The story of the Beatles is a story that envelops anyone who is interested in music. A whole generation grew up with them and watched them morph from mop tops to hippies and beyond. That same generation was shattered when John Lennon was killed and saddened when George succumbed to cancer. The Beatles have always been there and have always been a part of our lives. It seems to me that there is always something in the media about the Beatles and one thing that comes up time after time is the mysterious fifth Beatle. The fifth Beatle is a sort of honary title bestowed either by the media or the Beatles themselves. We all know who the Beatles were; John, Paul, George and Ringo, so who was the fifth Beatle? Here are a few of the contenders.
Stuart was a great friend of John Lennon’s and John invited him to join the band despite his lack of musical talent. In fact he couldn’t even play the guitar properly which dismayed Paul McCartney no end. However, John was the creator of the band and therefore the leader and in the band’s early days he was the eldest which counts for a lot for those in their teenage years. John and Stuart met at Art College in Liverpool where Stuart had a reputation for being a talented artist. Stuart later went to Hamburg with the Beatles where they had a long term gig as the resident band at a club in the Reeperbahn district. There he met and became involved with a young photographer called Astrid Kirchherr and stayed with her when the rest of the Beatles returned to the UK. Sutcliffe enrolled in Hamburg art college to further his artwork. Astrid was a stylish influence on the Beatles and encouraged them to abandon Brylcream and try the now famous mop top haircut which was popular at the time with students in Hamburg. She was studying art and photography and took many famous photos of the group.
Sutcliffe began to experience severe headaches and after one such episode in 1962 he was rushed to hospital. He died on the way there, the cause of death later diagnosed as a cerebral haemorrhage.
Brian Epstein was the manager of his family’s music store in Liverpool city centre, NEMS. Epstein worked hard to make the store a success and it became one of the biggest music stores in the North of England. The story goes that a local music fan came into the store and ordered a copy of ‘My Bonnie’ which the Beatles had recorded with Tony Sheridan in Germany. Epstein was curious and made enquiries about the group, later going to see them at the Cavern in Liverpool. Some have dismissed this story, as Epstein was bound to be aware of the Beatles through the local magazine Merseybeat which was on sale in NEMS and featured the Beatles in their second edition. Whatever the original facts are, Epstein liked the Beatles immediately, watched their performances several times at the Cavern and eventually approached them with an offer to be their manager. Brian Epstein went on to manage the Beatles until his death in 1967. His management of their business lives was not too successful as he was perhaps, like everyone, not prepared for the whirlwind global stardom into which the Beatles were catapulted. Marketing and licensing opportunities were lost and other artists that Epstein managed felt that they were overlooked as Brian concentrated on the Beatles.
Brian Epstein died in August 1967. The coroner recorded his death as an accidental overdose.
Brian Epstein made many attempts to get his band a recording contract with little success. One record producer famously told Epstein that ‘Guitar groups are on the way out!’ Epstein persevered and managed to get George Martin, a producer for the EMI label Parlophone to record the Beatles. Martin, who had previously worked on comedy records with stars like Peter Sellers, was reportedly not completely impressed with the Beatles’ music but more so with their wit and banter. Drummer Pete Best did not impress Martin either and he engaged a session drummer to work with the Beatles on their first recordings. That was to have important repercussions for Pete and the band later.
George Martin paired his formal musical expertise with the Beatles raw talent and in fact either wrote or performed many of the orchestral arrangements on their recordings. The violin quartet on ‘Yesterday’ was one of Martin’s ideas.
He died at the age of 90 in 2016.
Pete Best joined the Beatles in 1960 on the eve of their departure for Hamburg. He became a popular member of the group, especially with the fans and was noted for his James Dean-like moody good looks.
His mother Mona, had bought a large house in Liverpool that was formerly the West Derby Conservative club and she modelled the basement into a coffee bar which opened in the early sixties as the ‘Casbah’ and Pete played there regularly with his group the ‘Black Jacks’. Paul McCartney spotted Pete there and convinced him to join the Beatles in Hamburg.
On New Year’s Day 1962 the Beatles, including Pete on the drums, recorded fifteen songs as part of an audition for Decca. Decca ultimately rejected the Beatles but Epstein bought the tapes and managed to get George Martin from Parlophone to listen to the tracks. He liked them, offered a possible recording contract to Epstein but wanted to record the Beatles himself first. In June of 1962 the group went to Abbey Road studios to play in the recording studio for George Martin. They played a number of songs but then Martin decided he wanted a session drummer to stand in for Best. Later, the Beatles learned that at the next recording session, planned for September of 62, the engineers still wanted a session drummer so they decided that it was time to replace Best. Their new drummer, Ringo Starr, was also replaced by a session drummer and George Martin has said he was surprised that the group wanted to get rid of Pete. Pete at the time, was the most popular Beatle with the fans. Whatever the ins and outs of the issue, whether it was Pete’s drumming, the fact that he was a bit of a loner and spent little time with the others, or just didn’t fit in well with them, we will never know for sure. The three other Beatles, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison tasked Brian Epstein with giving Pete Best the sack. He was out and Ringo Starr was in.
Pete Best had missed out by a whisker on global fame and fortune on a massive scale.
Taylor was a journalist who worked for newspapers in the North West. He wrote a review of the Beatles in concert and gradually became a trusted insider and confidante of the group. Later, Brian Epstein asked him to become their press officer. He left the Beatles after their US concert tour in 1964 but returned in 1968 to become the press officer for the Beatles’ Apple Corps. In the late seventies Taylor collaborated with George Harrison on his memoir, ‘I, Me, Mine.’
Derek Taylor died in 1997 while still working for Apple on the Beatles’ Anthology book.
Neil Aspinall was the Beatles’ road manager and personal assistant and surprisingly, he was originally employed by Pete Best on behalf of the band. Neil drove the band up and down the UK to various gigs in a small Commer van for which he paid £80. Aspinall was a great friend of Pete Best and offered to resign from his work with the Beatles in sympathy with Best’s sacking but Best apparently felt Aspinall should carry on. Later, Aspinall became manager of the Apple Corps when Brian Epstein died. He was the executive producer for the Beatles’ Anthology.
He died in New York in 2008.
Murray the K.
Murray the K was a New York disc jockey in the early sixties. When the Beatles first went to the USA in 1964 Murray was an instant hit with the band. He accompanied them to various events in the US and even broadcast his radio show from the Beatles’ Plaza hotel suite. He claimed to have been named the fifth Beatle by either George Harrison or Ringo Starr and his radio station WINS built him up as the ‘Fifth Beatle’ in their publicity.