How About the Electrical Signs?

10 Apr

Get Electrical

And the sign said long-haired freaky people need not apply. If you were of cognition in 1971 you knew this line pretty damn well. Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs” propelled the band into the national spotlight and engendered a youth protest against signs. Okay, not really, but it certainly did hold a message of inherent earthy freedoms and a sharp criticism of discrimination. While the hippie culture “died” in 1969, some elements did carry over in the 70s and this Canadian band’s symbolic piece’s success proved that protest against unjustifiable treatment was still ripe.

But let’s back up a little bit. “Signs” is widely viewed as a one hit wonder, and a gigantic one at that (one that reached #3 on Billboard Top 100, #1 in Australia for nearly two months, and went gold). The Five Man Electrical Band had been around for a while though and while they may never escape the one hit wonder crown, their history is still worth delving into.

The band formed in Ottawa in 1964 as the Staccatos and first gained recognition in 1967 when they recorded an album with The Guess Who. In 1968 the band was vocalist/guitarist Les Emmerson, bassist Brian Rading, keyboardist Ted Gerow, and drummers Rick “Bell” Belanger and Mike “Bell” Belanger. They released another album to no fanfare and attempted reviving their career in Los Angeles with a flop, “It Never Rains on Maple Lane.” The band changed their name and style, was dropped, was picked up – credit to the influential Dallas Smith here, and then finally released “Signs,” but originally as an unsuccesful B-Side. It was remarketed and then hit major success. 

Let’s listen to the flop prior to the hit.

Okay it is not awful. It is Association-like pop music without a true hook to pull listeners in. That is probably why it didn’t meet success. The keyboard and harmonies are light-hearted and the lead vocal is smooth. It is definitely different from “Signs” which is more upbeat and rock-influenced.

More like this. “Signs” combines the elements of a succesful song. An excellent vocal combined with a catchy chorus. The song moves with an effervescent protest that is rich with strong harmonies and a smart lyric.

7 Responses to “How About the Electrical Signs?”

  1. El Guapo April 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Great tune…and then the song found new life from Tesla’s Five Man Acoustical Jam, which is the version I first heard.

    • Matthew Coleman April 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      Great version. To YouTube I go to listen to it again!

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. John Phillips April 10, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Great band, and I have the Guess Who/ Staccattos album around here somewhere. I’m thinking it was a Coca Cola promo. I’ll have to find it.

  3. Maire Driscoll April 11, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    Does any 5MEB fan know what happened to Mike “Bell” Belanger? I liked his singing. They were at the Lakeshore Mardi Gras last summer but I was disappointed. I live up the street from that park and wrote their agent here in Toronto to rebook them, but Nick said that the venue is not booked the same two years in a row – pity.

  4. Matthew Coleman April 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Hey Maire. Mike is still with the band I believe. So is Ted Gerow and Les Emmerson. Not sure if they have any other gigs planned. The Lakeshore one is still up on their website.

    • Maire (Bronach) B. April 11, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Many thanks, Matthew. Your reply is much appreciated. I was not a fan of the gig at Col. Samuel Smith Park. What were the bongos doing way at the back then? Call me old and miserable, but I miss the original lineup. I’m trying to get the local Lakeshore Business gang (they’re the one’s with the pull and $ down here) to get them back with the real lineup. Maire B. P.S. I cycle through that area each day and do a druid-type ritual for them.

      • Matthew Coleman April 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

        Yeah. That would be great to get the other two back but I’m not sure what’s doing with them. It is tough seeing bands from back when without all originals. It can be frustrating

        Sent from my iPhone

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