#1042: I’m A Stranger Here by the Five Man Electrical Band

Peak Month: May 1973
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #13
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #76

The Five Man Electrical Band was a Canadian mainstream rock band from Ottawa. They had an international hit in 1970 called “Signs“. Their other hits did well in Canada, including “Absolutely Right” and “I’m A Stranger Here”. In 1970 the band released an album called Good-byes and Butterflies. The cover of the album prominently displayed a marijuana plant. The ensuing controversy led to the album being withdrawn and given a different cover with a butterfly composed of neon lights. “Signs” was initially the b-side of “Hello Melinda, Goodbye”. But by accident, the sides were reversed, making “Signs” the A-side, which radio listeners started began calling DJ’s for requests to hear it again.

Les Emmerson was born in 1944. In 1963 he formed the Staccatos. The Ottawa group included lead singer and local disc jockey Dean Hagopian. After some local hits they got the attention of Capitol Records. One of their 1965 singles imitated the surfing sound with “Moved To California“. In 1966 their Top 40 hit on the Canadian RPM singles chart, “Let’s Run Away“, won the group the two Juno awards that year for Best Produced Single and Vocal Instrumental Group Of The Year. Then they released “Half Past Midnight” and the song peaked on the Canadian RPM singles chart at #8 in May 1967. It won them a JUNO award for Best Produced Single and got them gigs in the trendy music scene in the downtown Toronto neighborhood of Yorkville. Coca-Cola lined them up for some jingles and they shared one of two sides of an album in 1968 with The Guess Who called A Wild Pair.

After failing to chart in the USA the group changed their sound and their name to the The Five Man Electrical Band. In 1971 the band got a Top Ten hit in Canada and the USA called “Signs” which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in Vancouver. This was followed by “Absolutely Right” which peaked at #4 in Vancouver and reached the Top 20 in the USA. Several more singles were released including one of their 1973 single “I’m A Stranger Here“, an anthem to environmental awareness. When the single was recorded, the band was made up of Les Emmerson (vocals, guitar), Rick Bell (vocals, drums), Ted Gerow (keyboards), Mike Bell (vocals, drums) and Brian Rading (bass guitar). At the end of the albums production, Mike Bell and Brian Rading left the band, actually making the remaining members a “Three Man Electrical Band.”

“I’m A Stranger Here” was the second single and only memorable hit from their fourth album, Sweet Paradise. The song has a stranger from outer space come to visit earth to find the planet in environmental danger. The lyrics reference the title of the album, when the stranger tells the earthlings they were living in paradise, warning that paradise won’t come twice. The tune peaked at #13 after seven weeks on the Top 30 on CKLG. In the USA it was a minor hit only climbing to #76 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Five Man Electrical Band - I'm A Stranger Here

Well I’m a stranger here in this place called Earth,
and I was sent down here to discover the worth,
of your little blue planet third from the sun.
Come on and show me what you’ve done.

We got the aeroplane, we got the automobile,
we got sky scraper buildings made of glass and steel.
We’ve got synthetic food that nearly tastes real,
and a little white pill that makes you feel
a whole lot better when you get out of bed.
You take one in the morning for the lovelier head.
We got everything everybody needs to survive.
Surely the good life has arrived!

I think your atmosphere is hurting my eyes,
and your concrete mountains are blacking out the skies.
Now I don’t say that you’ve been telling me lies,
but why do I hear those children’s cries?

I’m a stranger here, I’m just looking around.

I see the aeroplanes carrying the bombs.
Why, you’ve even found people to drop them on.
You know you can’t keep what you take by force.
But it’s only my first impression of course.

Well I’m a stranger here on your planet Earth.

We got the rivers and the mountains
and the valleys and the trees.

We got the birds in the sky,
we got the fish in the sea.

We got the —
Oh you crazy fools
don’t you know you had it made?

You were living in paradise.
But take it from one who knows.
Who knows the gates of Heaven can close.
I only pray that you take my advice
‘Cause Paradise won’t come twice.

Well I’m a stranger here in this place called Earth,
and I was sent down here to discover the worth,
of your little blue planet third from the sun.
I think I’ll go back home where I come from.

In Canada in the 1970s the environmental movement was on the rise. Greenpeace was founded in the city in 1971 and became a lightning rod for opposition to nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. A campaign to eliminate the use of chlorofluorocarbons, a key factor in the depletion of the ozone layer, in refrigerators. By the mid-80s the campaign had succeeded. In the 1970s there was a major concern for nature conservation centred on preserving wilderness and protecting unique areas or ecosystems as ecological reserves. Each Canadian province experienced a burst in the growth of local groups focusing on local conservation and environmental issues, and provincial naturalist and conservation federations became increasingly active and vocal. In a single decade, federal and provincial governments established ministries or departments of the environment, environmental protection Acts and environmental assessment legislation. In Canada, Acts passed provincially and federally to protect endangered species, were unique in the world. This was since they sought to protect rare or endangered species of all plants and animals, including insects such as the honey bee.

The band had one more notable hit called “Werewolf” in 1974. After that they disbanded while Les Emmerson pursued a solo career. The band got back together for a reunion tour in 1986.

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