It's a familiar phrase, which is generally used to describe... well, just about anyone. Even football (or soccer) player George Best was called "the fifth Beatle", because in the days of Beatlemania, he was apparently the only man in Britain with a celebrity status to rival their own. I didn't see him perform at any of their concerts, however. But you don't have to be anyone special to receive that lofty description. When I did an interview on U.S. radio a couple of years ago, the announcers mentioned I sounded like the fifth Beatle. I'm not sure which one they meant. Presumably, they thought that an urban Australian accent sounded like one from the Beatles' home city of Liverpool, England. Or maybe, to the untrained ear, I sound like Yoko Ono.
The movie is in fact about Brian Epstein, their manager, with whom they were inseparable (unless they were on stage, of course). He certainly deserves a place among the Top 10 Fifth Beatles.
The Top 10 is a natural place for the Beatles, of course. Countless "Top 10" Beatles lists have been drafted over the years: their top 10 songs, top 10 studio albums (even though they only had 12), top 10 scandals, top 10 cover versions, top 10 underrated songs, top 10 movies. Well, they can do that last one soon, because the Beatles made five movies themselves, and there are another three biopics about them, plus one comedy about a bunch of their fans (the early Robert Zemickis gem Can't Buy Me Love), so The Fifth Beatle will be the tenth Beatles movie.
But is it a movie about the right guy? Without further ado, let's work this out by counting down... the top 10 Beatles.
Number 10, I'm afraid, would be Brian Epstein. He might have been their closest associate, but being a non-musician, he didn't actually play on any of their recordings. Besides, his death in 1967 meant that he wasn't around for a major part of the band's existence.
Number 9 would be Jimmie Nicol, but that's probably just because I'm Australian. He toured as their drummer for a series of concerts at the height of Beatlemania in 1964, replacing Ringo on the drums while Ringo was having his tonsils out. This included some of the Australian tour, as well as parts of Europe and Asia. This must have been a terrifying job, which only George Lazenby could possibly understand. He was the only Beatle to declare bankruptcy in 1965. Not sure how that was possible.
Number 8 is the late Billy Preston, the American R&B pianist who is often called "the Fifth Beatle". John Lennon even suggested that he join the band with this title, even though he only performed on two albums. Apart from the Fab Four, he was the only session musician ever credited on a Beatles record.
Number 7 is poor young Stu Sutcliffe (1940-1961), who won the art prizes that funded the instruments that started the band. And he coined the name "Beatles" with John Lennon. And it makes sense for him to be "the Fifth Beatle", because there were actually five guys in the band until he left. However, someone's already made a movie about him, the perfectly watchable "Backbeat" (1994), so a movie called The Fifth Beatle would have to be about someone else.
Number 6 is Pete Best, who tragically lost his chance at fame when he was replaced by Ringo at the last minute. In fact, he's quite famous for losing his chance at fame. Nobody else has ever been so famous for not being famous.
Number 5, and hence the most deserving bearer of the title "Fifth Beatle", is their (usual) producer, Sir George Martin, who played on many of their recordings, and whose audio innovations helped to make their songs sound even better. Considering that they stopped giving live concerts in 1966, and so many lists of their greatest songs are topped by "A Day in the Life" (which wasn't an amazing piece of songwriting so much as an awesome piece of studio weirdness), Sir George comes very close to being ranked number four on this list.
But number 4 would have to be Ringo Starr, because it would be pretty silly to call him "the Fifth Beatle". If George (Harrison, I mean) was the best musician, Paul had the nicest melodies and John had the greatest lyrics (which nobody agrees on, but I don't have time to argue), what did Ringo have? Well, he had the most fan mail! Yes, in the glory days of Beatlemania, he was perhaps the most popular of the Fab Four. It goes to show that, even when something good actually becomes extremely popular, the world still manages to get it wrong. Still, he could certainly drum, I liked his voice, and "Octopus's Garden" wasn't so bad.
Number 3, therefore, is George Harrison. He played guitar wonderfully, wrote some of the Beatles' best songs ("Something", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun", that song on Revolver with the cool sitar solo whose name nobody seems to remember), and might be regarded as an even greater musical genius if he wasn't upstaged by his even more amazing band-mates.
Number 1 is a tie between John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. I refuse to take sides, either with those people who say "Lennon was a pretentious git who couldn't write a tune" or those who say "McCartney could only write gushing ballads and bask in Lennon's genius." All sounds like rubbish to me. So it's a tie. Deal with it.