Although I now enjoy most of the music from the 1960s and 1970s, that wasn’t always the case. During those decades I was a conservative young married man with a growing family, and even though I enjoyed most music, I tended to dismiss a lot of the anti-establishment stuff then in vogue. But that’s not to say I didn’t still appreciate some of it, especially the cleverness of a song like 1971’s “Signs,” by the Five Man Electrical Band.
Originally calling themselves the Staccatos, the group was formed in Ottawa, Canada, in the late 1960s. Members of the band included Les Emmerson, Ted Gerow, Brian Rading, and brothers Rick and Mike Bell (Belanger). The group began making some recordings and managed a minor hit with a song called “Half Past Midnight,” but even though they did well in Canada their success didn’t really translate to the States at that time.
After moving to Los Angeles, the guys changed the group’s name to the Five Man Electrical Band and generated their first album, but over the next couple of years continued to find more success in their native Canada. That all changed in 1971, when they recorded “Signs,” a clever put-down that hit just about every establishment target.
Although the song climbed nearly to the top of both the US and Canadian charts, it was to be the group’s lone hit in the States. However, they continued to do well for several years in Canada, with top ten hits on “Absolutely Right,” and a little later, “Werewolf.”
Often compared to the Turtles and the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Five Man Electrical Band didn’t have the staying power of those groups, and eventually faded. However, Emmerson continued to be musically active, often performing and recording under the band’s name, and in recent years has led a reconstituted band that performs on the ‘oldies’ circuit.