Fifth Beatle

From Academic Kids

The Beatles were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

The title The Fifth Beatle has over the years been applied to several people who were at one point a member of The Beatles, or who had a strong association with the "fab four."


Early Group Members

Before they were famous, The Beatles actually did have five members for a time, so "the fifth Beatle" has been used, accurately, to describe their bassist at the time, Stuart Sutcliffe, who left the band in 1962, and died of a brain hemorrhage shortly thereafter. Similarly, their drummer Pete Best (replaced by the more experienced drummer Ringo Starr when the band got a record contract) is often cited as the "fifth Beatle."

Members of precursor bands (such as the Quarrymen) like Pete Shotton, Colin Hanton, and any one of a number of temporary Beatles drummers have, less often, been discussed in this context.

Producer George Martin

The label is often applied to George Martin, who produced nearly all their recordings. Martin's extensive musical training and sophisticated guidance in the studio are often credited as a very substantial contribution to the work of The Beatles; some contend that he is responsible for transforming a good rock and roll group into the most extraordinary popular musicians of their era. Martin's piano playing also appears on several of their tracks, for example "In My Life."

Billy Preston

Pianist Billy Preston was the only artist to receive joint credit on a Beatles record, on "Get Back". Preston also played the keyboard on "Let It Be". Preston had been introduced to the Beatles during the early 1960s, but did not work with them until 1969, when Harrison invited him to join them for recording sessions in order to defuse tensions in the band. Lennon once suggested that Preston join the Beatles, but the idea was dismissed by the others, as by that time, they were on the verge of breaking up.

Jimmy Nichol

During the band's 1964 tour, Ringo became ill and the Dutch and Danish legs of the tour were almost cancelled. Instead of cancelling, however, the band hired another drummer, Jimmy Nichol, to stand in until Ringo became better. The photographer following the band for the 1964 tour, Harry Benson, recalls in his book The Beatles in the Beginning, that "John was pleasnt to [Nichol], Paul was ambivalent, and George downright didn't like him and thought he was too pushy." George and Ringo were close and Ringo felt threatened that he was replaced, if even for a small portion of the tour.

Nichol made the most of his time in the most famous band. He signed autographs and gave interviews. He was a good drummer, too. Eventually there were rumours that Ringo would be replaced. But Jimmy eventually wasn't accepted as a member of the group, and many fans reacted with disappointment, through letters and telegrams, that Ringo might be replaced.

Other candidates

Other people who have been referred to as (or claimed to be) "the Fifth Beatle" include:

  • Brian Epstein, the band's manager until his death in 1967
  • Neil Aspinall, assistant, road manager and close personal friend of the four. The Beatles once claimed he was indeed the fifth member.
  • Mal Evans, roadie, assistant, and friend. His role as 'anvil player' on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" should also be taken into account.
  • Murray the K, a New York disc-jockey who made the completely unfounded claim to be the Fifth Beatle.

Several musicians recorded with the Beatles in a more limited capacity, and hence could be dubbed "the Fifth Beatle" for a single track or two:

  • Eric Clapton, who played guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" .
  • Jeff Lynne who played a number of guitar parts on "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love" .
  • Tony Sheridan who recorded with the Beatles for Polydor in Hamburg could arguably claim to have been a band member at this time.
  • Yoko Ono, John Lennon's second wife, might be referred to as a fifth Beatle, having attended most recording sessions after around May 1968, when John insisted that she be allowed to sit and watch, to the break-up of the group, for which some resentful fans blamed her. She was in fact a fixture during the recording sessions, to the chagrin of the band members, who until then were used to having only the four of them in the studio at one time. She also contributed to several songs on The White Album, e.g., ""The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Birthday".
  • Paul McCartney's wife Linda might also belong in this list, as she apparently provided backing vocals on either Let It Be or Hey Jude (even Paul can't seem to decide which) as well as "Birthday".
  • Phil Spector, producer of Let It Be. The January 1969 recordings for the album were embarassing and the Beatles didn't want to have anything to do with them. They dumped the tapes on their engineer, Glyn Johns, and told him to come back with an album. In May 1969, Johns came back with the best he could do, and the Beatles rejected it. Spector had been lobbying for a long time to work with the Beatles, so, in March 1970, he was given the tapes and re-worked them.

"The Fifth Beatle" in popular culture

  • Eddie Murphy starred in a Saturday Night Live sketch (, playing the role of "Clarence", a man who claimed to be the fifth Beatle, as saxophonist, who was kicked out by John and Paul because they wanted to steal the glory. The sketch featured Clarence's "proof" of his claims: Some out-of-tune saxophone and backing vocal parts clumsily overdubbed on a few Beatles songs, and an obviously phony picture of Clarence standing in the middle of the four Beatles.
  • An episode (Lisa the Vegetarian) of The Simpsons animated television show featuring Paul and Linda McCartney included a scene in which Apu Nahasapeemapetilon claimed to be the fifth Beatle (though he mispronounces it "Bee-At-el" and gets most all the words to "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" wrong). (Paul's weary response: "Sure you were, Apu.")
  • An edition of BBC comedy Fist of Fun featured a 'special guest' (played by Kevin Eldon) who claimed to be the fifth Beatle. The fact that he was born in 1971 didn't appear to be problem to the man as he remarks, with some wonder 'If I had been born twenty years earlier, I could have been the fifth Beatle!'


Benson, Harry, The Beatles In The Beginning. New York: Universe Publishing, 1993. ISBN 0876636423.


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