"Signs" is a song by the Canadianrock group Five Man Electrical Band. It was written by the band's frontman, Les Emmerson, and popularized the relatively unknown band, who recorded it for their true first album, Good-byes and Butterflies, in 1970. The LP "Five Man Electrical Band" had begun as a Staccatos album with Brian Rading, the band's bassist suggesting the band's new name from the song title.
"Signs" was originally a 1970 B-side to the relatively unsuccessful single "Hello Melinda Goodbye" (#55 Canada). Re-released in 1971 as the A-side, "Signs" reached No. 4 in Canada and No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Billboard ranked it as the No. 24 song for 1971. It became a gold record. In Canada, RPM Magazine ranked it at No. 55, with Absolutely Right ranked No. 49.
Some radio edits have omitted the instrumental introduction and shortened the instrumental coda for airplay, due to time constraints.
The song was written by Les Emmerson when he was road-tripping on Route 66 in California, and noticed the beautiful scenery was obscured by many billboards.
The song's narrator describes four instances of encountering signs that anger or concern him, as follows:
A notice that "long-haired freaky people need not apply" for a job opening. He stuffs his hair into his hat in order to get an interview, then contemptuously reveals it once he has been offered the job.
A sign outside a house warning that trespassers will be shot on sight. He climbs onto the perimeter fence and berates the owners for keeping people out and fencing in the land's natural beauty.
Being told to leave a restaurant because he does not meet its dress code or have a membership card, both of which are displayed on a sign.
A sign inviting people to worship at a church. When an offering is taken up at the end of the service, he makes a sign telling God that he is doing well, as he has no money to contribute.
"Signs" was covered and recorded live by Tesla for their Five Man Acoustical Jam album in 1990, peaking at number 8 on the Pop charts. The album version of the 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," whilst the single version retained the original lyrics for radio airplay. A studio version recorded in 2007, which appeared on the EP A Peace of Time, using the original lyrics.