Signs (Five Man Electrical Band song)

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Single by Five Man Electrical Band
from the album Good-byes and Butterflies
B-side Hello Melinda Goodbye
Released 1971
Genre Rock
Length 4:01 (album version)
3:20 (single version)
Label Lionel Records
Writer(s) Les Emmerson
Producer(s) Dallas Smith

"Signs" is a song by the Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band. It was written by Les Emmerson and popularized the relatively unknown band, who recorded it for their second album, Good-byes and Butterflies in 1970. "Signs" was originally released that year as the B-side to the relatively unsuccessful single "Hello Melinda Goodbye" (#55 Canada).

Re-released in 1971 as the A-side, "Signs" reached No. 4 in Canada and No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Billboard ranked it as the No. 24 song for 1971.[1]

About the song[edit]

The song was released during an era of social and political change, and its lyrics carry themes of intolerance and exclusion.

In the first verses of the song, the main protagonist (a hippie) expresses his frustration over a series of signs he encounters. One of the signs discourages "long-haired, freaky people" from applying for a job, while another expresses the "trespassers will be shot on sight" threat; yet another proclaims that membership cards are required to get into a club. While he is able to fool or dissuade his would-be antagonist in the first two instances — first, by tucking his hair up in a cap; the second, by telling the homeowner that God would frown upon his behavior — the protagonist, since he isn't wearing a button-down shirt or tie, is turned away at the door by the club usher.

In the final verse, the hippie shares his experiences of going to a church. After pointing out a sign reading "Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray," he is asked to contribute to the offering; however, when he realizes he has no money, he takes out a slip of paper, writing on it "Thank you, Lord for thinking about me, I'm alive and doing fine."

The lyrics within "Signs" seem to show an extreme level of frustration with the omnipresent, authoritative symbols employed by governments, institutions, and religion to commit society to a "conform or pay the price" system of control.[citation needed]

The album version runs a total of just over 4 minutes, while the 45 RPM single is shorter, only 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The single version omits the hard rock opening, featuring an intricate drum and guitar rhythm section, and also fades out early at the end.

Chart performance[edit]

Covers and sampling[edit]

Single by Tesla
from the album Five Man Acoustical Jam
Released 1990 (1990)
Genre Acoustic rock
Writer(s) Les Emmerson

"Signs" was covered and recorded live by Tesla for their Five Man Acoustical Jam album in 1990, peaking at number 8 on the Pop charts.[8] This cover had some minor changes to the lyrics: the line "blockin' out the scenery" was changed to "fuckin' up the scenery," and "made up my own little sign" was changed to "made up my own fuckin' sign". A studio version recorded in 2007 used the original lyrics.

The opening line of the song, "And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply", was sampled by Fatboy Slim for his song "Don't Let The Man Get You Down", from his Palookaville album.

ApologetiX recorded a parody of the song titled "Lions", telling the story of Daniel in the lion's den. It was originally included on the cassette of Radical History Tour, and was later re-issued on the "Director's Cut" edition of Isn't Wasn't Ain't.

The Evolution Control Committee used only part of the song's opening line "the sign said long haired freaky people" on the track "Freaky People" from their 2011 album All Rights Reserved.

External links[edit]