The Fifth Beatle is an informal title that various commentators in the press and entertainment industry have applied to persons who were at one point a member of the Beatles, or who had a strong association with the "Fab Four" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) during the group's existence. The "Fifth Beatle" claims started appearing in the press immediately upon the band's sensational rise to global fame in 1963–64 as the most famous quartet in pop culture.
At the Beatles' 1988 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Harrison at one point stated that there were only two "fifth Beatles": Derek Taylor and Neil Aspinall (referring to the Beatles' public relations manager and road manager-turned-business-executive, respectively). In a 1997 BBC interview, McCartney stated: "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was [Beatles' manager] Brian Epstein." Lennon was critical of individuals who claimed credit for the Beatles success, including the individual Beatles themselves, saying in his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, "I’m not the Beatles. I’m me. Paul isn’t the Beatles. Brian Epstein wasn’t the Beatles, neither is Dick James. The Beatles are the Beatles." Lennon was also disparaging of George Martin's importance to the Beatles.
The term is not used to indicate the chronology of band members joining the group. Pete Best joined Lennon, McCartney, Stuart Sutcliffe and Harrison on the eve of their Hamburg sojourn, the five using the monikers, "The Silver Beetles" and "The Silver Beatles" (they would experiment with "The Beat Brothers" and ultimately "The Beatles" while in Hamburg with Best).
- 1 Early group members
- 2 Business, management, and production
- 3 Musical contributors
- 4 Other references to "Fifth Beatle"
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Early group members
Stuart Sutcliffe has been called the fifth Beatle. The original bassist of the five-member Beatles, he played with the band primarily during their days as a club act in Hamburg, Germany. When the band returned to Liverpool in 1961, Sutcliffe remained behind in Hamburg. He died of a brain hemorrhage shortly thereafter. Instead of replacing him with a new member, Paul McCartney changed from rhythm guitar (with John Lennon) to bass and the band continued as a four-piece.
Sutcliffe was an accomplished painter, but when compared to the other Beatles, his musical skills were described as "inadequate", and his involvement in the band was mainly a consequence of his friendship with Lennon. Sutcliffe's input was, however, an important early influence on the development of the band's image; Sutcliffe was the first to wear what would later become famous as The Beatles' moptop hairstyle, asking his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr to cut his hair in emulation of the hairdo worn by friend Klaus Voormann.
Pete Best has been called the fifth Beatle. The original drummer of The Beatles, he played with the band during their time as a club act, in both Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany. The band during this time period consisted of Best, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe (see above), and guitarists Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon. Best continued to perform with the band until 1962 when he was let go and replaced by Ringo Starr.
Business, management, and production
Brian Epstein, the band's manager from 1961 until his death in 1967, was instrumental in The Beatles' rise to global fame. Epstein "discovered" the band in Liverpool, saw their potential, and never wavered in his faith and commitment to them. He purposefully restricted his oversight of the band, limiting himself to business matters and public image, and gave the band free creative rein in their music. Epstein also doggedly sought a recording contract for the band in London at a crucial moment in their career, fighting their perception as provincial "northern" musicians.
Epstein's death in essence marked the beginning of The Beatles' dissolution, as Lennon admitted later. Because he was not creatively involved with the band, Epstein was only infrequently called the "fifth Beatle", but over the years he and producer George Martin have clearly been recognised as the inner circle members who most profoundly affected the band's career. In an interview in the 1990s describing Epstein's involvement in the band's rise to fame, Martin declared "He's the fifth Beatle, if there ever was one".
Paul McCartney summarized the importance of Epstein to The Beatles when he was interviewed in 1997 for a BBC documentary about Epstein. He stated: "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian."
In 2013 Epstein was the subject of a graphic novel entitled The Fifth Beatle (graphic novel) by Vivek Tiwary. The book was released in November and spent several weeks on the The New York Times best-seller list, reaching #1 in its third week of release.
The film version of The Fifth Beatle (graphic novel) is currently in development and will begin shooting in 2014. Peyton Reed (Yes Man) has signed on to direct the biopic, with Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) co-producing along with Vivek Tiwary. Tiwary stated that the film "will be less a music bio and more of an inspirational human-interest story about an outsider."
George Martin has been called the fifth Beatle. He produced nearly all of The Beatles' recordings (minus the Let It Be album (re-produced by Phil Spector) and later songs "Real Love" and "Free as a Bird" (produced by Jeff Lynne)) and wrote the instrumental score for the Yellow Submarine film and soundtrack album, and the string and horn (and even some vocal) arrangements for almost all of their songs (with the famous exception of Spector's re-production on Let It Be, and "She's Leaving Home", which was arranged by Mike Leander). His arrangement of the string octet backing for "Eleanor Rigby" was widely noted.
Martin's extensive musical training (which he received at the Guildhall School of Music) and sophisticated guidance in the studio are often credited as fundamental contributions to the work of The Beatles; he was without question a key part of the synergy responsible for transforming a good rock-and-roll group into the most celebrated popular musicians of their era. As writer Ian MacDonald noted, Martin was one of the few record producers in the UK at the time who possessed the sensitivity The Beatles needed to develop their songwriting and recording talent. Martin's piano playing also appears on several of their tracks, including "Misery" and "In My Life". Martin himself deflects claims of being the "fifth Beatle" to Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. In 2006, Martin inadvertently strengthened his image as the "fifth Beatle" by contributing the only piece of new music on the LOVE soundtrack: a string arrangement on top of George Harrison's solo acoustic demo of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from Anthology 3.
John Lennon disparaged Martin's importance to the Beatles' music. In his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon said, "[Dick James is] another one of those people, who think they made us. They didn’t. I’d like to hear Dick James’ music and I’d like to hear George Martin’s music, please, just play me some." In a 1971 letter to Paul McCartney, Lennon wrote, "When people ask me questions about 'What did George Martin really do for you?,' I have only one answer, 'What does he do now?' I noticed you had no answer for that! It's not a putdown, it's the truth." Lennon wrote that Martin took too much credit for the Beatles' music. Commenting specifically on Revolution 9, Lennon said, "For Martin to state that he was 'painting a sound picture' is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone."
Neil Aspinall has been called the fifth Beatle. A schoolmate of McCartney & Harrison and a close personal friend of Pete Best (he actually lived in Best's house and fathered his youngest brother, Roag), Aspinall would join The Beatles as their road manager, which included driving his old Commer van to and from shows, both day and night. After Mal Evans started work for The Beatles, Aspinall was promoted to become their personal assistant, and eventually ascended to the position of CEO for Apple Corps (a position he held until 10 April 2007).
Aspinall was involved in court cases on behalf of Apple over the years (including cases against The Beatles' then-manager Allen Klein, their label EMI, and the case against Apple Computer). He supervised the marketing of music, videos, and merchandising for the group. Aspinall also temporarily served as the group's manager following Epstein's death.
Although not a musician, Aspinall also made minor contributions to a handful of The Beatles' recordings. He played a tambura on "Within You Without You", harmonica on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", some percussion on "Magical Mystery Tour", and was among the many participants singing on the chorus of "Yellow Submarine". As mentioned below, Harrison once claimed he, alongside Derek Taylor, should be considered the "fifth Beatle".
Derek Taylor is also attributed by some to be the fifth Beatle. He first met the band after reviewing their stage performance. Instead of the anticipated negative review of a rock-n-roll group, Taylor gave their act the highest praises. Invited to become acquainted with The Beatles' camp, he soon became a confidant, and gained his share of exclusives on them.
Eventually, he was hired away from his newspaper job by Epstein, who put him in charge of Beatles press releases, and playing media liaison to himself and the band. He also became Epstein's personal assistant.
By 1968, he became press officer for Apple Corps. As a VIP at Apple, Taylor had a major role in the company's ups and downs, making or enforcing many crucial business and personal decisions, for The Beatles and Apple's staff, and witnessing many key moments in the latter days of both. As mentioned above, Harrison once claimed he, alongside Aspinall, was the fifth member.
During The Beatles' existence (specifically, 1960–70 and the Anthology project), several musicians recorded with The Beatles in a more limited capacity, either on a Beatles' album, or on another artist's album with two or more Beatles members appearing. Hence, such artists could be dubbed "the Fifth Beatle" for a single track or two. Notable artists include:
Tony Sheridan has been referred to as the fifth Beatle. While performing in Hamburg between 1960 and 1963, he employed various backup bands. In 1961 The Beatles (comprising Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Pete Best), who had met Sheridan during their first visit to Hamburg in 1960, worked with him on their second. When German Polydor agent Bert Kaempfert saw the pairing on stage, he suggested that they make some recordings together. (At that period in time, Sheridan was the bigger name, with The Beatles as his backing band.) In 1962, after a series of singles (the first of which, "My Bonnie"/"The Saints" made it to #5 in the Hit Parade), Polydor released the album My Bonnie across Germany. The word "Beatles" was judged to sound too similar to the German "Pidels" (pronounce peedles), the plural of a slang term for penis, so the album was credited to "Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers". After The Beatles had gained fame, the album was re-released in Britain, with the credit altered to "Tony Sheridan and The Beatles".
American pianist Billy Preston has been referred to as the fifth Beatle. Apart from Sheridan, Preston was the only artist to receive joint credit on a Beatles single, on "Get Back". Preston also played the organ on "Let It Be" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and the Fender Rhodes electric piano on "Don't Let Me Down" and "Get Back". Preston had been introduced to The Beatles during the early 1960s, but did not work with them until 1969, when Harrison invited him to join them for recording sessions in order to defuse tensions in the band. Lennon once suggested that Preston join The Beatles, even using the term "Fifth Beatle", but the idea was dismissed by the others.
On the Let it Be album where Preston's performances are used the song credits list "with Billy Preston", clearly identifying him as separate from the main group, yet also giving him a level of individuality that separated him from studio session players.
To distinguish him from the common level of controversy over who is the Fifth Beatle, he is sometimes given the unique title of the "Black Beatle".
Drummer Jimmie Nicol has been called the fifth Beatle. During the band's 1964 tour, Ringo became ill and the Dutch and Danish legs of the tour were almost cancelled. Instead of cancelling, however, the band hired Nicol to stand in until Ringo recovered. The photographer following the band for the 1964 tour, Harry Benson, recalls in his book The Beatles in the Beginning, that "John was pleasant to Nicol, Paul was ambivalent, and George downright didn't like him and thought he was too pushy." George and Ringo were close and Ringo felt threatened that he was being replaced, even if it were for just a small portion of the tour.
Nicol made the most of his time in the most famous band. He signed autographs and gave interviews. Eventually there were rumours that Ringo would be replaced, but Jimmy eventually was not accepted as a member of the group, and many fans reacted with disappointment, through letters and telegrams, that Ringo might be replaced. Eventually Ringo rejoined the band on 14 June, in Melbourne, Australia. The next day Nicol, after playing a number of concerts in Sydney and Adelaide, giving interviews and signing autographs was escorted to the airport by Brian Epstein and flew home to Britain. It was later reported that Nicol was paid £500 for the gigs and was given a gold watch as a memento.
It is suggested, perhaps apocryphally, that the phrase "It's getting better" in the track "Getting Better" (on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album) was inspired by Nicol's stock response to repeated solicitous inquiries during his time with the band as to how he was coping.
Eric Clapton has been referred to as the fifth Beatle. Originally "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" had only the first guitar solo in the song off of the album. However Harrison thought that it sounded weak, and was lacking something. He called in Clapton to perform the lead guitar on the song and it was decided to cut one verse entirely and add another guitar solo towards the end of the song. After the Beatles broke up, Clapton became one of the few musicians to appear on solo recordings by each of the four.
Other references to "Fifth Beatle"
- Murray the K, a New York disc-jockey who was jokingly dubbed the "fifth Beatle" by George Harrison. Murray was one of the few who actually promoted himself with the title of Fifth Beatle. He is credited with coining the term "Fifth Beatle" when he referred to himself on air as such in 1964.
- George Best, star footballer of the 1960s, shared last name with Pete Best and celebrity lifestyle. Best was dubbed "The Fifth Beatle" and "O Quinto Beatle" by the Portuguese press after scoring twice for Manchester United in a 5–1 victory at Estádio da Luz against Benfica in the 1965–66 European Cup quarter-finals, mainly due to his Beatles-style "mop" haircut.
- Little Richard, whose gift for flamboyant self-promotion is legendary, good-naturedly claims to have "taught The Beatles everything they knew" and at times has laid claim to the title.
- Behind George in the cover picture of Abbey Road, there is a Volkswagen Beetle, and as a wordplay (Beatle/Beetle) the car has been referred to as the Fifth Beatle.
- Klaus Voormann played bass with The Beatles in the Hamburg clubs after Stu Sutcliffe left to return to art school in Hamburg. When McCartney left during the break-up, Voormann was mooted as a replacement. After the breakup, Voormann played on every solo album recorded by Lennon, Harrison, and Starr.
- Jimmy Tarbuck the Liverpudlian comedian was referred to jokingly as the Fifth Beatle, as he became famous at around the same time, emulated their hairstyle and clothes as well as sharing their accent.
- Mitch Benn, Liverpudlian musical comedian, performed an Edinburgh Festival Fringe show entitled Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle in which he counted up everyone claimed to be the fifth Beatle and tried to arrange them, "in descending order of Beatledom", including himself. This show was later performed on BBC Radio 4. The fifth Beatle on his list was Pete Best, with the rest of the list consisting of Stuart Sutcliffe (6th), Tony Sheridan (7th), the rest of the original Quarrymen (8th-12th), Andy White (13th), Jimmie Nicol (14th), Billy Preston (15th), Eric Clapton (16th), Brian Epstein (17th), George Martin (18th), Derek Taylor (19th), Mal Evans (20th), Neil Aspinall (21st), Badfinger (22nd-25th), Jeff Lynne (26th), Monty Python (27th-32nd), Neil Innes (33rd), David Catlin-Birch (34th), Neil Harrison (35th) and Elvis Costello (36th).
Fictional Fifth Beatles
- The Rutles' All You Need Is Cash, a parody of the Beatles, refers to a "fifth Rutle", "Leppo", who "disappeared [in Hamburg] after stepping into a small chest with a small German fraulein". This is apparently a reference to Sutcliffe, who left the Beatles in Hamburg and later died there, combined with a rhyming reference to Zeppo Marx, who was the "fifth" Marx Brother.
- Eddie Murphy starred in a 1983 Saturday Night Live sketch, playing the role of Clarence Walker, a man who claimed to be the fifth Beatle. Another Saturday Night Live sketch in 1988 had Phil Hartman portraying controversial John Lennon biographer Albert Goldman as the fifth Beatle.
- In 2001, Dan Bern wrote a humorous song/story entitled "The Fifth Beatles". Bern imagines a world in which Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and various other well-known musicians do stints as members of the band.
- In the film The Million Dollar Hotel, the character Dixie (played by Peter Stormare) believes himself to be Lennon.
- In a 1964 episode of Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine, Harvey Stone performed a novelty song as the fifth Beatle entitled "I'm the Beatle They Left Behind."
- Du Noyer, Paul (2012). Liverpool - Wondrous Place: From the Cavern to the Capital of Culture. Virgin Digital. p. 43. ISBN 0753512696.
- brianepstein.com: McCartney's comments about the fifth Beatle. Retrieved 12 March 2007
- "The Rolling Stone Interview: John Lennon (text and podcast)". Imaginepeace.com. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- "Honouring work of 'Fifth Beatle' Stuart Sutcliffe". St Helens Star. 13 September 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2012. "The man they call the Fifth Beatle, who 'fell in love with art' at Prescot Grammar School, is to have work displayed in a charity exhibition. ..."
- An Evening With Pete Best, Part I: The Interview. Retrieved 20 January 2007
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- "Peyton Reed to Direct THE FIFTH BEATLE, Biopic About Beatles Manager Brian Epstein". Collider. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
- "IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producer Vivek Tiwary talks 'The Fifth Beatle'". I Am Rogue. 8 July 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2013. "Broadway theater producer Vivek Tiwary stated that his project: 'will be less a music bio and more of an inspirational human-interest story about an outsider.'"
- "George Martin: 'The Fifth Beatle' Returns". NPR. 19 February 2007. Retrieved 23 September 2012. "Sir George Martin is often regarded as 'The Fifth Beatle.' ..."
- Watson, Greig (17 November 2006). "Love unveils new angle on Beatles". BBC. Retrieved 17 November 2006.
- "The Beatles 'LOVE' Podcast". The Beatles. 11 January 2007. Archived from the original on 19 January 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2007.
- Willman, Chris (8 October 2012). "'John Lennon Letters' Reveal Bitterness Toward George Martin As Well as McCartney". Yahoo Music. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- "Neil Aspinall, 'The Fifth Beatle', Dies Aged 66". The Daily Telegraph. 25 March 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2012. "Neil Aspinall, who has died aged 66, was the Beatles' original road manager and went on to run the group's business empire for 40 years; he became their chief confidant and, although not the only contender for the title of the fifth Beatle, perhaps deserved the accolade more than most. ..."
- Goldsher, Alan (2010). Paul Is Undead. Gallery Books. p. 104. ISBN 1439177929.
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- "Songwriter, 'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Dies". NPR. 6 June 2006. Retrieved 23 September 2012. "Called "the Fifth Beatle" Preston also worked with other musicians, including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Sly and the Family Stone."
- The Beatles - A/B Road: The Complete Get back Sessions, 24 January
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