#78: Signs: Five Man Electrical Band: 1970
I loved this song when it came out in the early 70s and I still love it today. The lyrics are simply timeless and if anything more pertinent today then they were 50 years ago. The Five Man Electrical Band are a Canadian rock group and this song was written by Les Emmerson their lead singer. His inspiration came from a Route 66 road trip where he could not miss all the signage and felt these signs were blockin’ out the scenery, breaking my mind. Signs is the signature song of the Five Man Electrical Band and has sold over 2 million copies and earned them a gold award. It is on the 1970 Good-byes and Butterflies album and was also released as a single in 1971.
The world is full of signs and always has been, there are signs in nature, signs in relationships, signs of ill health developing – signs that warn, inform, instruct, protect. A sign is not the reality- a sign simply points to or indicates the possibility of a reality. Folks can read too much into signs but then to ignore them is usually to our own peril. When ever folks find themselves in one of those messy situations that have a habit of popping up in life – whether they be personal, financial, medical, relational, vocational -or what ever, if we are honest looking back we can see that always there were signs there that indicated this idea / situation was not too flash. But then again it is easy to ignore signs, too not see them or misread them or to think that things or people will change. Usually they don’t!
Advertising, Branding, Signage is a multi billion industry and it absolutely does clutter up our lives but I think Emmerson is onto something bigger. The first verse about the long haired freaky people who need not apply is a reminder not to judge a book by its cover. If a bit of hair on one’s head is the dividing line between integrity or no integrity, well then there is a problem. About this time, early 70s, there was a young chap, with long hair, who thought he would like to keep company with me, unbeknown to me my father took him aside and told him if he wanted to keep company with his daughter he would have to lose the hair! And he did! He arrived with short back and sides and when I remarked on the short hair he informed me that he’d been told to get it cut! It still kind of boggles my mind, shame really, I quite liked the long hair!
Emmerson also addresses the signs that divide society into the haves and the have nots; those with rights and those who just need to do as they are told. And the final verse just makes my heart warm because the sign said; Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray! And that is the invitation. Christ welcomes us all; He meets us where we are and then works on our heart to transform us into living treasures in jars of clay. All the signs of God’s love are here, please don’t misread or ignore them.
But when they passed round the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay so I got me a pen and a paper and I made my own little sign. I said, “Thank you Lord for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doing fine. Amen.