[Note: I wrote this blog post a few weeks ago and made my case for why I thought producer George Martin could lay claim to the title 5th Beatle. It always bothered me to read the 1997 quote from Paul McCartney that claimed Brian Epstein as the 5th Beatle. Overnight, Martin passed away and Paul put out a statement saying “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George.” Thanks for agreeing with me, Paul. Original post below.]
I’ve seen the quote “If anyone was the 5th Beatle, it was Brian” attributed to Paul McCartney who supposedly said it back in 1997. If that is true, I have to disagree with Sir Paul. There are a few who can legitimately lay claim to that title but I don’t believe Brian is one of them.
Poor Pete Best–aka the unluckiest man in the world–actually played with the group when they were wildly popular in Liverpool and honed their chops in Germany. He even signed the original contract with manager Brian Epstein. He truly was a Beatle until the others dumped him for…pick your reason. I’ve read that he was a poor drummer to the theory that Brian was jealous of Pete’s mother who wanted to book gigs for the group.
Then there’s Stu Sutcliffe who played bass for the Beatles in Germany and was John’s mate. He left the band to follow his passion for art and Astrid Kirchherr, not in that order. He later died of a brain aneurysm in 1962.
You could even argue that the Beatles’ most trusted aides, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, who were that Fab Four’s side throughout their career, could lay claim to being the 5th Beatle. No less an authority than George Harrison thought that perhaps Neil and Derek Taylor, a one-time press aide, were worthy.
But my pick is George Martin, their longtime producer. John belittled his contributions toward the end of his life but that was John being John. With a little more perspective, I think he would have come around to realize Martin’s contributions.
First of all, Martin guided the group through the recording studio in the early days and helped them create their sound. He also encouraged them to experiment and helped them fashion the sounds they were hearing in their heads–especially John.
Martin is the one who made John’s acoustic version of “I Am the Walrus” into the multi-layered song it became. When John told Martin he wanted “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” to sound like a circus, it was Martin who knew that John was talking about a calliope.
Finally, Martin played piano and keyboards on many Beatles songs in the studio. That’s Marin on harpsichord you’re hearing on “In My Life.” How did that come about? John asked Martin to fill the hole in the song with something “baroque” and Martin wrote and played the harpsichord and then speed up the tape to make it sound as it does today.
It was also Martin who suggested to Sir Paul that a string quartet play on “Yesterday” and helped Paul figure out the orchestral arrangements for all the Beatles songs from “Eleanor Rigby” to “A Day in the Life.”
For my money, George Martin is truly the 5th Beatle….and always will be.