Era Inducted To: Modern Era
The concept for Signs originated as Les Emmerson was driving down Route 66 in California. He became aware of the countless billboards and advertisements, which effectively blocked all views of the scenery. Emmerson viewed this as a metaphor for the obstacles that Five Man Electrical Band faced as they struggled to break into the music scene. The radical lyrics were also representative of the harsh social climate of the time.
Formed in Ottawa in 1964 under the name The Staccatos, Les Emmerson joined the band in 1965 after the departure of guitarist Peter Fallis. At their height, the band consisted of Les Emmerson, Brian Rading, Ted Gerow, Rick Belanger and Mike Belanger.
Signs was released on the B-side of the 1970 single, Hello Melinda, Goodbye. Sadly, it did not receive much enthusiasm and, feeling defeated, the band left LA for Ottawa. A year later, they re-released the song as the first single off their album Goodbye and Butterflies, with Signs now on the A-side, this time with very different results.
As Signs began to garner airplay, especially in the southern U.S.A., the downtrodden band was on the verge of breaking-up. Abe Hoch, the bands manager, urged them to reconsider since it seemed like their hard work was finally paying off. They conceded, swiftly traveling back to the U.S.A. to perform some spur-of-the-moment shows in Detroit, West Virginia, and across the country in Seattle, where their popularity had grown tremendously.
Five Man Electrical Band were finally able to enjoy the fruits of their labour when Signs reached #3 on the Billboard charts and went on to sell over a million and a half copies. Emmerson has received a BMI Award for 1 million airplays and a SOCAN Award for over one hundred thousands plays on Canadian radio for the song.
In 1990, American rock band Tesla covered Signs on their live album Five Man Acoustical Jam, which peaked at #8 on the Billboard Singles chart. Fatboy Slim sampled lines from the song for his track, Don’t Let the Man Get You Down.
Cover artists include: Tesla, Bobby Vee, and Fatboy Slim.