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 1963–1964 as the most famous quartet in pop culture.
At The Beatles' 1988 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, George 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, Paul McCartney stated: "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was [Beatles' manager] Brian Epstein."
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).
Early group members
Before they became famous, The Beatles actually did sometimes have five members, so the following people could all be called "the Fifth Beatle":
Stuart Sutcliffe was 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 was 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. While Sutcliffe left the band in 1961, and died shortly thereafter, Best continued to perform with the band until 1962 when he was let go and replaced by Ringo Starr.
In addition, members of precursor bands (such as The Quarrymen) like Pete Shotton, Colin Hanton, Len Garry, Eric Griffiths, and Rod Davis, or any one of a number of temporary Beatles drummers, most notably Jimmie Nicol (see below), Andy White (the session drummer for the commonly-heard version of "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You"), Norman Chapman, and Tommy Moore have been discussed in this context, albeit less often. Bassist Chas Newby also performed three gigs with the band after Sutcliffe's departure.
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 reign 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 summarised 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."
The label is often applied to George Martin, who produced nearly all of The Beatles' recordings (later songs "Real Love" and "Free as a Bird" were 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 the Phil Spector re-production on the Let It Be album, 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.
A close personal friend of Pete Best (he actually lived in Best's house and fathered his youngest brother, Roag), Neil 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 April 10, 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 tamboura 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, was the fifth member.
British journalist Derek Taylor 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 confidante, 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.
Years after The Beatles had broken up, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr each worked with music producer Jeff Lynne on various solo projects, while Harrison and Lynne also worked together as members of the Traveling Wilburys. Lynne eventually became heavily involved with the Beatles Anthology, and produced the two Beatles reunion singles that resulted from that project, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love."
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:
While performing in Hamburg between 1960 and 1963, musician Tony Sheridan 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".
Apart from Sheridan, American pianist Billy 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".
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 another drummer, Jimmie 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 June 14, 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.
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. They called in Eric 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.
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.
In 1962 radio announcer and disc-jockey Bob Rogers joined Australian radio station 2SM which jumped to number 1. In 1964 Rogers was chosen to represent 2SM on the Beatles' legendary tour through Europe, Asia and Australia. Consequently Rogers became known as "the fifth Beatle".
John Melendez, better known as "Stuttering John" from The Howard Stern Show, was sent to a press conference held for the announcement of a Ringo Starr tour, following the release of Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band in 1990, and asked him: "Now that Murray the K is gone, who is the fifth Beatle?" to which Ringo replied "You are".
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.
William Stuart Campbell, Paul McCartney's replacement according to the "Paul is dead" theory.
Tatsuya Ishida, comic artist, creator of the Sinfest comic strip, jokingly called himself "fifth Beatle" in the epigraph of his strip "Conscious Again" in 2000.
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. Indeed, Richard's songs and style influenced the early Beatles, and Paul McCartney's powerful vocal covers of his songs such as "Long Tall Sally" were important in The Beatles' early career. In reality, Richard's personal interaction with The Beatles occurred over a few days in early 1963, when The Beatles were second bill to Richard at several UK performances.
Broadcaster Brian Matthew, who introduced Saturday Club on the BBC Light Programme during the 1960s, remarked on a 2006 edition of BBC Radio 2's Sounds of the 60s (15 July 2006) that, not only had Best been accorded the "fifth Beatle" eponym, but that he himself had, on one occasion, been referred to as such.
Ed Rudy, the only American news reporter to travel with The Beatles on their entire first U.S. visit .
New York–based DJ Roby Yonge, whose high profile at WABC-AM helped perpetuate the "Paul is dead" theory.
Stephen Colbert, who, on the January 28, 2009 episode of The Colbert Report, asked ex-Beatle Paul McCartney if he could be the fifth Beatle, to which Paul replied no.
Fictional Fifth Beatles
The Rutles's 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 died in Hamburg, while "Leppo" rhymes with "Zeppo". Zeppo Marx was the "fifth" Marx Brother.
In the episode "Lisa the Vegetarian" of The Simpsons animated television show featuring Paul and Linda McCartney included a scene in which Apu Nahasapeemapetilon claimed to be the fifth "Bee-at-el"; Paul rolls his eyes and says "Sure you were, Apu."
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, as saxophonist, who was kicked out by Lennon and McCartney because they wanted to steal the glory. The sketch featured Clarence's "proof" of his claims: Some out-of-tune saxophone and backing vocal parts clumsily overdubbed on a few Beatles songs, and an obviously phony picture of Clarence standing in the middle of the four Beatles. When the clearly unbelieving TV show host (portrayed by Joe Piscopo) demands further proof of his claims, Clarence offers up a recording of a Beatles song played 'backwards', which reveals two Liverpudlian accented males declaring 'Hey Paul, let's get rid of Clarence and steal all of his good ideas!'
Another Saturday Night Live sketch in 1988 portrayed controversial John Lennon biographer Albert Goldman as the fifth Beatle. In the sketch, Goldman was the group's former tuba player who wrote the Lennon biography in revenge for being fired from the group.
In one episode of Roseanne, John Goodman's character Dan Conner jokingly referred to himself as the fifth Beatle when Roseanne mentions a crush on Paul McCartney.
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.
An edition of BBC comedy Fist of Fun featured a "special guest" (played by Kevin Eldon) who claimed to be the tenth Beatle, on the basis that there were only five people with better claim to be the fifth Beatle than him. The fact that he was born in 1971 did not appear to be a problem to the man; he remarks, with some wonder, "If I had been born twenty years earlier, I could have been the fifth Beatle!"
In the Blizzard RTS PC game Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, the Crypt Lord Anub'arak says "I'm the fifth beetle" after being repeatedly clicked on.
In the film The Million Dollar Hotel, the character Dixie (played by Peter Stormare) believes himself to be the fifth Beatle.
Terry Fator, a ventriloquist, who won the 2007 America's Got Talent introduced "Hyphen", a ventriloquist puppet who claims to have been the 5th Beatle, having been kicked out for breaking their bong. He (Hyphen) even points out that he is listed in credits as co-writer of most of the songs as they are all listed as written by Lennon Hyphen McCartney, and emphasizes that he is Hyphen. In addition, Hyphen sings similarly to The Beatles, and uses tunes of various famous Beatles' songs for his social commentary songs, such as "I wanna hold your hand" becoming "I wanna shoot your head" in reference to the Pirates in Somalia, and "Yesterday" being rewritten as the tale of how Hyphen used to be the 5th Beatle only just "Yesterday".