The top 10 Five Man Electrical Band & The Staccatos songs actually comse from the same band. From 1963 until 1968, it was The Staccatos before the men renamed performed as the Five Man Electrical Band from 1969 until 1975. This Canadian-based rock group from Ottawa, Ontario first became a nationwide sensation with 1965’s “Small Town Girl.” The men first rose to international fame with “Half Past Midnight,” still as The Staccatos in 1967, then did so again in 1971 with “Signs” as the Five Man Electrical Band.
The founding members of The Staccatos were Rick Bell, Vern Craig, Dean Hagopian, and Bill Rading. Nearly one year later, Les Emmerson replaced Hagopian as the band’s new singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter. He and Rick Bell split the lead vocalist duties down the middle. In 1965, The Staccatos made its chart debut with “Small Town Girl” while signed to the Canadian division of Capitol Records. The Staccatos released Initially as the group’s debut album in 1966. During the summer of that same year, Rick’s brother, Mike Bell, joined the lineup as a second drummer and as another vocalist. As The Staccatos, the biggest hit they earned was “Half Past Midnight.” Unfortunately for Emmerson and his bandmates, The Staccatos were not able to come up with a hit that won over the audience as well as the hit from 1967 did. The group was also facing an identity crisis as producer Nick Venet suggested “The Staccatos” sounded too dated.
Before officially becoming the Five Man Electrical Band, The Staccatos recorded an album in 1968 with another Canadian rock group. On one side of Wild Pair, it was The Staccatos while the other side featured The Guess Who?. At the time, the Winnipeg-based rock band had yet to drop the question mark from a name that was actually christened to them after a publicity stunt that caused it to stick. At least The Staccatos had a choice with its new name. After going over various possibilities, Rading suggested “Five Man Electrical Band,” which was a song Emmerson previously wrote. As far as he was concerned, it perfectly described the band and its signature musical style.
Five Man Electrical Band
The first single the Five Man Electrical Band released with its new name was “It Never Rains on Maple Lane.” On the B-side of the same record, “Private Train” was also on it. After observing the first of these two songs wasn’t performing so well on Canada’s official music charts, radio disc jockeys flipped the record over and played “Private Train” instead. This one faired much better as it peaked at number thirty-seven. “It Never Rains on Maple Lane” only peaked as high as number sixty-seven. These two songs came from Five Man Electrical Band as the name of the group’s debut with its new band name.
This particular album had a combination of recordings that were originally released as The Staccatos, along with newer material as the Five Man Electrical Band. This would be the final album the men would record while still signed to Capitol. By the time 1969 was over, the group signed up with MGM Records. The first album with the new label was Good-byes and Butterflies, which was released in 1970. This met with some controversy as the album’s cover featured a marijuana plant. It didn’t take long before it was withdrawn and replaced with a group photo of Emmerson and his bandmates.
Good-byes and Butterflies was the same album that released “Signs” as a single in 1971. This became the song that launched Five Man Electrical Band into international stardom. Written by Emmerson, “Signs” instantly won the appeal of American and Canadian fans alike. It also became a huge hit in Australia. The success of “Signs” led to additional singles released by the Five Man Electrical Band that kept this group in the spotlight, especially among the fan base of its home nation. However, 1972 seemed to mark the beginning of the end for the Five Man Electrical Band. Les Emmerson’s preference for studio recordings than performing in concerts led to a solo career while still serving as the band’s frontman.
In 1973, Mike Bell switched back to his birthname of Michael Belanger and left the group before the recording of Sweet Paradise was completed. Once the album was finished, Brian Rading was next to leave the lineup. Together, Emmerson, Gerow, and Rick Bell (Belanger) tried to keep the momentum of the Five Man Electrical Band going but it wasn’t meant to be. The second Belanger brother opted out of the group in 1974, leaving Emmerson and Gerow the only two men left. By 1975, they realized the glory days of the Five Man Electrical Band were done and that it was time to move on.
It wouldn’t be until 1986 the men would reunite and perform a series of concerts that would last until 2019. There were lineup replacements that primarily saw Emmerson, Gerow, and Mike Belanger perform. Steve Hollingworth, Wes Reed, Brian Sim, and Rick Smithers often served with the original band members. These four men continue to do so as the Five Man Electrical Band, despite the fact the original lineup is no more. On June 8, 2016, Brian Rading passed away due to complications from cancer while living in his home in Hull, Quebec. On December 10, 2021, Les Emmerson perished after succumbing to a series of medical issues, including COVID-19.
Top 10 Five Man Electrical Band & The Staccatos Songs
#10 -Money Back Guarantee (as the Five Man Electrical Band)
In 1972, “Money Back Guarantee” was the first single released from the Five Man Electrical Band’s fifth and final album, Sweet Paradise. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it was a number seventeen hit while it peaked as high as number seventy-two on the US Billboard Hot 100. As the group’s primary songwriter, Les Emmerson took notice of the multitude of commercials, each of them attempting to sell a product or service with a “Money Back Guarantee.” What made this song a classic was a somewhat humorous take on the marketing trends that still continue today.
#9 – Small Town Girl (as The Staccatos)
“Small Town Girl” was the first single released by The Staccatos that made a chart appearance. It peaked as high as number twenty on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. From the album, Initially, this 1967 gem marked the beginning of the Ontario-based rock group’s career as one of Canada’s brightest recording artists at the time. In the lyrics, the “Small Town Girl” was warned about the deceptive charm of a young man who was attempting to win her over and run off with him. Written by Les Emmerson, “Small Town Girl” was a simple enough tune performed by a young and impressionable Canadian rock group that was on the verge of realizing international stardom.
#8 – Sunrise to Sunset (as the Five Man Electrical Band)
“Sunrise to Sunset” was among the first singles released by a newly named Five Man Electrical Band. 1969 marked the beginning of a new era for Mike Bell, Rick Bell, Vern Craig, Les Emmerson, Ted Gerow, and Brian Rading. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it was a modest hit at number fifty-six. However, “Sunrise to Sunset” holds its own as a Canadian rock classic. Written by the band’s second drummer, Mike Bell, “Sunrise to Sunset” featured various musical styles that made it a standout favorite. As a songwriter, Bell was contending with the heartbreak of losing a loved interest after trying too hard to control her in what became a toxic relationship. “Sunrise to Sunset” served as a reality check relationship control freaks stand to lose the one person that means the most to them, leaving them having to watch the sun rise and set on their own.
#7 – Private Train (as the Five Man Electrical Band)
Originally, “Private Train” wasn’t meant to be released as a single. It was on the B-side of a record featuring “It Never Rains on Maple Lane.” After a less-than-ideal performance on the official music charts belonging to Canada, the radio disc jockeys flipped the record over and began playing “Private Train” instead. This would be the song that would become the fan favorite between the two as it peaked as high as number thirty-seven after it was first played in 1969 on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. “It Never Rains on Maple Street” was barely noticeable at number sixty-seven. This touching ballad had Emmerson making an observation of different people that were sharing the same train ride as him.
#6 – Move to California (as The Staccatos)
“Move to California” somewhat behaved as an autobiography for The Staccatos when it was released as a single in 1965. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it became a number twenty-six hit. In an effort to make a real name for themselves as a rock band, the roster of The Staccatos moved from Canada to California. It proved to be a fruitful endeavor as the exposure to America’s music industry helped the bandmates hone their skills as musical performers. It didn’t take long for the men from Ontario to win over the corporate attention of the American music industry.
For two years, Los Angeles served as a base for The Staccatos as they spent time on the road, touring from one city to another. They shared the stage with musical icons such as The Allman Brothers and Jefferson Airplane at the time. “Move to California” adopted the familiar Beach Boys sound, which played a key influence in The Staccatos’ musical style before changing course to become the Five Man Electrical Band.
#5 – Let’s Run Away (as The Staccatos)
“Let’s Run Away” was a song written by Les Emmerson. It was lyrically put together in relation to “A World of Our Own” by the Seekers. This song was a proposal that running away seemed like a good idea in order to avoid having to live up to other people’s expectations. As socially astute as ever, Emmerson’s lyrics served as an act of rebellion against the music industry’s attempt to bog radio listeners down to its brand of conformity.
It also served as a source of encouragement for people to stand up for themselves in the quest of living their own lives according to how they saw fit. If that meant running away was a means to go about it, so be it. It was expected the 1966 release of “Let’s Run Away” would become another international hit for The Staccatos but it only charted as high as number thirty-five on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. It did, however, win over enough fan appeal on an international level despite the limited amount of radio play “Let’s Run Away” received at the time. As a testament to the song quality of “Let’s Run Away,” it won two Juno Awards, Canada’s equivalent to the Grammies. It won Best Produced Single and played a key role in The Staccatos winning Vocal Instrumental Group of the Year.
#4 – I’m a Stranger Here (as the Five Man Electrical Band)
In 1972, “I’m a Stranger Here” became the highest charting single the Five Man Electrical Band experienced as a recording artist. On the Canadian Top Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number two. It also became a minor hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number seventy-six. This came from the group’s fourth and final studio album, Sweet Paradise. It was among the final songs belonging to a tracklist that still had all the core members of the Five Man Electrical Band intact.
The release of “I’m a Stranger Here” was hot on the heels of Canada’s environmental movement, as well as the 1971 founding of Greenpeace. This was a song performed from the perspective of a visitor from another planet as he finds Earth has come face to face with environmental danger. The stranger attempts to appeal to the people to preserve what they have instead of throwing it all the way for the sake of progressive science.
#3 – Absolutely Right (as the Five Man Electrical Band)
On the Canadian Top Singles Chart in 1971, “Absolutely Right” became a number three hit. It was the first single released after the Five Man Electrical Band’s global success with “Signs.” On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number twenty-six. In Australia, at number fifty-nine. This song came from Coming of Age, the Canadian rock group’s third album since adopting the new band name in 1969. “Absolutely Right” was about a man who had relationship issues with his mother.
After spending time away from home, he returns with a humbling attitude that she was consistently in the right while he was in the wrong. As a songwriter who paid close attention to family life and how social issues have an impact on it, Les Emmerson’s lyrics pointed out how difficult communication between family members can be when personal bias gets in the way of better judgment. “Absolutely Right” was especially popular in the American states of Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
#2 – Half Past Midnight (as The Staccatos)
“Half Past Midnight” was a single that was officially released by The Staccatos in 1967. Before undergoing the name change to Five Man Electrical Band, this was the group’s biggest hit as it peaked as high as number eight on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. It also received international attention but failed to make a chart appearance among those nations. However, this single is regarded as a classic by fans who favor the sounds of mid-1960s rock and roll.
“Half Past Midnight” was also featured on Five Man Electrical Band, the first of four studio albums from a group that underwent its name change in 1968. As much as the fans in Canada loved “Half Past Midnight,” the critics in the United States felt it sounded too much like a song coming from the Beach Boys. As a songwriter, Les Emmerson was often compared to sharing a similar style to the Beatles, the Loving Spoonful, and the Turtles. “Half Past Midnight” earned The Staccatos a Canadian Juno Award for Best Produced Single.
#1 – Signs (as Five Man Electrical Band)
“Signs” was a single that was released in 1971 by the Five Man Electrical Band. It became an instant sensation as it peaked as high as number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 and at number four on the Canadian Top Singles Chart. It also became a number-one hit in Australia. Written by Les Emmerson, “Signs” was a protest song against the overuse of signage as a means to force people to comply with whatever rules were set in place.
This single sold over one million copies and became certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Emmerson was inspired to write this song after traveling Route 66 and observing the Californian highway’s collection of billboard signs took away from the state’s natural scenery. In the lyrics, Emmerson brought up four social issues that struck a nerve with him as a songwriter. It was a song fans around the world could easily relate to as there was a growing animosity against a society that had become too judgemental for its own good.
In 1990, “Signs” was covered during a live recording by Tesla as it performed its Five Man Acoustical Jam album. It brought this popular single back onto the official music charts, this time as a number eight hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number seventy-two hit in Canada. It also became a number two hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. The single release played on radio stations features the original lyrics unchanged while the album version contained a bit of profanity.
In 2008, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame recognized Les Emmerson’s “Signs” as an inductee, twenty years after the non-profit organization was founded by Frank Davies. The success behind “Signs” can also be credited to the experience the Five Man Electrical Band received while touring with iconic groups such as The Allman Brothers Band, Edgar Winter, and Sly and The Family Stone. The move from Canada to California, so they could hone their skills as world-class musicians, was exactly what The Staccatos needed as the band reinvented itself to become the Five Man Electrical Band.
Feature Photo: Adrian Buss, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Five Man Electrical Band And The Staccatos Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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