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Even the most casual music fan knows that there were four members of the Beatles, the iconic English rock group widely regarded as the most influential band of all time: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Yet over the years, many people have been given the informal yet much-coveted title of “The Fifth Beatle.” Some were associated with the creative or business aspects of the band's success, while others were briefly members of the group at one time or another.
The label first came about in 1964 when American disc jockey Murray the K joked that the amount of promotion and coverage he gave the Beatles on his radio program made him “The Fifth Beatle.” Other people who have variously held the label include the group’s original drummer Pete Best, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, and keyboard player Billy Preston.
Paul McCartney has his own views on who “The Fifth Beatle” actually was. In his opinion, George Martin, the band's producer, deserves the title. Martin gave the Beatles their first recording contract and was like a second father to McCartney. George Harrison, however, thought that Derek Taylor, the band’s public relations manager, and Neil Aspinall, their road manager, deserved the label. But what about some of the band’s original members?
Stuart Sutcliffe was the bassist for the Beatles during their time as a club act. He was influential in developing the band’s image, as he was the first to wear the famous Beatles' mop top hairstyle and the first to don a Pierre Cardin jacket, a garment that would eventually come to define the band. He also helped come up with the band’s name, along with good friend John Lennon. His time with the Beatles did not last, however, as he left in 1961 to pursue a career as a painter. Tragically, a year later, a brain hemorrhage claimed his life at just 21 years old.
The Fab Five?
- The death of Stuart Sutcliffe hit John Lennon hard. He described Sutcliffe as his "alter ego,” “a spirit in his world,” and “a guiding force." For several years after his death, Sutcliffe’s image appeared “spirit-like” on the band’s album covers, including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
- Pete Best, the Beatles' original drummer, was dismissed by manager Brian Epstein in 1962 and was replaced with Ringo Starr. Incidentally, Epstein has also been widely dubbed "The Fifth Beatle."
- For thirteen days in 1964, drummer Jimmie Nicol replaced Ringo Starr during the Beatles’ 1964 world tour, when Starr was recovering from tonsillitis. When the band reached Australia, Ringo was back at his drum kit.