Few artists but Elton John could follow a career-highlight double album, just eight months later, with another two times-platinum LP featuring two more major hits. That's exactly what he did with the album released on 28 June, 1974, Caribou.
The record was the follow-up to the landmark Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, released only in October 1973. Of necessity, Caribou was recorded in considerable haste, with the clock ticking before John and his band were due to start a tour of Japan and Australia.
Indeed, the pressures of the star's long-standing contract were obvious when he spoke to the NME about the swift sequel, as Caribou was released. "We have to do – under our commitment to MCA and Dick James Music – two albums a year, and that means doing one every six months right from the word Go,” he said.
"We have to do two albums a year until the contract comes up in February. We've just signed a new one which means that we can just do one a year – or no albums a year – and take it easy for a bit, which I'm sure will come as a great relief to everybody, especially the band.”
The record's title was inspired by the Caribou Ranch studio, where it was recorded, in the hamlet of Nederland in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The location, opened only in 1972, was owned by James William Guercio, who also managed and produced Chicago and played bass at the time with the Beach Boys.
Caribou Ranch was already a popular destination for artists: Chicago has recorded their VI and VII albums there, and would return for volumes VIII, X and XI; Earth, Wind & Fire's Open Our Eyes, released a little ahead of Caribou, was also made there, as would be the soul collective's 1975 set That's The Way Of The World. Countless other acts recorded there, from America to Stephen Stills and from Phil Collins to Supertramp.
Elton and his regular bandmates Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Ray Cooper, plus producer Gus Dudgeon and lyricist Bernie Taupin, made the new album with some notable guests. The album's release had been set up by the immediate success of its first single, the epic 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me.'
With Guercio's connection to the Beach Boys, one of John's favourite groups, it was no coincidence that the single featured backing vocals by Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston. Bruce did the superb vocal arrangement with help from Beach Boys alumnus 'The Captain,' aka Daryl Dragon, whose wife Toni Tennille also sang on it.
Ever keen to explore his love of soul music, John used the mighty Tower Of Power horn section on several tracks, including the opener which would be the album's second hit, 'The Bitch Is Back.' Various members of Tower Of Power also featured on several other tracks, including 'Dixie Lily' and 'Stinker.' Perhaps the most surprising guest vocalist was one of four voices on 'The Bitch Is Back,' and another of Elton's longtime heroes, Dusty Springfield.
Caribou reached No. 1 not only in the UK and US but in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Elton John may have been a man with a manic work schedule, but he was rising to every challenge.