The title of ‘The Fifth Beatle’ has been passed along to a few people who have either adopted it by osmosis or by fighting tooth and nail to lay claim to the highly-esteemed reputation of being associated as a Beatle. Before The Beatles solidified their official cast of members, they had other members of the band. As the Silver Beatles, Stuart Sutcliffe, the band’s initial bass player who ended up dying from a brain haemorrhage after a brawl in Hamburg, has been called the fifth Beatle in the past. Pete Best, another fifth Beatle candidate, the band’s original drummer from 1960-1962, did not impress George Martin while in the studio and was eventually replaced by Ringo Starr. Other candidates for the fifth Beatle, which would seem to make more sense, were Billy Preston, a brilliant piano player who laid tracks down for multiple bands during the 1960s and ’70s. Preston played alongside The Beatles for their last gig on the rooftop of the Saville Row. In this sense, the title of the fifth Beatle would be most applicable.
The strongest case for the title, however, would be George Martin, the band’s producer, arranger and visionary who helped transform The Beatles from a good band into an impeccable band. The Beatles’ 10th album, Yellow Submarine, features original compositions by George Martin, writing and performing as an active member of the group. In addition to this, Martin composed string arrangements for some of the band’s most memorable songs, including ‘Yesterday’. Beatles’ scholar and expert, Stephanie Fremaux from Birmingham City University, said: “I don’t think we can say there is a definitive ‘fifth Beatle’, but I think there are people with a stronger claim to the title – George Martin and Brian Epstein.”
Another candidate for the fifth Beatle, and perhaps the most obscure one of them all, is DJ Murray the K, a New York City disc jockey who played an integral role in getting the Beatles heard and played in America in 1964. Murray the K, who had worked as a DJ a year prior, was at the peak of his popularity as the leading disc jockey in NYC and had a prime airplay slot. An ardent supporter of The Beatles, he played Fab Four on heavy rotation and even dubbed himself as the fifth Beatle – an incredible marketing ploy. By doing so, he created a mystique surrounding the DJ’s personality as well as the Liverpool lads who, along with their manager Brian Epstein, were on the verge of breaking the States.
Murray the K was one of the first media guys The Beatles welcomed into their circle. The Liverpool lads had heard about him through his promotional work with other prominent bands at the time, such as The Ronnettes. Murray was invited by Brian Epstein and then promptly persuaded his radio station, WINS, to broadcast his prime time show straight from The Beatles’ suite in the Plaza hotel they were staying at. It was unclear if he was subsequently invited to go on their American tour with them, but he somehow managed to wiggle his way in. Stephanie Fremaux noted, “It’s part of the mythology that the American DJ Murray the K was the first to name himself the ‘fifth Beatle’ on air.”
Whether The Beatles accepted Murray as the fifth Beatle seemed irrelevant. It was understood that Murray the K did wonders for them to promote their music in the States early on, and accepting Murray as this seemed like it was part of the sensationalisation. Fremaux adds, “He probably did that as he was heavily promoting their first US visit in 1964 and playing their music on the radio.”
Embarking on their tour, The Beatles travelled from New York City to Washington D.C and then onto Miami, Florida; with Murray tagging along, he would broadcast his show from George Harrison’s suite, with whom he roomed with. George Harrison commented on this, “I’ve often wondered how Murray could barge into the room and hang out with us for the entire trip. It’s funny, really. I never quite understood how he did that.”
While it is most likely that Murray the K called himself the fifth Beatle for posterity’s sake, George Harrison may have been the one who coined him such while on the train headed to Washington D.C. Others may think that Ringo Starr dubbed him this honour during a press conference prior to the same concert in D.C.
Despite this seemingly bold and sensational style of promoting The Beatles, Murray Kaufman believed in the art of music and is quoted saying, “You didn’t have to hype the record any more. The music was speaking for itself.” He made this grand statement when he later left WINS and became a program director for the first FM rock station, where he DJ’d his show, FM Cuts, upon which he was famous for never spinning singles, but for playing long-form album segments. By this merit alone, it was clear that DJ Murray the K loved and breathed music and was well-intentioned when involving himself within the inner-circle of The Beatles.
Below, listen to Murray ‘the K’ Kaufman interview George Harrison.