Friday, July 28, 2017

A Song A Day: The Five Man Electrical Band, "Absolutely Right"

JULY 28, 2017




The Five Man Electrical Band, from Ottawa, Ontario, started its career as The Staccatos in 1963. After modest success in Canada, the band changed its name just before signing with the Capitol label in 1969. Despite getting airplay for some of their singles in Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, and San Francisco, U.S. success was not forthcoming.

A move to MGM Records didn’t seem to change that, as two singles in 1969 and 1970 failed. The second, “Hello Melinda Goodbye,” was backed with “Signs.” Neither side caught on. Late in 1970, the band had its second U.S. album, Goodbyes and Butterflies, released on Lionel, an MGM-distributed label helmed by famed songwriter Jimmy Webb.

Early in 1971, MGM bought Lionel and several other small labels outright. In March, at least one station, in Grand Rapids, began to play “Signs” as an album cut—it was the first song on Goodbyes and Butterflies—to strong listener reaction.

In mid-March, Lionel re-released “Signs,” this time as an A-side, and radio stations began to spin it. “Signs” caught on in Detroit, Seattle, Columbus, and Pittsburgh, then in other cities, and this archetypal anti-establishment anthem became a top ten national hit during the summer.

Of course, the band set out to follow up on this unexpected success, and soon another album, Coming of Age, was issued. From it sprung the single “Absolutely Right,” written and sung by lead guitarist Les Emmerson. Radio stations got the single in mid-September '71.

Where “Signs” had been slow, anthemic, and somewhat preachy, “Absolutely Right” was catchy and can’t-catch-a-breath quick. The frantic pace of the music contrasts interestingly with the lyrics—a contrite apology from a lover begging for another chance to get his woman’s “key.” (To her apartment, no doubt.) The mix of electric piano, ripping guitar, and driving percussion is perfect airwaves candy.

This one, however, only reached #26 on the Billboard chart, #20 in Cashbox, and #19 in Record World, ending the group’s career as hitmakers with an unexpected thud.

Its biggest success came, oddly, in Chicago, where “Absolutely Right” was top five on both top 40 stations (WCFL and WLS). It was also top ten in St. Louis, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Honolulu, and made top 20 in other medium and large markets, but could not overcome mediocre sales and radio play in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and a complete inability to hit any chart in New York City.

“Signs” was revived by pop-metal band Tesla in the 1990s. But “Absolutely Right”—forgotten though it may be—is to these ears the better record.


  1. Stu, you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT about this song. Incredible energy not heard since the Dc5 days. That closing too, WOW! IMO, Les Emmerson was a genius songwriter, even if unknown. Many of the early band tracks were bad, but he got very innovative in the 70's. BTW, "Signs" was a top 40 hit in WICHITA in 69, by none other than Bobby Vee! WLSClark

  2. I had NO IDEA that Bobby Vee cut "Signs." I've got to hear that. Thank you!!