There are really only four serious candidates for the title of “Fifth Beatle”. It’s a term that has been used to describe who was the next most important person in the career of the four Beatles.
The first candidate is Stuart Sutcliffe. He was literally the fifth Beatle when he played bass with the original four Beatles, including during their time in Hamburg, Germany. He mainly joined the group because of his friendship with John Lennon after they met in Art School. Stuart left The Beatles in July of 1961 to remain in Germany to study art. Tragically, he died of a brain aneurysm in 1962.
The second candidate is Pete Best. He was the original drummer for the band, but was replaced by Ringo Starr just before The Beatles began their rise to fame in late 1962. He may seem like the unluckiest guy ever, but he did eventually become a millionaire from royalties after The Beatles included some of their earliest recordings on their Anthology series in the 1990’s.
Here’s the full line-up in Germany:
Next is Brian Epstein. He’s the record store owner who came to manage The Beatles after seeing them perform at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. Brian was monumental in helping The Beatles get a recording contract and guiding their career through touring and appearances throughout the world. He died of an accidental drug overdose in 1967. The Beatles sorely missed his guidance in the following years.
The final candidate is George Martin. He very wisely signed The Beatles to a recording contract at EMI when they had been turned down by other labels. He then guided them through the most astonishing recording career in history.
We can eliminate Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best as candidates. Even though they were significant in Beatles’ history, their impact on the group was nowhere near the importance of Brian Epstein and George Martin.
Without Brian Epstein, The Beatles might not have even stayed together or had a recording career. But, once they started recording, the most important person in their career was George Martin.
The real legacy of The Beatles can be found in all the studio recordings the four of them did from 1962 through 1969. (The only session in 1970 was just Paul, George and Ringo working on “I Me Mine” in January of that year.) Almost their entire catalogue was produced by George Martin.
George helped critique and encourage the early songwriting of Lennon and McCartney. He was a musician himself and performed on many Beatles recordings…often on keyboards. Of course he also wrote beautiful orchestral arrangements and smaller string and horn accompaniments that were so important to Beatles songs.
No one else worked as closely and as long with The Beatles, and no one helped them realize their musical visions like George Martin.
He earned his place in their history, and is the person most qualified to be called The Fifth Beatle.