[Review] Elton John: Caribou (1974)

Elton is still at the top of his game, as the reigning king of the pop jungle scores another multiplatinum smash.

Kronomyth 9.0: Stop me if you think that you’ve herd this one before.

In the Seventies, Elton discovered the magic album formula: one brilliant rocker, one big ballad, add filler as necessary. That would pretty much describe every album from Honky Château onward. I had always regarded Caribou as a bore beyond the two big hits, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” and “The Bitch Is Back.” There’s no denying that those two songs are brilliant, but you could get both on Elton John’s Greatest Hits, which saves you from having to sit through seven minutes of “Ticking.” Only, the more you listen to these classic Elton John albums, the more the filler grows on you. “Pinky,” “You’re So Static,” “Stinker” and even the silly “Solar Prestige A Gammon” are fine, fun tunes. Hidden gems? Hardly, but it’s unlikely that the two million people who bought Caribou felt cheated.

As I’ve noted on most every Elton John album, Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are extremely dark sometimes. It’s a small miracle that the zealous left hasn’t boycotted the lot of Elton’s albums in self-righteous hindsight; I suppose we have the LMNOPGBBQT contingent to thank for that. Beyond the aforementioned hits, Caribou is important as the first Elton album to make good use of a full horn section and a deep bench of backup singers. All of Elton’s albums were professional affairs, but Caribou seems to have ratcheted the music machinery up a notch; even hitmakers Captain & Tenille got into the act. In that sense, Caribou might be Elton at the top of his game—something of a critical breakthrough for me, who long regarded it as the weakest of the “classic” herd. As part of the 1995 Rocket reissues, two non album B sides (“Cold Highway,” “Sick City”), “Step Into Christmas” and the studio version of “Pinball Wizard” were added. All are worth hearing, making the remastered reissue the route to go.

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Original LP Version

A1. The Bitch Is Back (3:42)
A2. Pinky (3:53)
A3. Grimsby (3:47)
A4. Dixie Lily (2:48)
A5. Solar Prestige A Gammon (2:50)
A6. You’re So Static (4:49)
B1. I’ve Seen The Saucers (4:45)
B2. Stinker (5:16)
B3. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (5:33)
B4. Ticking (7:34)

All songs by Elton John & Bernie Taupin.

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Pinball Wizard (5:09)
12. Sick City (5:23)
13. Cold Highway (3:26)
14. Step Into Christmas (4:32)

The Players

Elton John (vocals, piano, Hammond organ), Ray Cooper (percussion), Davey Johnstone (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass guitar, backing vocals), Nigel Olsson (drums, backing vocals), Bernie Taupin (lyrics) with David Hentschel (ARP and synthesizer on A2/A5/B4, mellotron on B3), Billy Hinsche (backing vocals), Bruce Johnston (backing vocals on B3), Clydie King (backing vocals), Sherlie Matthews (backing vocals), Lenny Pickett (tenor saxophone on A1, soprano saxophone on A4, soprano saxophone & clarinet on A5), Jesse Mae Smith (backing vocals), Dusty Springfield (backing vocals), Toni Tenille (backing vocals), Chester D. Thompson (Hammond organ on B2), Tower of Power (horn section on A1/A6/B2/B3), Carl Wilson (backing vocals on B3). Produced by Gus Dudgeon; co-ordinated by Steve Brown; engineered by Clive Franks, David Hentschel.

The Pictures

Art direction and sleeve design by David Larkham and Michael Ross. Photography by Ed Caraeff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, red vinyl elpee, cassette and 8-track on June 28, 1974 in the UK (DJM, DJLPH 439], the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC/T/MCAT-2116), Argentina (Parnaso, PNE 10021), Australia (DJM, L-35,142), Japan (DJM, IFP-81055), Taiwan (Liming, LM-2620) and Venezuela (Promus, 2083) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #1 on the UK charts and #1 on the US charts (RIAA-certified double-platinum record). Released on 8-track in the US as both T-2116 ad MCAT-2116. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (DJM, K22P-209) with lyrics innersleeve.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in Italy (Record Bazaar, RB 311) with cover variation.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the US (MCA, MCA-3006) {tan label} with lyrics innersleeve.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (MCA, MCAD-37065) [made in Japan].
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in West Germany (DJM, 825 488-2).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Polydor, P2-25488).
  7. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 1995 in the US (Rocket) and Japan (Mercury, PHCR-4019) with 4 bonus tracks.
  8. Re-released on expanded super high material compact disc on February 20, 2013 in Japan (Mercury, UICY-20429) with 4 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2017 in the US (Mercury, 602557383102).

1 thought on “[Review] Elton John: Caribou (1974)

  1. Great album but I think if Solar Prestige and Stinker had of been relegated to b.sides rather than Cold Highway and Sick City this album would be rated higher than what it usually is.

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