Throughout The Beatles’ career, many of their associates have been referred to as “the fifth Beatle”. Those worthy of this title have ranged from The Beatles’ wives, their roadies, musicians who’ve been featured on their albums, those who have helped formulate their image and/or sound and/or publicity, and sometimes just general hangers-on (see entry #5). The following are just a few of many “fifth Beatles”, but are the most noteworthy of the bunch.
5. Murray the K, disc jockey
Murray “Murray the K” Kaufman may not have had as close a relationship with The Beatles as most other “fifth Beatles” had, nor spent nearly as much time with them throughout their career, but he is noteworthy merely in that he was the first to be called “the fifth Beatle”, back in 1964. The phrase is sometimes attributed to being coined by Murray himself, but, according to “The Rough Guide to The Beatles”, it was actually George Harrison who first referred to Murray as “The Fifth Beatle”. The title soon stuck, and with good reason, since for all the time he spent hanging around The Beatles during their first trip to America, he may as well have been a member of the group. Murray is a very commanding presence in the Maysles brothers’ Beatles documentary “The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit”.
4. Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s second wife
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Yoko Ono was an important presence in The Beatles’ later years and a muse for John Lennon. John met Yoko, a conceptual artist, at one of her exhibitions in 1966. By 1968 the two were virtually inseperable, much to the annoyance of the other members of the band, who weren’t so crazy about Yoko and could almost certainly have done without having her in the studio all the time. Yet, for all the tension Yoko may have caused between The Beatles, she was still a key figure in their later years, inspiring such songs as “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, as well as the album art (or lack thereof) for “The White Album”. Yoko also inspired countless loves songs from John’s post-Beatles career.
3. Billy Preston, keyboardist
It was George Harrison’s idea to feature keyboarding prodigy Billy Preston (whose other notable credits include writing the Joe Cocker classic “You are So Beautiful”) on The Beatles’ “Let it Be” album, and what a wonderful idea it was. George became acquainted with Billy in 1969, and soon afterwards invited him to the studios to play on some songs. Not only did Billy provide the rocking keyboard solo in “Get Back” and the beautiful keyboard part on the song “Let it Be”, but he also helped alleviate the tension between the members of The Beatles, who were all practically at each other’s throats at the time. George Harrison remained good friends with Billy Preston long after the breakup of The Beatles, and featured Billy in his now-legendary benefit concert, 1971’s “Concert for Bangladesh”. And he appeared as the titular sergeant in the “so-bad-it’s-good” Beatles-inspired musical “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
2. George Martin, producer
George Martin (I beg your pardon- Sir George Martin) was The Beatles’ producer from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road”. In other words, he was there from beginning to end. Having produced mainly comedy and jazz records prior to The Beatles, he was hitherto inexperienced when it came to rock music. However, The Beatles’ charming personalities convinced him to sign them on to the EMI label of which he was the head. The result: an artist-producer alliance that could not be beat. Martin recognized The Beatles’ talent early on and did not intrude much on the ideas they had for songs but he occasionally made his own contributions to their songs. That beautiful piano part in the middle of “In My Life” is played by George Martin.
1. Brian Epstein, manager
Brian Epstein was The Beatles’ manager from 1961 until his untimely death in 1967. Epstein was working in his family’s music store when a youth came in asking if they had any records by The Beatles. Soon afterwards, he decided to check the band out at The Cavern Club, a place where The Beatles played frequently at the time. Pretty soon he was their manager and had convinced them to switch from the leather outfits they had been wearing to the more appealing and gentlemanly suits that they became famous for in their early days of fame. Not only did Epstein have a profound influence on The Beatles’ image, but he also may have been what kept the bond so strong between the band members for all those years. Brian Epstein died at the age of 32 from a combination of alcohol and sleeping pills (it is uncertain whether his death was accidental or intentional), and The Beatles were shocked by the sudden loss of not just a manager, but a good friend. After his death, The Beatles tried in vain to find a manager who could adequately replace Epstein, and the band quickly started to fall apart due to disagreements over prospective managers. I believe that it was Epstein’s death more than anything else that caused the breakup of The Beatles.
Honorable Mentions: Stuart Sutcliffe (original bassist), Pete Best (original drummer), Neil Aspinall (roadie), Mal Evans (roadie), Derek Taylor (The Beatles’ press manager), Klaus Voorman (German artist and musician who met The Beatles in Hamburg, designed the cover of “Revolver”, and played the bass in George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh”)