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Fifth Beatle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Fifth Beatle is a title that has over the years been applied to several people who were at one point a member of The Beatles, or who had a strong association with the "Fab Four" other than John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

Early group members

Before they became famous, The Beatles actually did have five members for a time, so "the fifth Beatle" has been used, accurately, to describe their bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, who left the band in 1961, and died of a brain hemorrhage shortly thereafter. George Martin has also been claimed to have been the fifth Beatle.

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, such as Tommy Moore, have, less often, been discussed in this context. Similarly, their drummer Pete Best (replaced by Ringo Starr when the band got a record contract) is often cited as the "fifth Beatle."

Producer George Martin

The label is often applied to George Martin, who produced nearly all the Beatles' recordings 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 "Let It Be"). 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 extraordinary popular musicians of their era. Martin's piano playing also appears on several of their tracks, including "Misery" and "In My Life".

Billy Preston

Pianist Billy Preston was (apart from Tony Sheridan) the only artist to receive joint credit on a Beatles record, on "Get Back". Preston also played the organ on "Let It Be" and the Rhodes electric piano on "Don't Let Me Down". 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, 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".

Jimmy Nicol

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, Jimmy 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 was 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. He was a good drummer too. 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 14th, 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 pounds 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.

Other candidates

Other people who have been referred to as (or claimed to be) "the Fifth Beatle" include:

  • Brian Epstein, the band's manager until his death in 1967. In an interview in the 1990s describing Epstein's involvement in the band's rise to fame, George Martin declared "He's the fifth Beatle, if there ever was one".
  • Neil Aspinall, assistant, road manager and close personal friend of the four. The Beatles once claimed he was indeed the fifth member.
  • Alf Bicknell, driver, roadie and friend. He released a DVD titled The Beatles Diary, in which he shares stories of his experiences with the Beatles.
  • Mal Evans, roadie, assistant, and friend. His roles as Hammond organ player on "You Won't See Me," 'anvil player' on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and his solo on alarm clock on "A Day in the Life" should also be taken into account.

Several musicians recorded with the Beatles in a more limited capacity, and hence could be dubbed "the Fifth Beatle" for a single track or two:

  • Eric Clapton, who played guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Also held a close friendship with all four Beatles, especially George, and was a major influence on his guitar-playing during their latter half.
  • Klaus Voormann, who was in contact with all the Beatles since the Hamburg days in the early 1960s. He designed the Revolver album cover for them in 1966. In addition, he played bass guitar on many singles and albums released by John, George, and Ringo after the breakup through the mid-1970s. For a time in the early 70s, rumors spread that he would replace Paul in a new configuration of the band, possibly accompanied by Billy Preston. This line-up is sometimes referred to as "The Ladders". (See also: "I'm The Greatest")
  • Jeff Lynne, who co-produced and played a number of guitar parts on "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love".
  • Tony Sheridan, who recorded with the Beatles for Polydor in Hamburg. At the time he was the bigger name, and the Beatles were acting as his backup band.
  • Paul McCartney's wife Linda might also belong in this list, as she apparently provided backing vocals on either Let It Be or Hey Jude (McCartney can't seem to decide which) as well as "Birthday".
  • John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono. Ono contributed vocals on "Revolution 9" (The White Album).
  • Phil Spector, producer of Let It Be. The January 1969 recordings for the album, produced during a time of tremendous strife among band members, were somewhat lacking, and the band didn't seem to want to have anything more to do with them. Dumping the tapes on engineer Glyn Johns, they told him to come back with an album. In May 1969, Johns came back with the best he could do, and the Beatles rejected it. Spector had been lobbying for a long time to work with the Beatles, so, in March 1970, he was given the tapes and re-worked them. However, his use of his famous Wall of Sound style with the Beatles music has had nearly as many detractors as fans over the years, and Let It Be eventually became the only Beatles album to be re-titled and re-released in a substantially different form (Let It Be... Naked), with Spector's overdubs largely removed.
  • Wilfred Brambell, probably the only man who could honestly claim to be one of the five stars of a Beatle movie.

Spurious/joke claims

Other well known persons who have been called "the Fifth Beatle" include:

  • 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.
  • George Best, star footballer of the 1960s, owing to his huge talent, enormous popularity, long-haired good looks and celebrity lifestyle. Best was dubbed "O Beatle" by the Portuguese press after scoring two goals for Manchester United in a 5 - 1 victory in Lisbon against Benfica in the European Cup in 1965. [1][2][3]. 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.
  • Larry Kane, a long time Philadelphia news anchor that travelled with the Beatles on their first US tour[citation needed].
  • Dave Hull, a Los Angeles radio personality who conducted fourteen taped interviews with the band in 1965-66. Hull and Bob Eubanks helped plan their 1966 Hollywood Bowl concert[citation needed].
  • Ed Rudy, the only American news reporter to travel with The Beatles on their entire first U.S. visit[citation needed].
  • William Sheppard, Paul McCartney's replacement according to the "Paul is dead" theory.


"The Fifth Beatle" in popular culture

  • The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, often referred to as the fifth Beatle (cited above), was the inspiration for the forthcoming film The Fifth Beatle.
  • Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, was often referred to as the fifth Beatle, as a result of his similar effect to society and culture through entertainment. [citation needed]
  • Charles Manson believed he was the fifth Beatle. Manson believed that the Book of Revelations 9th Chapter said that the Beatles were four angels. The chapter also went on to say that the four angels would call a fifth angel who would have a key to a bottomless pit, which Manson believed he had. To Manson this was proof that he was the fifth Beatle.
  • Eddie Murphy starred in a 1983 Saturday Night Live sketch, playing the role of "Clarence", a man who claimed to be the fifth Beatle, as saxophonist, who was kicked out by John and Paul 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. The clearly unbelieving tv-show host, portrayed by Joe Piscopo, demands further proof of his claims. So "Clarence" offers up a recording of a Beatles song played 'backwords', which reveals two Liverpudlian accented males declaring 'Hey Paul, let's kick Clarence out of the band and steal all of his good ideas!' Another Saturday Night Live sketch in 1988 portrayed Albert Goldman as the fifth Beatle.
  • An 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 Beatle (though he mispronounces it "Bee-at-el" (rhymes with Seattle, also the same mispronunciation used by the Eastern cult in the film Help!) and gets most of the words to "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" wrong: I'm Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club man, I hope I will enjoy my show!). Paul's eye-rolling response: "Sure you were, Apu."
  • 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 didn't appear to be a problem to the man as 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 3, 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.


Benson, Harry, The Beatles In The Beginning. New York: Universe Publishing, 1993. ISBN 0-87663-642-3.

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