

Beyond the film, this little club plays a huge part in the history of American pop-rock-folk music.

In fact, in the summer of 2009 I saw James Taylor and Carole King play the Hollywood Bowl on the “Troubador Reunion Tour” – both singer songwriters a part of its rich tapestry (sorry, Carol!).

Incidentally, Taylor and King played their first Troubador show together in November, 1970, three months after John’s big debut.

Before coming out West, Carol King had been an integral part of Manhattan’s Brill Building hit factory churning out songwriters from King to Neil Diamond in the 60’s.

Legend has it that Neil Diamond was in the audience at John’s American debut – among other future legends.

One of Taylor’s paramours and creative muse for a short time, Joni Mitchell was one of the talented females on the scene.

“Like Paris was to the Impressionists and the post-Impressionists, L.A. was the hotbed of all musical activity. The greatest musicians in the world either live here or pass through here regularly,” according to the “Lady of the Canyon”.

From The Mama’s and the Papa’s and Buffalo Springfield in the 60’s to Jackson Browne and the Eagles in the 70’s, it was an absolute “hotbed of musical activity”, the beginnings of which are brilliantly documented in Echo in the Canyon.

In addition to Mr. Diamond, legend has it that David Crosby and a few Beach Boys were at the Troubador that night.

Yeah, I know. Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover and Howard Hughes were all present when Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” at JFK’s 45th birthday party.

I like to think that a young Glen Frey and Don Henley were there too.  After all, Glen Frey and Jackson Browne shared an apartment in nearby Echo Park.

Although the Eagles came along a few years after the Canyon’s heyday, they, along with Browne, Taylor and Crosby, Stills and Nash carried the melodic pop and ethereal harmonies for a few more years.


It’s a funny thing – the “family record collection”.  I suppose growing up in any house with siblings there’s bound to be a mix of your parents’ old records, a handful of pre-kids’ ones when they were still hip and then a random mix of novelty and other kid-friendly ones documenting the growing brood.

Right before Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters stood Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life.  Right behind it, Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer.  A mixed bag, indeed.

Bottom line – if they were once collectors, it all ended with the first child.  Or at the latest, the second.

At the ripe age of eight, I recall my Top 5 records looking something like this:

I don’t know if Dick, Barry and Rob would approve of my eight-year old taste but I’m proud to say that my two favorite songs circa 1980 were prominently featured in Rocketman – “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Crocodile Rock”.

What did your Top 5 look like at eight years old?




The Ghost of Rock & Roll Past

“I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

In 1974 music critic Jon Landau made this bold claim.

Well, I’m no Jon Landau nor have I been visited by any Dickensian Ghosts but I do believe I’ve just seen rock and roll past…and it resembles the Yeti…in white.

Matthew E. White

The missing link between Stevie Wonder ’72 & James Murphy ’05

Here’s the song that blew me away when I heard it a few months ago:

Big Love

Part soul man, part funk meister, this anti-hipster from Richmond, Virginia knows how to pay tribute to the greats without ripping them off.

And if White resembles any part of the future of rock and roll circa 2015, I’m in.


For about 10 years between 1997 and 2007 there was no activity I spent more time on than reading about music. But before we go there, a brief history…

I came into pop music consciousness in late 1980, early 1981. I clearly remember listening to John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over climb up Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 shortly after his death.

Kasey Casem

One too many “long distance dedications”

If the warmhearted DJ was also a big part of your youthful weekends, you might enjoy Casey’s little studio meltdown (warning – contains explicit language):  Meltdown

Eventually my love for the iconic countdown waned, but not for music.

I spent countless hours practicing my fall-away jumper to the sounds of the Thompson Twins and The Doors blaring out my bedroom window.

In defense of my 14 year-old self, I recently heard the Twins’ If You Were Here and was amazed by how good it was…but that could very well be a case of nostalgia clouding judgement. Any thoughts?

Music was front and center of everything I did through high school, college and beyond.


What changed around 1997 was the reading part.

Sure I’d picked up the occasional Rolling Stone in high school but it wasn’t until living in Far East Asia in the mid-90’s that I learned to appreciate the written word…

Finding an English book or magazine in Inchon, South Korea in 1995 was like finding high-speed internet in Siberia during a snowstorm.

However it was in a tiny shop close to the DMZ where I picked up an indie sampler CD featuring two artists that would change my life forever.

Jeff Buckley’s Grace would go on to become one of my favorite songs of all-time and Wonderwall, well, more on Oasis later.

A few years after my stint on the Korean border, I landed in the more pop-friendly city of Matsuyama, Japan.

Matsuyama even offered a full-fledged Tower Records where I made regular purchases of CD’s and magazines. The year was 1997 and the Union Jack was everywhere.

Brit Pop

Faster than a cannonball…

It was at this time I picked up a copy of The Beatles newly released Anthology 3 “warts and all” collection.

It should be noted that in addition to the comprehensive BBC Anthology series, the Gallaghers had played a big role in the renewed interest in the lads.

So while buried in Brit Pop at its drug-addled peak I was discovering late-period Beatles, beards and all.

The Beatles

Lennon’s suit look familiar?

It also happened to be the first time in my life I was living alone. I cooked, read, even exercised in the confines of my tiny flat, making for an intense listening experience – every word, every note, every joke intimate.

Here’s one from Paul Ramon, Winston Legthigh and mates circa ’68:  Los Paranoias

The listening had suddenly shifted from dorm room passive to Cracker Jacks box active – a familiar setting from my childhood.

A few years later I’d be living in a new country, no longer alone but with the reading part at full throttle. There was even a point at the dawn of the new millennium when I found myself subscribing to three music magazines at once.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of work getting done at the breakfast table. But after years of intense listening I was starting to connect some big dots…

“So before the Stones, Ronnie Wood was with The Faces…and before he was a Face, he and Rod Stewart played with The Jeff Beck Group…and what about that first band that turned into the Faces, those little guys? They were damn good”…and so it went.

Incidentally, the music I love most today was crystallized through all that digging.

As long as I’m alive I’m convinced that pop music will never be better than The Beatles between ’65 – ’69, The Rolling Stones from ’68 to ’72 and a handful of other greats during those same years – many of whom you just might hear in White’s humble musical output.


But rather than take my word for it, let’s play a little game.

It’s called “The Matthew E. White Tribute Challenge”.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Watch video, listen to full song (eyes closed if helpful).
  2. Which artist and song does White’s track remind you of (more than 1 answer possible)?
  3. On a scale from 1 – 10, how do you rate his song/tribute?

Please share your answers with me in the comments below and I’ll let you know if they match mine. Happy listening!