First recorded and released by The Five Man Electrical Band (B-side 1970).
Hit versions by Bobby Vee (US #125 Feb 1971), The Five Man Electrical Band (re-release US #3/CAN #4/AUS #1 1971), Tesla (US #8/UK #70 1990).
From the wiki: “‘Signs’ was written by the Five Man Electrical Band’s frontman, Les Emmerson, and was recorded it for their second album, Good-byes and Butterflies, in 1970. ‘Signs’ was first released as the B-side earlier that year to the unsuccessful single ‘Hello Melinda Goodbye’, thus remaining relatively obscure.
“Re-released by the group in 1971 as the A-side, ‘Signs’ reached #4 in Canada and #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Billboard ranked it as the #4 song for 1971. It became a gold record. But, prior to the Five Man Electrical Band re-release, ‘Signs’ made its first chart appearance in February 1971 when a recording by Bobby Vee ‘bubbled under’ the Hot 100, peaking at #125.
“Vee was a teen idol singer in the early ’60s (‘Devil or Angel’, 1960; ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’, 1961). By the mid-’60s, Vee was burned out and had become disillusioned with the music industry. His label, Liberty Records was sold to United Artists in 1968, and several label mates were dropped (including Jan & Dean, and Del Shannon). However, Vee remained under contract to UA. He owed the label one more album, but no one seemed to care what he did with it.
“‘I didn’t call it a burnout at the time,’ Vee said later. ‘I was out of hits and out of sorts with the music business. I couldn’t remember what it was like to enjoy music and performing [in a small group].’ Vee’s soulful reading of ‘Signs’ garnered airplay, especially in the American south in early 1971, several months ahead of the Five Man Electrical Band’s re-release. ‘Signs’ would prove to be Bobby Vee’s last single release.
“Tesla revived ‘Signs’ in 1990 when they recorded a live, acoustic version for their album Five Man Acoustical Jam, which was recorded at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia on July 2, 1990. Released as a single ahead of the album, the song made #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but didn’t crack the Hot 100. When the album started selling and MTV began airing the video, the song was re-released, making #8 on the Hot 100 in April 1991. Tesla’s version was one of the first acoustic hit songs of the ’90s and helped launch the ‘Unplugged’ trend. MTV ramped up their series of Unplugged concerts shortly after Tesla’s cover became a hit.”
Bobby Vee, “Signs” (1971):
Tesla, “Signs” (1990):