Who Should Be The Fifth Beatle?
For as long as the Beatles have been in the spotlight, there has been talk of a fifth Beatle among fans, critics, and even the Fab Four themselves. Everyone who has been dubbed with this very unofficial, but nonetheless important, title lent the band some kind of support or motivation, and was essential to helping them become the legends they are today.
Though there are many who have been considered for the position, the question remains: Who was the fifth Beatle? There is a strong case for every stand-in drummer, record producer, and childhood friend who contributed to the Beatles' narrative. While some played their part from when the band formed in 1960 to their rooftop performance in 1969, there are also those who made their mark after only a short time with George, John, Paul, and Ringo.
Dozens of people have laid claim to the title of the fifth Beatle, but very few are actually deserving of it.
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While Brian Epstein may have been responsible for the band's image, George Martin was behind the Beatles' one-of-a-kind sound, which is said to have transformed the trajectory of popular music. He was a classically trained composer working as a producer for Parlophone Records, and by 1962, he was running the label and looking to sign a rock band. The Beatles, who were seeking their big break, entered the scene, and Martin felt they had a chance even though he didn't like their music very much:
They had this wonderful charisma. They made you feel good to be with them. And I thought their music was rubbish.
He eventually came to love, and greatly influence, their songs. As their closest collaborator and one of their only producers, he penned many orchestral arrangements, created new ways to generate more experimental sounds, and even played on some tracks himself.
After Martin perished in 2016, Paul McCartney said:
If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George. From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I've ever had the pleasure to know.
- Age: Dec. at 90 (1926-2016)
- Birthplace: England, London, HM Prison Holloway
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Billy Preston was just 15 and a touring member of Little Richard's band when he met the Beatles in 1962. Little Richard's band is even credited with influencing the Beatles' widely popular sound. Preston and the boys wouldn't meet again until 1969, when the Beatles were recording what would be their final album, Let It Be. During those tumultuous sessions, George Harrison quit and walked out, eventually bringing Preston back to the studio with him to ease tensions.
Preston's musicianship was so well respected that John Lennon wanted to make him a full-fledged band member. He played the keyboard on "Get Back," which ranked at No. 1 on the British charts. And though the Beatles occasionally had stand-in musicians throughout their career, Preston was the only one to be equally credited as "the Beatles with Billy Preston." He also played with the group during their final performance on a London rooftop.
- Age: Dec. at 59 (1946-2006)
- Birthplace: Houston, Texas, United States of America
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The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein first spotted them at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in 1961, and it was love at first sight:
I was immediately struck by their music... and their sense of humor on stage... and even afterward, when I met them, I was struck again by their personal charm, and it was there that it all started.
He signed them in 1962 and changed their rough and tumble, leather-clad image to that of a squeaky clean group in sharp suits and matching haircuts. Ringo Starr joined the band, and within a year the Beatles were at the top of the charts.
Epstein made the boys household names, but as they achieved global success, he fell prey to the excesses of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. He began taking pills, and after a steep downhill slope, he unexpectedly perished on August 27, 1967, from an accidental OD.
The Beatles struggled to recover from the loss, and they broke up just three years later.
- Age: Dec. at 32 (1934-1967)
- Birthplace: Liverpool, United Kingdom
- Photo: Stuart Sutcliffe - The Lost Beatle / Stanza Media478 VOTES
Stuart Sutcliffe met John Lennon at art school, and the two became fast friends. Sutcliffe wasn’t much of a musician, but Lennon was still able to convince him to buy a bass and join the group in Hamburg. Soon after the band’s arrival, Sutcliffe met photographer Astrid Kirchherr and they fell in love. In 1961, he quit the Beatles to paint and live full-time with Kirchherr in Germany.
His happiness was short-lived, however. After a series of increasingly severe headaches, he sufferd a brain hemorrhage on April 10, 1962, at just 21 years old. John Lennon, who was devastated by the loss of his friend, said, "I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth. Stu would tell me if something was good and I’d believe him."
- Age: Dec. at 21 (1940-1962)
- Birthplace: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
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To many Beatles fans, Pete Best is arguably the legendary fifth Beatle, as he was the only person outside of John, Paul, George, and Ringo who was in the band for any real length of time. Best started his tenure with the band when its members were known as the Silver Beatles. In the early 1960s, the boys took off for Hamburg, Germany, where they spent a few months living in close quarters, playing night after night, and honing their craft. By 1962, record labels came calling, but just before the group was set to make a demo for EMI, Best was unceremoniously let go. Manager Brian Epstein broke the news, according to Best:
Unbeknownst to me, they'd approached Ringo [Starr]. [Brian] said, "Pete, I don't know how to tell you this. The boys want you out" - those were the words - "and it's already been arranged."
Some say Best was fired because he simply didn’t fit with the direction the Beatles were taking. Everyone but him had moved on from '50s-style pompadours and leather to the classic mop tops and suits the band has since become famous for. Other stories suggest John, Paul and George were jealous of his looks.
Despite this, he has no regrets or bitterness, saying, "They are the most famous musicians in the world... regardless of what happened, I played a key part in that."
- Age: 81
- Birthplace: Chennai, India
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Neil Aspinall was a schoolmate of Paul and George at the Liverpool Institute for Boys and initially made his career as the Beatles' road manager and assistant. He eventually became a manager at their label, Apple Corps, after Brian Epstein perished. Over time, he took on the title of CEO, holding the position for four decades.
Aspinall is credited with helping the Beatles' brand remain successful well after their 1970 break-up. He's also largely responsible for amassing the band's £2 billion fortune before succumbing to lung cancer in 2008.
- Age: Dec. at 66 (1941-2008)
- Birthplace: Prestatyn, United Kingdom