One thing I love about Nokia Music is the ability to create your own mixes. Today, while listening to one, which included the Beatles it struck me how many people must have been involved in influencing their sound. Turns out some have been so influential that they’ve been described as the Fifth Beatles. Actually, there are four who regularly get mentioned, an alternate Fab Four if you like. But just who are these guys and what was their role in bring the Beatles to the top?
Stu Sutcliffe – The Original Bassist
A friend of John Lennon’s from art school, Sutcliffe was persuaded to part with the prize money he’d won for in an art competition in order to buy a bass guitar and join the band. Sutcliffe epitomised the cool look that Lennon thought the band should emulate, but unfortunately never really got to grips with the bass. McCartney’s apparent anger at Stu’s musicianship led to on-stage fisticuffs on several occasions, however, it was Stu’s romance with Astrid Kirchherr that opened the Beatles up to several key new influences, including the Beatle haircut. Stu died of an aneurysm in 1962, McCartney took over on bass and another key ingredient in Fab Four history was in place. Sutcliffe’s is told in the 1994 film Backbeat.
Pete Best – The Original Drummer
Pete Best was the original drummer in the Beatles and their original heartthrob. Best’s drumming was apparently a little ropey and Paul McCartney was said to be jealous of his “best looking member of the group” status, but it seems the final straw came when the other three Beatles opted for the famous Beatle haircut and Best decided to remain with his still fashionable quiff. When Ringo Starr was asked to join the band in 1962 legions of Pete Best fans besieged the band at their regular Cavern gig shouting “Pete forever, Ringo never” and during the melee George Harrison was head-butted leading to him sporting a black eye in the first promo shots of the new Beatles.
Brian Epstein – The Manager
Brian Epstein originally worked in the family business, running the NEMS Music store in Liverpool, before being persuaded to follow up on a customer request and going to watch the Beatles play at the Cavern. After watching the show he went to meet the band, being recognised as a local celebrity he was greeted by George Harrison with the flippant “And what brings Mr. Epstein here?”. Epstein managed the Beatles right up until his death of a drugs overdose in 1967. The following upheaval triggered the loss of focus that would eventually lead to the band’s demise. McCartney has since gone on record to say “if anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”
George Martin – The Producer
Former Royal Navy pilot George Martin raised a few eyebrows when he signed The Beatles to Parlophone in 1962 after they’d been turned down by every major label in the UK (with Decca famously declaring “the Beatles have no future in showbusiness!”). Martin’s flexible approach to his headstrong young protégés lead to some of the most original moments in the Beatles repertoire. For example, the moment when Lennon, having played with both rock and orchestral versions of Strawberry Fields, asked Martin if they could use the beginning of one and the end of the other (ignoring the fact that the two versions were in different tempos and different keys)- . Martin obliged by splicing the tape and playing with the tape speed until he found a match. This is the version that was released.
Would the Beatles have risen to such heights without the Fifth Beatles? Who knows, but one things for sure they’re not the only band with unsung heroes. If you can think of any others let us know in the comments below.