Who Was the 5th Beatle?GuitarSpotting
You may have heard something by now about this little rock group from Liverpool, England called The Beatles. Apparently they caused quite a stir.
The band members are often referred to as the Fab Four: John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Seems like the whole world has been on a first-name basis with these 4 moptops since the sixties, and they were all essential members of the band in terms of both musicality and personality.
But over the years, there’s been an ongoing discussion among many Beatles fans, as to who should be known as the 5th Beatle.
It’s a fun game to play, because there are so many interesting candidates.
So we thought it’d be fun to take another look and see if we can solve this mystery once and for all.
Who was the Fifth Beatle?
Three Cool Cats
Before looking at the candidates, we’ll set the stage by examining the early days of the Beatles. It’s a fascinating story, and all 6 of our top contenders met the band during this time period, when they were struggling musicians, before they were famous. It was a crucial time in the band’s history, and the world was on the verge of a musical revolution.
Our tale begins on the fateful day of July 6, 1957, when 16-year-old John Lennon and his skiffle group the Quarrymen were scheduled to perform at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool, and where John was first introduced to a 15-year-old schoolboy named Paul McCartney.
John and Paul soon discovered they had much in common. They had great respect for each other’s musical talent, loved a lot of the same songs, and quickly became fast friends.
Later Paul introduced John to his 14-year-old schoolmate, an aspiring guitarist named George Harrison. The three began hanging out together, and occasionally playing music as well.
They were a group, but just barely: still too young to take it seriously, the gigs were infrequent and informal. After all, this was a band essentially made up of three guitarists. But they knew they had some kind of spark.
Several people moved in and out of the group at various times, but they could never find a permanent drummer. And so the core three remained through several band name changes until January, 1960, when they added Stuart Sutcliffe on bass.
Stuart Sutcliffe was also once an official member of the Beatles. And he might have remained in the group longer if John had his way.
By January 1960, John, Paul and George were good friends, but there was a bit of an age gap between them. John Lennon was a year ahead in school attending Liverpool Art College, where he met a talented young painter named Stuart Sutcliffe, who was a little more sophisticated than Paul and George at that time.
John eventually became Stu’s roommate, and the two were very close. Stuart sold one of his paintings, and John convinced him to use the funds to buy a Hofner bass and join the Beatles. Stu had no idea how to play the bass guitar, but John Lennon could be very persuasive.
John adored Stuart, which made the other Beatles (particularly Paul) a little jealous.
For a short period of time, Stu also acted as the Beatles’ booking agent, although there still weren’t a lot of gigs. When Allan Williams entered the scene, he took over the job.
One afternoon, Stuart, John and his future wife Cynthia were sitting in the Jacaranda discussing their love of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, when Stu came up with the name Beetles for the band. John later changed the spelling to “Beatles” as a play on words about “beat” music.
In Hamburg, the Beatles soon met the Exi’s, a group of “existential” art students with a flair for the dramatic. They were Astrid Kirchherr, Klaus Voormann, and Jürgen Vollmer. Astrid gave them their Beatle haircuts, and took some of the first photographs of the band. Some of these photos used a distinctive lighting style that the Beatles would later re-create on the album cover for With the Beatles.
And it wasn’t long before Stuart and Astrid fell in love.
The initial Hamburg run ended abruptly, though, when the Beatles decided to move to a better club.
Bruno Koschmider was not amused, and informed the authorities that George was only 17 years old. There was a curfew for people under 18 at the time, and the Beatles had been hired to play until the wee hours of the morning.
George was sent home, and around this time Paul and Pete were caught lighting a condom on fire in Koschmider’s bar. It was harmless, but Bruno called the police, and they were soon deported. John returned to Liverpool shortly afterwards.
“I grew up in Hamburg, not Liverpool.” – John Lennon
Stu stayed in Hamburg with Astrid for a couple of months before returning to Liverpool, where he rejoined the Beatles. When the band returned to Hamburg a second time, Stuart accompanied them and never went back.
Stuart wasn’t very musical, and Paul was often critical of his rudimentary bass playing skills. Stu knew it was only a matter of time before he would have to leave the group, and in July 1961, he’d finally had enough. He informed the Beatles that he was leaving to concentrate on his painting, and enrolled in the Hamburg College of Art.
It was at this point that Paul McCartney officially became the bass player for the Beatles.
“In Hamburg we got very good as a band because we had to play eight hours a night and we started building a big repertoire of some of our own songs.” – George Harrison
After the Beatles returned to Liverpool the second time, Stuart began experiencing terrible headaches back in Hamburg, collapsing once in art class. Doctors performed several tests, but the results were inconclusive. Many suspect that he’d suffered brain trauma earlier, when badly beaten by some thugs after a Beatles concert back in England.
In April 1962, Stuart collapsed again. This time, the cause was a brain aneurysm, and he died before they could get him to the hospital, at age 21.
A couple of days later, the Beatles returned to Hamburg by boat for their 3rd residency, only to be informed by Astrid at the dock that Stuart was dead. John was devastated by the news.
A picture of Stu can be seen in the top left corner of the album cover for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Mal Evans was a telephone engineer who began working part-time as a bouncer at the Cavern Club in 1962, where he first met the Beatles.
They became friends, and Mal was soon asked to be their assistant road manager. He ended up performing many different tasks over the years, while remaining a member of the Beatles’ exclusive inner circle throughout the sixties. The Beatles were fond of Mal, and socialized with him frequently.
He was sometimes referred to as the “Gentle Giant”, being a large 6’5 tall man with an intimidating look, though in reality he was quiet and friendly.
Throughout the Beatles’ touring years, Mal was a key member of the team, and some of his duties included driving the tour van, unloading and setting up equipment, acting as the band’s bodyguard and head of security, and picking up items whenever they needed something in various cities on the road.
He also appeared on several Beatles tracks, most famously performing the “countdown” in ‘A Day in the Life’. Evans played on several other Beatles songs, including ‘You Won’t See Me’, ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Helter Skelter’.
He also appeared in 4 of the Beatles 5 films.
“I do remember one incident: going up the motorway when the windscreen got knocked out by a pebble. Our great road manager Mal Evans was driving and he just put his hat backwards on his hand, punched the windscreen out completely, and drove on.” – Paul McCartney
After the Beatles broke up, Evans worked with a number of different bands including Badfinger and Splinter, but continued to work and socialize with the now-solo members of the Beatles. He co-wrote the song ‘You and Me (Babe)’ with George, which appeared on Ringo’s 1973 solo album.
By the mid-seventies, Mal was living in Los Angeles and began acting erratically. On January 5, 1976, his girlfriend called police to report that Mal had a gun, was on Valium, and was acting confused. Police arrived on the scene, and while Evans was only holding an air rifle, he pointed his gun at the police officers, and refused to drop his weapon. He was shot and killed by police.
Evans had written a biography detailing his time with the Beatles called Living The Beatles’ Legend, but the manuscript remains unpublished.
By late 1961, the Beatles had made several trips to Hamburg, often playing for 8-10 hours a night, and had really learned how to twist and shout on stage.
Their business affairs, however, were far from organized.
The Beatles had briefly experimented at having a manager before. Mona Best and Allan Williams had each loosely managed the group for a time, but the Beatles had a falling out with both, and were once again on their own.
They now had a great live act, and were gaining popularity in Liverpool. They took up residence playing a series of lunchtime concerts at the infamous Cavern Club, and that’s where they were on November 9, 1961, when Brian Epstein entered the building.
Brian was an interesting character with an upper-class demeanor, and a cellarful of secrets. He came from a wealthy family, and after an attempt to become an actor in London ended poorly, he returned to Liverpool and began to run the record department at the family-owned NEMS (North End Music Store).
Despite having no interest in the family business before, Brian soon discovered he was quite good at his job. Eventually the family opened a second store in Liverpool, and asked Brian to manage the ground floor.
Back in Hamburg, the Beatles had befriended another British musician named Tony Sheridan, and accompanied him to a recording session, where they backed him up (billed as the Beat Brothers). One song they recorded was a cover of ‘My Bonnie’, which was released in Germany to a minimal amount of success.
Legend has it that a customer named Raymond Jones entered NEMS one day and asked Brian for a copy of ‘My Bonnie’, which led to him ordering copies of the single, and seeking out more information about the Beatles.
Tony Sheridan (and the Beat Brothers) – My Bonnie
However, this story is probably not true. Bill Harry (a friend of John and Stu’s at the Liverpool Art College) had started a magazine called Mersey Beat about the local music scene in Liverpool in July, 1961. He arranged for Brian to sell copies at NEMS, which quickly sold out. The second issue, with the Beatles on the front page, also quickly sold out, and Brian approached Harry about writing a record review column. So Brian was almost certainly aware of the Beatles (who were also regular customers at NEMS) before he went to see them at the Cavern Club.
Whatever led him to their door, Brian was immediately blown away by their performance, and sensed that they had great potential. Within days, he approached the Beatles about managing the group, and they soon accepted the offer.
“I was immediately struck by their music, their beat, and their sense of humour on stage. And even afterwards when I met them I was struck again by their personal charm.” – Brian Epstein
Epstein set his sites on getting the Beatles a recording contract, and was turned down by almost every music company in London. He famously arranged for an audition at Decca, where the boys performed a bunch of songs on January 1, 1962. They weren’t bad, but the group sounded nervous and out of their element, and were quickly turned down.
“Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein.” – Dick Rowe, Decca Records (1962)
As a last-ditch effort, Brian went back to London in May and eventually got the group an audition with George Martin at Parlophone. George wasn’t overly impressed the first time he heard them, but soon saw a spark in the Beatles, just as Brian had. Within months, they would be churning out number one hit singles.
It’s hard to understate the influence Brian had on the Beatles. He was tremendously honest (to a fault), contrary to your typical music industry figure, and quickly earned their trust. He convinced them to stop eating and swearing on stage, and to replace their leather outfits with matching suits. He began booking all their shows, getting them more money per gig within days, and handled their financial affairs along with their concert and recording schedules.
His professional, courteous manner forced people to take them seriously, and his enthusiasm won them over.
The Beatles relied on Brian tremendously throughout the years, and famously signed every contract he presented without bothering to read them.
When they decided to fire Pete Best, they made Epstein to do it.
He also handled the group’s merchandising, although it was a new concept in those days, and he ended up signing a disastrous deal that would cost the Beatles millions of dollars.
Brian created a management company and began managing other musical acts, though nothing could touch his loyalty to the Beatles. He managed Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Fourmost, Billy J. Kramer, the Cyrkle, Tommy Quickly, and Cilla Black, who he adored.
“If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian Epstein.” – Paul McCartney (1997)
Brian became depressed after the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, as he had a lot less work to do, which made it more difficult to stave off the feelings of loneliness and isolation that had haunted him for years.
Brian was gay, at a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable (and was, in fact, illegal) to be so. He also experienced some discrimination due to his Jewish heritage. The stress of keeping his sexuality a secret led many of his friends to believe he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
In the early days, the Beatles had introduced Brian to the stimulant drug Preludin, which they started taking in Hamburg when they were working eight days a week. They all relied on these pills to stay awake during many a hard day’s night spent at concert venues, and on the road traveling from town to town.
By the mid-sixties, Brian was addicted to several types of pills, and had his hands full managing his addictions in addition to his bands. He also battled severe insomnia.
The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in June 1967. Shortly afterwards, in August 1967, Brian ingested a fatal mix of sleeping pills and alcohol, passing away in his sleep at the age of 32. His death was ruled an accident.
The Beatles were stunned, having never having taken much interest in the business side of things before. Losing Brian would later be considered by many fans and observers to be the beginning of the end for the Beatles.
Klaus Voorman & Astrid Kirchnerr
When the Beatles first went to Hamburg in 1960, they were young and inexperienced. Spending a few months on the notorious Reeperbahn changed all that, as the Beatles hung out with strippers, transvestites and gangsters, often playing for 8-10 hours a night, 7 days a week.
One night, a young German named Klaus Voorman entered the club, and was enthralled by the Beatles. He later dragged his friends Astrid Kirchnerr and Jürgen Vollmer out to see them.
Klaus remained a confidante of the group throughout the Beatle years and into the ’70s. He designed the album cover collage for their album Revolver, and later became the bass player for Manfred Mann. He played bass on solo albums by John, George and Ringo.
Astrid gave Klaus, and later Stuart Sutcliffe, the famous Beatle hairstyle. On a trip to Paris, John and Paul ran into Jürgen Vollmer, and asked him to give them Beatle haircuts as well. George soon followed (though Pete did not), and the rest was hair-story. Astrid also took the iconic early photos of the Beatles in Germany.
Murray the K
Murray the K was a New York disc jockey who helped heavily promote the Beatles when they first arrived in New York City in 1964 for their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The case for Murray as the 5th Beatle is pretty weak, but it should be noted that he referred to himself as the “Fifth Beatle” on air, and probably coined the term. George Harrison also jokingly called him the 5th Beatle at that time.
Clarence claims to have been a saxophone player and the 5th Beatle in the early days of the group, helping write songs like ‘She Loves You, Man’, until they had a falling out, with the Beatles removing Clarence and his contributions from all photos and recordings. With little physical proof available to substantiate these claims, Clarence’s exact connection to the Beatles remains a mystery.
Billy was a prolific musician who first met the Beatles in Hamburg in 1962. He was especially skilled at playing the Hammond organ.
When the Beatles were making the album and film project that would later become Let It Be, tensions were mounting within the group. They hated filming and recording in a huge studio space and were arguing frequently, so Billy was brought in to give the band a boost, and help lighten the mood.
At one point during these sessions, John even suggested that Billy join the band as a real actual “5th Beatle”, but the idea was quickly dropped. Preston can be heard quite prominently throughout the album, and can also be seen and heard playing with the group in their infamous rooftop concert at Apple.
Billy is the only person ever credited on a Beatles recording, other than the Fab Four themselves. The single ‘Get Back’ is billed as “The Beatles with Billy Preston“.