News From The Woods - January 21, 2004

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published January 21, 2004


"Who Was The Fifth Beatle?"


Was it Pete Best? Stu Sutcliff? Tony Sheridan? Billy Preston? Brian Epstein? Mal Evans? Derek Taylor? Or perhaps George Martin? Through the years this question has been bandied about concerning what is arguably the greatest and most influential rock and roll band in the world.

I am actually old enough to say that I saw the Beatles first US performance live on the Ed Sullivan Show. The date was February 9, 1964. I was at a friend's house in West Memphis, Arkansas. We were there preparing and rehearsing for a performance at a local talent show, and we took a break from rehearsal in order to see the show. Remember, this is long before videocassette recorders, so if you missed something in those days you missed it. And we didn't want to miss this show as we've been inundated with Beatlmania for the previous year and we wanted to see these guys in action. I was just starting out as a musician and drummer, so I was more of a music fan than a player at that time. In other words I wasn't above getting chill bumps on my arms from the first opening lines of "All My Loving", followed by "Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "I Saw Her Standing There", and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" before the night was over.

They returned again to the Sullivan Show one week later on February 16th, and performed "She Loves You", "All My Loving", "This Boy", "I Saw Her Standing There", "From Me to You", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand". They made two more appearances on American television in 1964 and early 1965, but I don't remember those shows as vividly as I do the very first show. I can still remember sitting on the floor in my friend's living room, watching the dimly lit black and white television set, and feeling my heart rate increase with each passing minute the band remained on the screen. The screams of the audience were of course a factor, but it was so obvious to me at that moment that this band was truly something special. I didn't need any convincing. It was just that obvious by looking at their faces on the screen as they performed. To state that they were a truly unique phenomenon would be a gross understatement.

And let me say here that we owe Ed Sullivan a debt of thanks for having the foresight to book the Beatles on American television, and by doing so he introduced this music to the mainstream American television audience. By the way, it wasn't just a fluke that he chose to book the Beatles. He knew they would be something special because he had a unique talent for realizing what was about to change music history. Call him weird or flaky or a dweeb (and you WILL when you see those long ago shows) but he was truly a visionary of sorts. Some of you may also remember Ed introducing Elvis and Buddy Holly to American television audiences. I can recall the second performance of Elvis on the tube on Ed's show. The television critics and censors were livid after The King's first TV appearance, so Ed had to tone it down for his return performance. As Elvis did "Hound Dog" on the second show, the entire performance was shown from the waist up only. No swivel-hips on that show! All we got to see was "the sneer". But it was enough.

Back to The Fab Four, their first Sullivan appearance was almost exactly one year after the release of their first album, "Please Please Me', which debuted on American charts in March of 1963. This album was a mixture of original tunes like "I Saw Her Standing There", "Ask Me Why", "Please Please Me', "P.S. I Love You", and "Do You Want To Know A Secret", and cover tunes such as "Anna", "Chains", "Baby It's You", and "Twist and Shout". There wasn't a "songwriting team" as such in place, as this was their first album that was somewhat hurriedly rushed out due to the enormous popularity of their first single "I Saw Her Standing There".

Even though their second album, "With The Beatles" was released a scant three months later in July, John and Paul spit out some fine chops in "It Won't Be Long", "All I've Got To Do", and "All My Loving". The usual R&B covers (by Chuck Berry, The Marvellettes, & The Miracles) were there, as well as a fine rendition of "Till There Was You", which was originally from the Broadway play West Side Story. With only their second album, the Mop Tops were already setting the tone of their future collaborations and showing the world that they were more than mediocre songwriters.

The next album, "A Hard Days Night", was released right after the movie with the same name hit theaters all over the world. This record contained 100% original material, and shows the youthful strength of the Lennon/McCartney team. Every cut on the album stands on it's own as a sonic masterpiece, due in no small part to producer George Martin's schooled musical influences. By the time the fourth album, "Beatles For Sale", hit the streets, Martin was prodding the boys to explore new territories in popular music and showing them the road to defining strong song structure.

The movie "Help" (and the accompanying album) came next, and contained several Top 10 Single hits. By this time the Beatles were dominating the American and European charts and could seemingly do no wrong. Following "Help" came "Rubber Soul" (my personal favorite), which was a shocking departure from the norm in recording techniques. George Martin and the Beatles were now exploring new sonic territories and pushing the boundaries of technical innovation in recording procedures. This included using traditional symphonic and classical instruments in modern arrangements, as well as unique ways of producing a new palette of sound through tape flanging, splicing and editing snippets of sound and rearranging them in a new order (thus producing new textures in sound), and playing recorded tracks of instruments backwards. They were also by this time experimenting with drugs and it was apparent in much of their work of this period.

The next release, "Magical Mystery Tour" was followed by "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". These albums are generally considered by many to be the apex of the Band's career. The Beatles had stopped touring, and things went downhill with "The White Album", "Let It Be", and "Abbey Road". These last three albums were still brilliant but it was apparent to many that the thrill was gone for the Beatles. Much has been written and said about the band during these times, so I will not dwell here. I would rather travel back to the 4th album "Beatles For Sale". In my opinion, this album shows the Beatles at their finest in terms of a live performing rock and roll band. They were still young enough to want to shake their booty but seasoned enough to know their way around a recording studio. I would have loved to see them live during this period. Their harmonies were so tight and their playing so energetic that I am sure you couldn't have been in their presence without tapping your feet. They have left us with a wonderful music legacy which will live long after we are all gone. I think they will be remembered for their accomplishments and spoken about with the same revered tones as usually reserved for the likes of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

But what made them so special? Was it their energy, their music, or their personalities? More likely a combination of all three. They were just the right people in the right place and at the right time.

So WHO WAS the "Fifth Beatle"?

Pete Best was the original drummer of the Beatles - joining the group in 1960 - and was replaced by Ringo Starr in 1962 as they were auditioning for Producer George Martin.

In 1961 Stu Sutcliff played with John, Paul & Pete Best in the Silver Beatles. When he quit the band in the fall of 1961 Paul switched from guitar to bass. Stu died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962, shortly before the Beatles third Hamburg tour.

Tony Sheridan played with Pete Best and the Beatles on their version of "My Bonnie" which was released on Bert Kaempfert's label in Germany (and later on MGM in the US).

Billy Preston played keyboards - mainly Hammond or electric piano - on many of the Beatles later hits (like "Get Back") and can be seen briefly on the famous "Let It Be" rooftop concert. If anyone was the 5th Beatle as far as a player is concerned, Billy would be it, and has even been referred to as "the 5th Beatle" in several articles on the subject.

Mal Evans was the Beatles road manager from 1963 until the group split up. For all of the Beatles' tours, Mal drove the van, set up and tested the Beatles' equipment, and then packed it all up again after each show. Mal was the only person of the Beatles family to attend Paul and Linda's wedding in 1969. After the dissolution of the Beatles he moved to Los Angeles, and died tragically on January 5, 1976 in a misunderstanding with the police because he had a gun.

Derek Taylor was Brian Epstein's personal assistant and the Beatles press agent, so he could very easily be the one due to his job of keeping their names out front in the press. In 1964, Derek wrote in the liner notes for Beatles For Sale: "The kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth as we do today. For the magic of the Beatles is, I suspect, timeless and ageless. It has cut through differences in race, age and class. It is adored by the world."

Brian Epstein was the group's manager. If anyone deserves credit for getting the Beatles off the ground it was Brian, who - knowing the minimum sales requirements to make the record a hit in England - had sent people around to record stores and bought all copies of their first single with his own money. Brian tragically died in 1967 from an accidental drug overdose.

And of course there is Sir George Martin, the Beatles producer. In my opinion he did more to influence the music of the Beatles through the recording process and encouraged them to explore the possibilities of technology and musical expression. But not even Sir George was the real Fifth Beatle.

I submit to you, dear reader, that the real Fifth Beatles was…………. You.

The listener. The audience. The record buyer. The Beatles' music hit a common nerve with the youth of the time and if it weren't for you and I to carry the torch and buy the records and request the songs that played on the radio, there simply would not have been…….. The Beatles.

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