On December 12, 1973, Emerson, Lake and Palmer was awarded a gold record for the album “Brain Salad Surgery”. I remember buying that album about a year after its release. In fact, there was a time that, even though I had thousands of albums, I could remember when and where I obtained just about every single one. Watch the movie “Hi Fidelity” with John Cusack, and you’ll understand.
Every year, my mom, my aunt, my brother and I would travel to Minnesota over Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with my sister and her family. She had gotten married and moved to Minnesota when I was just 10 years old, and it seemed like we went there for Thanksgiving every year until I was out of college. We would always leave on the Monday of Thanksgiving week after my brother and I got our of school, and drove straight through, usually arriving around 1 am. We would spend the week there, having Thanksgiving dinner with my great uncle Jack and his wife Eleanor, and then shopping through the weekend. We would then drive back on Sunday and be back to work/school on Monday.
One of the biggest issues of this little vacation was trying to keep my brother and I from getting too bored. We enjoyed spending the time with family, but we also had our own agendas. Also, since most of the family went to bed around 10, we would stay up until all hours watching late night TV. Remember, there were no cable channels back then, so we were relegated to about 7 or 8 channels (the Twin Cities was a large market that had a couple of independent stations along with the regular networks). On this particular Thanksgiving night, we stayed up late because ABC, a network that tended to cater to younger people with shows like Friday night’s “In Concert”, was running a special called “The California Jam”. The concert had taken place earlier in the year, and was recorded for broadcast around the holidays. The headliner was Deep Purple, who were debuting their new lead vocalist, David Coverdale. Other performers included Black Sabbath, Black Oak Arkansas, The Eagles, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rare Earth and Seals and Crofts. Oh yeah, the co-headliner was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who performed material from the Brain Salad Surgery album that had come out the previous winter.
I hadn’t really heard much of ELP’s material up to that point, but I remember thinking that they were the best performers of the entire show (I probably fell asleep before I saw all the acts).
The day after Thanksgiving, we would always go Christmas shopping, usually to a large mall near my sister’s house called “Rosedale”. It was huge…the biggest mall I had ever seen. My brother and I had two favorite locations in that mall. One was a store called “Now and Then”, which was a predecessor to Spencers. They had cool lights, posters and all the kinds of things that turned our young heads. Of course, the other store that was our favorite was a record store. I can’t remember the name, but it wasn’t a cookie cutter like Musicland or Sam Goody.
When we hit the record store, I asked the dude at the register where I could find Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and their “Brain Salad Surgery” album. I mentioned that I had seen the California Jam special the night before, and he said that he had watched it, too, and had really gotten into ELP’s performance. I even remember that I paid 3.99 for it.
It’s strange that I remember that particular purchase so vividly. It’s almost like it happened yesterday. Maybe it’s because I always enjoyed those Thanksgiving trips, and looked forward to them every year. And maybe I really miss those times when most of my family was still alive and vibrant…and the only care I had in the world was where I could pick up a copy of Brain Salad Surgery.
Here’s a taste of ELP at the California Jam. Who knows, maybe it will cause you to run out and buy the album, too.