#1152: Sunrise to Sunset by Five Man Electrical Band
Peak Month: September 1969
8 weeks on CKLG chart
Peak Position #12
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~did not chart
YouTube.com: “Sunrise To Sunset”
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”. Prior to 1969 the band was known as the Staccatos.
Les Emmerson was born in 1944. In 1963 the Staccatos were formed in Ottawa. The group included lead singer and local disc jockey Dean Hagopian. He left the band later in 1964 and Les Emmerson stepped in as lead vocalist. Other bandmates included Vern Craigon guitar, Brian Rading on bass guitar and Rick Bell on drums and vocals. 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 Mike Bell joined the band as a second drummer. That year 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”. 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.
In 1968 Vern Craig left the group and was replaced by Ted Gerow on keyboards.
After failing to chart in the USA the Staccatos changed their sound and their name. Gary Latendresse, who worked with them, notes that the Staccatos moved to Los Angeles. While they were in LA they changed their name to the The Five Man Electrical Band. Brian Rading suggested the name change. Les Emmerson had written a song called “Five Man Electrical Band” and Rading exclaimed that was exactly what the band was: Five Men – Les Emmerson, Rick Bell, Mike Bell, Ted Gerow and Brian Rading.
As the Five Man Electrical Band, in 1969 they released a single called “It Never Rains On Maple Lane” which had regional success in Olympia, Washington, (#12), Kirkland Lake, Ontario, (#11) and Top 30 in San Francisco and Toronto. A second single, “Lovin’ Look” made it into the Top 100 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with the band sounding similar to the Grass Roots. Another single release in 1969 was “Sunrise Sunset”.
“Sunrise Sunset” was written by the band’s second drummer, Mike Bell. The song offered an interesting mix of musical styles. The upbeat refrain, “the sun is up and I’m still down” in the last minute of “Sunrise to Sunset” was an ear worm for some radio listeners in Vancouver.
From sunrise to sunset, that’s how long that she’s been gone.
I’ve seen too many sunsets to know I’m gonna spend a lot of time on my own.
Sunrise to sunset we really love.
But now I know why, didn’t mean to shove.
I’ve tried too hard to turn you into something new could never be.
And now I’m feeling sorry for having tried to change the perfect girl I didn’t see.
Somebody help me, remove this pride.
I’m so unhappy, I’m gonna cry.
The sun is up and I’m still down (x6)
“Sunrise to Sunset” concerns the heartbreak felt by someone who’s been left behind. They’ve realized too late that they were being controlling and trying to fix the “girl” they loved who was already “perfect” just the way they were. Anyone listening to this song, who had been in a relationship with someone who was constantly trying to perfect them, would have sympathized with the “girl” who left they guy to watch the sunrises and sunsets on his own.
“Sunrise Sunset” peaked #12 in Victoria and #12 Vancouver (BC), and at #13 in Ottawa.
Several more singles followed. 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 a track from the album. Initially it was the B-side of another album track, “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. In 1971 “Signs” became a Top Ten hit in Canada, the USA and Australia. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in Vancouver (BC).
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 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.
The band had one more notable hit called “Werewolf” in 1974. Emmerson based himself in California from the mid-70s until 1981. During this time he launched Perfect Records with the engineer for Bachman-Turner-Overdrive and Pure Prairie League, Mark Smith. When he moved back to Ottawa in 1981 he became associated with The Cooper Brothers, an Ottawa band with a southern rock sound. Emmerson also established a recording studio in the nation’s capitol.
1986 was the year the Five Man Electrical Band got together to perform a benefit concert. However, the benefit concert led to yearly tours of Eastern Canada into the 2010’s. In 2000, at the age of 56, Les Emmerson suffered a heart attack. Thankfully, a stent procedure was successful. In 2008, The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted Les Emmerson, primarily for his composition of “Signs”, a song he was first inspired to write while driving down Route 66.
In 2015 Emmerson gave a concert as a fundraiser for the Ottawa Aphasia Center and Manotick United Church’s community outreach activities. Terry McGovern, organizer of the concert said of Les Emmerson: “He’s backed up Chuck Berry and he’s played around the pool at Linda Ronstadt’s house. The guy lived in Los Angeles for 10 years and he and his band were top musicians, so he’s seen everything twice. He has a genuine story to tell and a love of storytelling and is very great at telling stories.”
On June 8, 2016, the Five Man Electrical Band lost bass player, Brian Rading, who died weeks short of his 70th birthday.
March 1, 2017
Update: Les Emmerson died in December 2021 at the age of 77. See Ottawa Citizen article below.
Emmerson Settles Suit, Billboard, November 11, 1972
The Staccatos, “Moved To California,”1965
The Staccatos, “Let’s Run Away,” 1966
The Staccatos, “Half Past Midnight,” 1967
Les Emmerson inductee: “Signs,” Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2008.
Five Man Electrical Band: Rock Band Formed in Ottawa as The Staccatos, The Canadian Encyclopedia.ca, December 16, 2013.
“Proudly Canadian: The Five Man Electrical Band,” Cashbox Canada, July 31, 2014.
Megan DeLaire, “Les Emmerson Returns to Manotick,” Hamilton Spectator, November 5, 2015.
Kelly Egan, “Egan: Five Man Electrical Loses Original Bass Player, Local Rock Pillar,” Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, ON, June 16, 2016.
Leanne Cusack, “Ottawa rock and roll royalty, songwriter of ‘Signs’ Les Emmerson dead at 77,” Ottawa Citizen, December 12, 2021.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, September 19, 1969.
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