The fifth Beatle is an informal title that various commentators in the press and entertainment industry have applied to people who were at one point a member of the Beatles, or who had a strong association with the "Fab Four" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) during the group's existence. The "fifth Beatle" claims first appeared in the press immediately upon the band's sensational rise to global fame in 1963–64 as the most famous quartet in pop culture.
The term is not used to indicate the chronology of band members joining the group. Pete Best joined Lennon, McCartney, Stuart Sutcliffe and Harrison on the eve of their Hamburg sojourn, the five using the monikers, "The Silver Beetles" and "The Silver Beatles" (they experimented with "The Beat Brothers" and ultimately "The Beatles" while in Hamburg with Best).
Stuart Sutcliffe has been called the fifth Beatle. The original bassist of the five-member Beatles, he played with the band primarily during their days as a club act in Hamburg, Germany. When the band returned to Liverpool in 1961, Sutcliffe remained behind in Hamburg. He died of a brain haemorrhage shortly thereafter. Instead of replacing him with a new member, Paul McCartney changed from rhythm guitar (with Lennon) to bass and the band continued as a four-piece.
Sutcliffe was an accomplished painter, but when compared to the other Beatles, his musical skills were described as "inadequate", and his involvement in the band was mainly a consequence of his friendship with Lennon. Sutcliffe's input was an important early influence on the development of the band's image; Sutcliffe was the first to wear what later became famous as the Beatles' moptop hairstyle, asking his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr to cut his hair in emulation of the hairdo worn by friend Klaus Voormann.
Pete Best has been called the fifth Beatle. The original drummer of the Beatles, he played with the band during their time as a club act, in both Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany. The band during this time period consisted of Best, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, and guitarists McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon. Best continued to perform with the band until mid-August 1962, when he was let go and replaced by Ringo Starr.
Andy White played drums on The Beatles' U.S. pressing of "Love Me Do", which was their first single in the United States. Ron Richards, assistant producer to George Martin, was in charge of recording on 11 September 1962. In June, the band had recorded "Love Me Do" with Best, then a second time in early September with brand new (three weeks) member Starr, before deciding to record it a third time. Richards brought experienced session drummer White in for drums on this recording, with Starr playing tambourine. White and Starr also both played percussion on "P.S. I Love You" during this session, with White on drums and Starr on maracas.
Jimmie Nicol played drums for the first five shows of The Beatles' 1964 world tour. Starr became ill and the opening part of the tour was almost cancelled. Instead of cancelling, the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein hired Nicol to stand in until Starr recovered. Nicol played with the band in early June, in Denmark, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Australia. Nicol made the most of his time, signing autographs and giving interviews. Starr rejoined the band on 14 June, in Melbourne.
Brian Epstein, the band's manager from 1961 until his death in 1967, was instrumental in the Beatles' rise to global fame. Epstein "discovered" the band in Liverpool, saw their potential, and never wavered in his faith and commitment to them. He purposefully restricted his oversight of the band, limiting himself to business matters and public image, and gave the band free creative rein in their music. Epstein also doggedly sought a recording contract for the band in London at a crucial moment in their career, fighting their perception as provincial "northern" musicians.
Epstein's death in essence marked the beginning of the Beatles' dissolution, as Lennon admitted later. Because he was not creatively involved with the band, Epstein was only infrequently called the "fifth Beatle", but over the years he and producer George Martin have clearly been recognised as the inner circle members who most profoundly affected the band's career. In an interview in the 1990s describing Epstein's involvement in the band's rise to fame, Martin declared "He's the fifth Beatle, if there ever was one."
In 2013 Epstein was the subject of a graphic novel entitled The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary. The book was released in November and spent several weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, reaching no. 1 in its third week of release.
George Martin has been called the fifth Beatle. He produced nearly all of the Beatles' recordings (except for the Let It Be album, produced by Phil Spector, and the songs "Real Love" and "Free as a Bird," produced by Jeff Lynne) and wrote the instrumental score for the Yellow Submarine film and soundtrack album, and the string and horn (and even some vocal) arrangements for almost all of their songs (with the famous exception of Spector's re-production on Let It Be, and "She's Leaving Home", which was arranged by Mike Leander). His arrangement of the string octet backing for "Eleanor Rigby" was widely noted.
Martin's extensive musical training (which he received at the Guildhall School of Music) and sophisticated guidance in the studio are often credited as fundamental contributions to the work of the Beatles; he was without question a key part of the synergy responsible for transforming a good rock-and-roll group into the most celebrated popular musicians of their era. Writer Ian MacDonald noted that Martin was one of the few record producers in the UK at the time who possessed the sensitivity the Beatles needed to develop their songwriting and recording talent. Martin's piano playing also appears on several of their tracks, including "Misery" and "In My Life". Martin himself deflects claims of being the "fifth Beatle" to Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. In 2006, Martin inadvertently strengthened his image as the "fifth Beatle" by contributing the only piece of new music on the Love soundtrack: a string arrangement on top of George Harrison's solo acoustic demo of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from Anthology 3.
Lennon disparaged Martin's importance to the Beatles' music. In his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon said, "[Dick James is] another one of those people, who think they made us. They didn't. I’d like to hear Dick James' music and I'd like to hear George Martin's music, please, just play me some." In a 1971 letter to Paul McCartney, Lennon wrote, "When people ask me questions about 'What did George Martin really do for you?,' I have only one answer, 'What does he do now?' I noticed you had no answer for that! It's not a putdown, it's the truth." Lennon wrote that Martin took too much credit for the Beatles' music. Commenting specifically on Revolution 9, Lennon said, "For Martin to state that he was 'painting a sound picture' is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone." In a tribute to George Martin after his death, Paul McCartney said "If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle, it was George. From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I've ever had the pleasure to know." 
Neil Aspinall has been called the fifth Beatle. A schoolmate of McCartney and Harrison and a close personal friend of Pete Best (he actually lived in Best's house and fathered his youngest brother, Roag), Aspinall joined the Beatles as their road manager, which included driving his old Commer van to and from shows, both day and night. After Mal Evans started work for the Beatles, Aspinall was promoted to become their personal assistant, and eventually ascended to the position of CEO for Apple Corps (a position he held until 10 April 2007).
Aspinall was involved in court cases on behalf of Apple over the years (including cases against the Beatles' then manager Allen Klein, their label EMI, and the case against Apple Computer). He supervised the marketing of music, videos, and merchandising for the group. Aspinall also temporarily served as the group's manager following Epstein's death.
Although not a musician, Aspinall also made minor contributions to a handful of Beatles' recordings. He played a tambura on "Within You Without You", harmonica on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", some percussion on "Magical Mystery Tour", and was among the many participants singing on the chorus of "Yellow Submarine". In January 1988, while accepting the Beatles' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Harrison named Aspinall as one of only two people worthy of the title "the Fifth Beatle", the other being Derek Taylor.
Derek Taylor is also attributed by some to be the fifth Beatle. He first met the band after reviewing their stage performance. Instead of the anticipated negative review of a rock-n-roll group, Taylor gave their act the highest praises. Invited to become acquainted with the Beatles' camp, he soon became a confidant, and gained his share of exclusives on them.
Eventually, he was hired away from his newspaper job by Epstein, who put him in charge of Beatles press releases, and playing media liaison to himself and the band. He also became Epstein's personal assistant.
By 1968, he became press officer for Apple Corps. As a VIP at Apple, Taylor had a major role in the company's ups and downs, making or enforcing many crucial business and personal decisions, for the Beatles and Apple's staff, and witnessing many key moments in the latter days of both. In January 1988, while accepting the Beatles' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Harrison named Taylor as one of only two people worthy of the title "the Fifth Beatle", the other being Neil Aspinall.
During the Beatles' existence (specifically, 1960–70 and the Anthology project), several musicians recorded with the Beatles in a more limited capacity, either on a Beatles' album, or on another artist's album with two or more Beatles members appearing. Hence, such artists could be dubbed "the Fifth Beatle" for a single track or two. Artists include:
Tony Sheridan has been referred to as the fifth Beatle. While performing in Hamburg between 1960 and 1963, he employed various backup bands. In 1961 the Beatles (comprising Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Pete Best), who had met Sheridan during their first visit to Hamburg in 1960, worked with him on their second. When German Polydor agent Bert Kaempfert saw the pairing on stage, he suggested that they make some recordings together. (At that period, Sheridan was the bigger name, with the Beatles as his backing band.) In 1962, after a series of singles (the first of which, "My Bonnie"/"The Saints" made it to no. 5 in the Hit Parade), Polydor released the album My Bonnie across Germany. The word "Beatles" was judged to sound too similar to the German "Pidels" (pronounced peedles), the plural of a slang term for penis, so the album was credited to "Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers". After The Beatles had gained fame, the album was re-released in the UK, with the credit altered to "Tony Sheridan and The Beatles".
American pianist Billy Preston has been referred to as the fifth Beatle. Apart from Sheridan, Preston was the only artist to receive joint credit on a Beatles single, on "Get Back". Preston also played the organ on "Let It Be" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and the Fender Rhodes electric piano on "Don't Let Me Down" and "Get Back". Preston had been introduced to the Beatles during the early 1960s, and worked with them in 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, even using the term "Fifth Beatle", but the idea was dismissed by the others.
On the Let it Be album where Preston's performances are used the song credits list "with Billy Preston", clearly identifying him as separate from the main group, yet also giving him a level of individuality that separated him from studio session players.
To distinguish him from the common level of controversy over who is the Fifth Beatle, he is sometimes given the unique title of the "Black Beatle".
Eric Clapton has been referred to as the fifth Beatle. Originally "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" had only the first guitar solo in the song off the album. Harrison thought that it sounded weak, and called in Clapton to perform the lead guitar on the song. It was decided to cut one verse entirely and add another guitar solo towards the end of the song.
When Harrison briefly left the band in January 1969, Lennon suggested inviting Clapton to replace him. After the Beatles broke up, Clapton became one of the few musicians to appear on solo recordings by each of the four.
The term "Fifth Beatle" is also a phrase that is sometimes used to describe someone in a group of people who has contributed significantly less than the others.
The man they call the Fifth Beatle, who 'fell in love with art' at Prescot Grammar School, is to have work displayed in a charity exhibition. ...
Sir Paul McCartney said of him: 'If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.'
Sir George Martin is often regarded as 'The Fifth Beatle.' ...
Neil Aspinall, who has died aged 66, was the Beatles' original road manager and went on to run the group's business empire for 40 years; he became their chief confidant and, although not the only contender for the title of the fifth Beatle, perhaps deserved the accolade more than most. ...
Called "the Fifth Beatle" Preston also worked with other musicians, including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Sly and the Family Stone.