Five Man Electrical Band

Five Man Electrical BandFrom: Ottawa, ON, Canada

The Five Man Electrical Band formed in 1963, and were originally known as the Staccatos. The band had a number of hits in Canada such as “Half Past Midnight” (1967, as the Staccatos), “Signs” (1971), Absolutely Right (1971), and “I’m A Stranger Here” (1972). “Signs” was the band’s best known song on an international scale.

The Staccatos formed in 1963 with members Dean Hagopian (vocals), Verg Craig (guitar), Brian Rading (bass), and Rick Bell (drums, vocals). After about a year, Hagopian left the band and was replaced by Les Emmerson (vocals, guitar). Emmerson quickly became the band’s primary songwriter, and he and Bell split lead vocal duties. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Staccatos made their debut as a recording act. Their early singles were written by Craig and Emmerson. After failing to chart with their initial release on a small independent label, the Staccatos signed to Capitol Records of Canada. The second single the band released, “Small Town Girl,” made the Canadian top 20, while several follow-ups would crack the top 40. The Staccatos released their debut album, Initially, in 1966, which featured their hits to that point along with several new recordings.

In the summer of 1966, Bell’s brother Mike joined the band as a second drummer and third vocalist. It wasn’t long after that the Staccatos had their biggest hit to date with “Half Past Midnight,” making it to #8 on the Canadian charts. This was the second Staccatos single that was written solely by Emmerson. Later in 1967, the Staccatos issued a joint album with the Guess Who, where each band took up one side of the LP. In America, the Staccatos failed to chart at all. In Canada, they had a hard time following up “Half Past Midnight.” After deciding to go in a different direction, the Staccatos added Ted Gerow (keyboards) to the band, followed shortly by Craig’s departure. While recording their second album, their producer, Nick Venet, prompted the band to change their name, as the Staccatos sounded “dated.” A number of names were discussed, but it was Rading who finally came up with the band’s new name. Rading suggested the band change their name to Five Man Electrical Band after a song written by Emmerson. The band released their self-titled debut in early 1969.

The first single that the Five Man Electrical Band released was the modestly successful “It Never Rains On Maple Lane” / “Private Train.” The A-side only made it to #67 on the Canadian charts, but after two weeks, the single was flipped over and the B-side cracked the top 40, reaching #37. The album contained a mix of new material and older recordings originally released by the Staccatos. The album did alright in Canada, but the band still failed to chart in the US. By the end of 1969, Five Man Electrical Band ended their relationship with Capitol and signed with MGM Records.

Both of the band’s first two singles on MGM struggled, charting in the mid-50s in Canada and failing completely south of the border. Their 1970 album Good-byes and Butterflies created some controversy with its front cover, which featured a marijuana plant. The album was withdrawn and reissued with a new cover.

Still failing to find international success, Five Man Electrical Band reissued their second MGM single “Hello Melinda, Goodbye” / “Signs.” However, this time around, the sides were reversed and the band’s fortunes changed drastically. Radio stations and the public fell in love with the song (written by Emmerson). “Signs” ended up reaching #4 in Canada, #3 in America, and #1 in Australia where it stayed for nearly two months. The song sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in August 1971.

The success of “Signs” led to a string of hits in the following years. Songs such as “Absolutely Right,” “Money Back Guarantee,” “Werewolf,” and “I’m A Stranger Here” were all written by Emerson and did fairly well in Canada. Outside of their native country, most of these songs were minor hits, but Five Man Electrical Band continued to release and tour. The band’s third album, Coming Of Age, was released in 1972. Emmerson began a solo career on the side at around the same time.

By 1972, things started to fall apart for Five Man Electrical Band. Mike Bell, now going by his birth name (Belanger), quit the band partway through the recording of their 1973 album Sweet Paradise. Rading left the band just before the finish of the album. Emmerson, Gerow, and Rick Belanger (Bell), tried to keep things with new musicians, but the band’s days were numbered. Singles appeared in 1974 and 1975, but their success outside of Canada was very minimal. In 1974, Rick left, leaving Emmerson and Gerow as the only remaining permanent members. Shortly after 1975’s “Johnny Get A Gun,” which only peaked at #69 in Canada, the band decided to call it quits.

In 1986, Emmerson reformed Five Man Electrical Band for a series of concerts and festivals. The band continued to tour over the following decades, typically playing a few shows a year. They are now a sextet that features Emmerson (guitar, lead vocals), Gerow (keyboards), Brian Sim (lead guitar), Rick Smithers (bass), Steve Hollingworth (drums, vocals) and Mike Belanger (drums, vocals). Emmerson has retained the rights to the band’s material and has licensed several ‘best-of’ compilations. Tesla had a hit with a cover of “Signs” in 1990, and Fatboy Slim released a 2005 single called “Don’t Let The Man Get You Down,” featuring a sample of “Signs” as the principal part of the song. ~ Wikipedia

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1970 album Good-byes And Butterflies
Good-byes and Butterflies

  • Signs