Ask a Question, Get an Answer: (Fifth) Beatlemania!

March 28, 2018

March 14 was “International Ask a Question Day,” and over on our Facebook page, we invited our readers to, well, ask a question and be entered in a giveaway. The response was overwhelming—hundreds of you BRI stalwarts posed a trivia conundrum. Unfortunately, we can’t answer all of them and not everyone can be a winner, but we did pick five of the most intriguing one…which we’re going to answer here. One of our winning questions comes from reader Scott S., who asked…

Which “fifth Beatle” is the “real” fifth Beatle?

Scott is referring to one of the most famous, exemplary, and unofficial statuses in rock n’ roll history: the fifth Beatle, referring to an associate of the Fab Four who was not technically part of the band, but still made such an impact on the band’s sound or success that they might as well have been. The Beatles became the biggest and most popular band of all time, and they got by with a little help from their friends, several of whom could make a claim to be the fifth Beatle.

The Mentor

The Beatles honed their chops in the early 1960s playing in clubs and dive bars in Hamburg, Germany. They were often the backing band for another British musician, Tony Sheridan. In 1962, Sheridan had a minor hit in West Germany called “My Bonnie,” credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (a.k.a. the Beatles).

The Ex-Beatle #1

John Lennon formed a band when he was a teenager called the Quarrymen, later renamed the Beatles. George Harrison played guitar, and Lennon’s old friend Stuart Sutcliffe played bass. He wasn’t as passionate about music as his bandmates, and he quit in 1961, just before the Beatles found huge success, to pursue painting. A year later, Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage. (But he was, technically, a Beatle.)

The Ex-Beatle #2

Before the delightful Ringo Starr became the band’s drummer, Pete Best kept the beat for the Beatles. He was fired in 1961 because the rest of the band thought he was a mediocre drummer. (But he was, technically, a Beatle.)

The Producer

Brian Wilson is regarded as a true Beach Boy, even after he retired from playing live to write and produce the band’s music. By that logic, producer and arranger George Martin is a Beatle. He produced almost everything the Beatles recorded and wrote the string and horn arrangements found in their later work, helping the band find its ambitious sound.

The Almost-Beatle

Pianist Billy Preston played with the Beatles in Hamburg, and got back together with them in the late ‘60s to perform piano sections on “Get Back” and “Let It Be.” John Lennon wanted to make him a permanent, full-fledged member, but the rest of the Fab Four vetoed it. Preston is also the only person individually credited on a Beatles song, as is the case with “Get Back,” attributed to “The Beatles with Billy Preston.”
So, to answer Scott’s question is difficult because there are a lot of contenders with a valid argument as to why they’re the “true” fifth Beatle. However, if we have to editorialize, we’d go with George Martin. Or Billy Preston. Or maybe Pete Best? Okay, Stuart Sutcliffe. No, George Martin. Tony Sheridan, though…