The Music of Five Man Electrical Band


Introduction to Five Man Electrical Band

Five Man Electrical Band is a Canadian rock band who is best known for their hit “Signs” during the 70s music era. Formed in Ottawa, the lineup initially consisted of Dean Hagopian, Vern Craig, Brian Rading, and Rick Bell. Hagopian left later, Les Emmerson came in as the band’s new lead vocalist. They called themselves first as the Staccatos, who attained early successes in their home country. Then the Staccatos attempted to try to make it Stateside, with “Half Past Midnight” as their first single released there. The Staccatos released another album in 1969, Five Man Electrical Band, from which they renamed themselves the following year. Emmerson had, by then, become the group’s primary songwriter. While “Half Past Midnight” had met with commercial success back home, its follow-ups failed commercially there. In the US, it was even worse. The band moved to Capitol Records, and released singles such as “It Never Rains on Maple Lane”; and then to MGM, where they issued more singles like “Hello, Melinda Goodbye” (whose B-side was “Signs”) – all for naught in terms of chart performance, despite some airplay. The group was close to disbanding when Lion Records re-issued “Signs” which many disc jockeys and the public started to pick up. The break that the band were hoping for came all of a sudden – “Signs” rose to both US and Canadian Top 10 charts; it also topped the Australian chart for a couple of months. “Signs” became a million-selling record and earned a “gold” status. Their following single, “Absolutely Right,” also did well, but the others such as “Money Back Guarantee” and “I’m A Stranger Here” were only minor hits. Their later albums also didn’t do well and so Five Man Electrical Band finally split in 1975 despite struggling efforts to keep themselves together. In the mid-1980s Emerson re-formed the band with newer members, for a series of concert and festival gigs.

Five Man Electrical Band as The Staccatos

Five Man Electrical Band is a Canadian rock group formed in Ottawa in 1963. The first line-up as The Staccatos consisted of vocalist Dean Hagopian, guitarist Vern Craig, bassist Brian Rading and drummer/vocalist Rick Bell (Rick Belanger). Subsequently, Hagopian was replaced by vocalist/guitarist Les Emmerson who became the band’s main song writer while Bell and Emmerson shared the vocal duties. In 1965, The Staccatos were first signed to Capital Records of Canada. Most of their singles from the label did moderately well and one of them was “Small Town Girl,” making it at the Canadian Top 20.

Building their national fame, they issued their debut album Initially in 1966 and had achieved their breakthrough hit “Half Past Midnight.” Written by Emerson, the single reached #9 on the Canadian charts. In 1967, The Staccatos shared the sides of the LP with the band The Guess Who. Rick Bell’s brother, Mike Bell was added to the group as a second drummer and third vocalist during those times. After the national success of “Half Past Midnight,” the Staccatos continued to release Capitol and Tower singles but they made no significant impression in Canada, worse, in the US.

Reformation as Five Man Electrical Band

In the winter of 1968, Craig left while keyboardist Ted Gerow joined the line-up. The Staccatos were back in the studio working on their second album. Producer Nick Venet suggested the band to change their name as The Staccatos sounded dated. Later, they ended up with the name Five Man Electrical Band. It was derived from one of the songs Emmerson wrote which bassist Rading thought for a new name.

In 1969, the now-Five Man Electrical Band released their self-titled album which gained a mild success in Canada. The singles “It Never Rains on Maple Lane”(#40) b/w “Private Train” (#37)  did moderately well on the charts. They continued to release several singles on Capitol but none of them became successful. Shortly thereafter, they left their previous label and switched to MGM.

In 1970, the band’s first two singles from MGM encountered marginal successes in their country and the US.

Success with “Signs”

Still, international success remained elusive for the band until at this point in 1971. The Five Man Electrical Band released the single “Hello Melinda” b/w “Signs,” also on MGM. The disc jockeys chose to play the B-side “Signs” in the airwaves. The single was an unexpected success. It peaked at #3 in Canada and finally made to the Billboard Hot 100, reaching at #4. In Australia, “Signs” was also a chart-topping hit and stayed for almost two months. The single became the band’s breakthrough single which sold over one million copies and later achieved a gold disc status in the summer of 1971.

Five Man Electrical Band was still releasing several singles after “Signs” broke through. Most of these singles did well in Canada but did not make any more commercial impact in the US. However, they were still embarking on concert tours. In 1972, their third album Coming of Age was released and at the same time, Emmerson began to pursue a solo career.

Disbandment, reunion, and recent activity

In 1973, the band was starting to drift apart; Bell left the group in the middle of the recording of their album Sweet Paradise and Rading left afterwards when the album was about to finish. However, they were still able to make hits from the album which included their most charting single in Canada, “I’m a Stranger Here.” The three main members Emerson, Gerow and Belanger still tried to keep things going with the new players but the band’s momentum was losing. In 1974, Belanger was no longer in the group and left Emmerson and Gerow, the two remaining original members. In 1975, they released “Johnny Get a Gun” which was also their last single. It became a minor hit at #69 in their native Canada.

In 1986 the group reunited for a series of concerts and festival appearances. They continued to tour for the following decades. Emmerson and Gerow are the only members from the earlier incarnation who are still active in the reformed line-up. Emmerson has also legally owned the rights to the band’s name, allowing him to re-issue a few “best-of” compilations, most notably 1995’s Absolutely Right.

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