Best known for their 1971 anti-establishment hit "Signs," Ottawa, Canada's Five Man Electrical Band featured guitarist/vocalist Les Emmerson, bassist Brian Rading, keyboardist Ted Gerow, and drummers Rick "Bell" Belanger and Mike "Bell" Belanger.
Five Man Electrical Band had their roots in an Ottawa band called the Staccatos. Rading and Rick Belanger formed the Staccatos in 1963 with Dean Hagopian and Vern Craig. After a year, Hagopian departed the group and was replaced by Emmerson, who wound up sharing singing duties with Rick Belanger. The Staccatos released an independent single in 1965 and then moved to Capitol Canada, who put out "Small Town Girl" that year. "Small Town Girl," "Move to California," It's a Long Way Home," and "C'Mon Everybody" all hovered in the twenties on the Canadian charts in 1965 and 1966 but their big break happened with the 1967 hit "Half Past Midnight"; their first attempt at stateside success came that year when they recorded A Wild Pair with the Guess Who. The album sold well and "Half Past Midnight" was released as a single in the U.S., but the group was dismissed as sounding too much like the Beach Boys.
Adding keyboardist Ted Gerow and leaving behind Vern Craig, the Staccatos released their second album, Five Man Electrical Band, in 1968, and renamed themselves after it the following year, partially at the suggestion of Rading. They continued to record for Capitol Records, traveling to L.A. to record singles such as "It Never Rains on Maple Lane." After switching to MGM and relocating permanently to L.A., the group released several other singles that received very little chart action. One of those singles, "Hello Melinda Goodbye," featured "Signs" as its B-side, which was inspired by the proliferation of billboards on America's freeways; though it garnered some airplay in L.A., it failed to do much when it was reissued on its own.
By 1971, the group was close to splitting when their new label, Jimmy Webb and Dallas Smith's Lion Records, reissued "Signs" as a teaser for Five Man Electrical Band's full-length debut, Goodbyes & Butterflies. This time, "Signs" reached number three in the U.S. and number four in Canada, and sold more than two million copies internationally. The follow-up single, "Absolutely Right," also did well, reaching number three in Canada and the Top 20 in the U.S. However, their later albums didn't receive much attention outside of Canada; "Julianna" and "Money Back Guarantee" both reached 17 in 1972, while "I'm a Stranger in Here" made it to two that year.
In 1973, after struggling to get another American hit, the original Five Man Electrical Band finally packed it in; Emmerson recorded using the group's name for another two years. Subsequently, he tried his hand at running a label, Perfect Records, played with the Cooper Brothers, and began a solo career upon his return to Ottawa. The original lineup re-formed in 1986 for a benefit concert and for occasional tours of Eastern Canada. Emmerson bought the rights to the group's material and released the best-of Absolutely Right in 1995. ~ Heather Phares