The notion of a Fifth Beatle emerged when US radio DJ Murray the K joked about giving The Beatles so much airtime in America, that he should be considered the ‘Fifth Beatle’. From the early days of ‘Beatlemania’ the legend grew. However, the answer to the puzzle is clear: there wasn’t a Fifth Beatle. Instead, The Beatles’ immense success sparked the legend of an honorary ‘fifth’ member. Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were the undisputed Fab Four. Nevertheless, here are the candidates for the elusive fifth spot.
A serious contender for the role of ‘Fifth Beatle’ was Brian Epstein. Manager of the band from 1962, until his untimely death in 1967. Publicly The Beatles addressed him as ‘Mr Epstein’ or ‘Brian’, in private they affectionately referred to him as ‘Eppy’, or ‘Bri’. Epstein wasn’t involved in the music. But he was nonetheless the key architect of ‘Beatlemania’. He expertly engineered the ‘mob’ of screaming fans that met The Beatles at every public turn and profoundly influenced their public image from their early ‘clean cut’ appearance to the psychedelic military ideal of Sgt Pepper. In the words of Paul McCartney, ‘If anyone was a fifth Beatle, it was Brian’.
Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor
Neil Aspinall, a school friend of Harrison and McCartney, became The Beatles’ road manager in 1961. Aspinall charged The Beatles five shillings per head to transport them across the country in his Grey and Maroon Commer van. He later became the band’s personal assistant, fixer and confident. From time to time Aspinall contributed musically, notably playing harmonica on ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ and percussion on ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. Following Brian Epstein’s death, The Beatles appointed Aspinall CEO of the band’s multi-media company, Apple Corps.
In 1988, George Harrison said that Neil Aspinall was one of two people worthy of the title of Fifth Beatle, with Derek Taylor being the other. Taylor, a Daily Express journalist and avid reviewer of the Beatles became closely connected with Brian Epstein and the band, soon overseeing The Beatles press releases, and eventually assuming the role of press officer for Apple Corps in 1968.
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Several former band members have been bestowed with the title of Fifth Beatle. One such figure was the original bassist of the then five-piece band, Stuart Sutcliffe. However, Sutcliffe’s dismissal from the band due to sub-par musical skills makes him an unlikely candidate. Similarly, temporary bassist Chas Newby, who filled in for four gigs in 1960, and Jimmie Nichol, who played eight shows in 1964 after Ringo Starr fell ill, left no lasting impact on the band’s composition, style or success. Among former Beatles, the most plausible contender is the band’s original drummer, Pete Best. Best joined The Beatles in 1960. However, after their first recording session in 1962, he was replaced by Ringo Starr due to his lackluster performance.
While some may consider him the Fifth Beatle, in 1995 Best ruled himself out, asserting that he was actually the fourth Beatle, not the fifth.
George Martin, perhaps above all others, has been referred to as the Fifth Beatle because of his key role in each of The Beatles’ original records. He was the man responsible for getting them signed to EMI and went on to produce the lion’s share of their albums, offering expertise and guidance in the studio and helping to shape their iconic sound. Martin also featured on a number of The Beatles records as a musician. He crafted many of The Beatles’ string and horn arrangements and played piano and harpsichord on records such as ‘In My Life’ ‘Fixing a Hole’, and ‘All You Need Is Love’.
Despite John Lennon’s at times bullish resistance to acknowledging Martin’s influence, both Paul McCartney and Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son Julian, claimed in their Eulogies to Martin following his death, that if anyone deserved the title of fifth Beatle, it would unquestionably be George Martin.