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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"
ReleasedMay 1971
GenreHard rock[1]
Length4:05 (album version)
3:20 (single version)
LabelLionel Records
Songwriter(s)Les Emmerson
Producer(s)Dallas Smith
Five Man Electrical Band singles chronology
"Absolutely Right"

"Signs" is a song by the Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band. It was written by the band's frontman, Les Emmerson, and popularized the relatively unknown band, who recorded it for their true first album, Good-byes and Butterflies, in 1970. The LP Five Man Electrical Band had begun as a Staccatos album with Brian Rading, the band's bassist suggesting the band's new name from the song title.

"Signs" was originally a 1970 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. It became a gold record. In Canada, RPM Magazine ranked it at No. 55, with Absolutely Right ranked No. 49.[2]

Some radio edits have omitted the instrumental introduction and shortened the instrumental coda for airplay, due to time constraints.


The song was written by Les Emmerson when he was road-tripping on Route 66 in California, and noticed the beautiful scenery was obscured by many billboards.[3]

The song's narrator describes four instances of encountering signs that anger or concern him, as follows:

  • A notice that "long-haired freaky people need not apply" for a job opening. He stuffs his hair into his hat in order to get an interview, then contemptuously reveals it once he has been offered the job.
  • A sign outside a house warning that trespassers will be shot on sight. He climbs onto the perimeter fence and berates the owners for keeping people out and fencing in the land's natural beauty.
  • Being told to leave a restaurant because he does not meet its dress code or have a membership card, both of which are displayed on a sign.
  • A sign inviting people to worship at a church. When an offering is taken up at the end of the service, he makes a sign telling God that he is doing well, as he has no money to contribute.

Chart performance[edit]

Tesla version[edit]

Cover for the 7" single
Single by Tesla
from the album Five Man Acoustical Jam
ReleasedNovember 1990
RecordedJuly 2, 1990
VenueTrocadero Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
GenreAcoustic rock
Songwriter(s)Les Emmerson
Producer(s)Dan McClendon
Tesla singles chronology
"Love Song"
"The Way It Is"

"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.[12] The album version of the 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," whilst the single version retained the original lyrics for radio airplay. A studio version recorded in 2007, which appeared on the EP A Peace of Time, using the original lyrics.

Track listings[edit]

7" single
Side A
1."Signs" (Clean Version)3:11
Side B
1."Down Fo' Boogie" (LP Version)3:21
12" single
Side A
1."Signs" (LP Version)3:15
Side B
1."Little Suzi" (Live Acoustic Version)3:53
2."Down Fo' Boogie" (LP Version)3:21
CD single
1."Signs" (Clean Version)3:11
2."Down Fo' Boogie" (Single Version)3:21
3."Little Suzi" (Live Acoustic Version)3:53

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1990−1991) Peak
Canada RPM Top Singles[13] 72
US Hot 100 (Billboard)[14] 8
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[15] 2
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[16] 70
Year-end chart (1991) Position
US Top Pop Singles (Billboard)[17] 73


  1. ^ "Top Quality Rock Helps Labels Turnaround Their Profit Picture". Billboard. 6 November 1971. p. RN-34. ISSN 0006-2510.
  2. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles of 1971 - January 8, 1972" (PDF).
  3. ^ "Signs".
  4. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  5. ^ "RMP100 Singles, July 24, 1971". Library and Archives Canada. 17 July 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  6. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  7. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 9/04/71". tropicalglen.com. 4 September 1971. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  8. ^ Australian-charts.com
  9. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1971/Top 100 Songs of 1971". Music Outfitters. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  11. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1971". tropicalglen.com. 25 December 1971. Archived from the original on 6 October 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Joel Whitburn Presents Rock Tracks 1981-2008. Record Research. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-89820-174-1.
  13. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 23 March 1991. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  14. ^ "Tesla Chart History - Hot 100". Billboard. Eldridge Industries. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  15. ^ "Tesla Chart History". Billboard. Eldridge Industries. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  16. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 554. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  17. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc (21 December 1991). "1991 The Year in Music & Video: Top Pop Singles". Billboard. Vol. 103, no. 51. p. YE-14. {{cite magazine}}: |last1= has generic name (help)

External links[edit]