Tesla did not come up with this song on their own. Instead, Signs was written by Les Emmerson in the late 60s and it was a hit for Five Man Electrical Band in 1970. The song was inspired by a trip Emmerson took down Route 66. While driving, Emmerson noticed that there were a lot of … you guessed it … signs! Embraced by the “long-haired freaky” people mentioned in the opening lyrics, Signs became a surprise hit.
Twenty years later, the song was revived when Tesla performed an acoustic version of the song. At the time, Tesla was the opening act for Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood tour but, because they had an off-day, the band booked an acoustic show. Each member of the band picked a different song to perform. Signs was selected by lead singer Jeff Keith, who grew up in Oklahoma and, as you can see in the video, had some definite thoughts when it came to signs blocking out the scenery (or “fucking up the scenery” as the band put it in the uncensored version of the song).
Signs is a good example of song that probably would have been forgotten if not for MTV. When the song was originally released, it didn’t get much attention but the subsequent video proved to be popular and the song eventually became a hit. The success of Signs led to other bands do acoustic shows and eventually MTV launching Unplugged.