Signs (Five Man Electrical Band song)


Signs (Five Man Electrical Band song)

"Signs" is a song by the Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band. It greatly popularized the somewhat unknown band, who wrote and performed it for their second album, "Good-byes and Butterflies" in 1970. "Signs" was originally released that year as the B-side to the unsuccessful single "Hello Melinda Goodbye." Re-released in 1971 on the A-side, "Signs" reached number 3 on the "Billboard" charts.

Lyrical meaning

The song's lyrics are strong commentary about the social situation in the United States and Canada at the time. "Signs" deals mainly with discrimination; the singer describes several situations in which he is excluded from something. The first set of verses describes a sign in a window reading "Long haired freaky people" (meaning hippies) "need not apply" and the singer's consequent confrontation with the store owner. The second set of verses describe the singer protesting being kept off of private property (by a sign reading "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight"). The third set of verses have him being excluded from a restaurant (by a sign reading "You have to have a coat and tie to get a seat").

Throughout the song, the signs posted everywhere seem to be symbols to the singer of these exclusionist ideas. The last set of verses, however, have him being accepted in a Christian church and worship service, despite not having any money to contribute to the collection, thus arriving at the main theme of the song: that everyone should be accepted, regardless of lifestyle, financial standing, etc.

Covers and sampling

"Signs" was famously covered and recorded live by Tesla for their "Five Man Acoustical Jam" album in 1990, peaking at number 8 on the Pop charts. This 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" (at the time, profanity was becoming more commonplace in music).

The opening line of the song was sampled by Fatboy Slim for his song "Don't Let The Man Get You Down," from his "Palookaville" album.


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