A world needs closure on a long-running myth.
Go on an investigation for the good of rock 'n' roll history.
THE FIFTH BEATLE
The Fifth Beatle was a months-long blog following my journey to find the one true fifth member of the Fab Four. This absurd comedic yarn spins through tales told around my encounters and interviews with people once deemed as John, Paul, George and Ringo's other, oft-forgotten and even more oft-disputed mate.
An Introduction, The Fifth Beatle
In the musical pantheon of legendary talent, one need not look further than The Quarrymen. Commonly referred to as The Beatles, these British invaders took the world by storm in the 1960s. They lived, played and sometimes, died in the public eye. But one detail remains shrouded in mystery — and no, it's not Ringo's favorite Jelly Bean flavor (bubblegum) or Paul's shoe size (trick question, he doesn't wear shoes). It's a simple question of lineup. Yes, there was "The Smart One," "The Cute One," "The Shy One" and "The Sad One," but what about the other one? What about The Fifth Beatle?
Throughout the band's anthology and still today, many have been referred to by this intriguing moniker. However, there can only be one fifth Beatle — this isn't a math blog, but that's just simple math. I've poured over interviews, scoured liner notes, even checked Wikipedia a few times. But I've exhausted my ability to proceed further without taking matters into my own hands. Despite urgings of friends, family, associates and the occasional investment advisor, I liquidated my savings to put toward this selfless, albeit inspiring, quest. A quest with the rare opportunity to reshape and redefine musical history and culture forever.
Many bands over the years sported five members. The Jackson 5 had Tito, The Beach Boys had Bruce Johnston, The 5-Spots had Alvin "5th Member" Fiftherson. Music and the fifth letter of the number alphabet have a harmonious bond. So why does it seem like there has been a concerted effort to keep the Fab Four a foursome? The true fifth member of The Beatles is more disputed than any other lore surrounding the band — a close second to whether or not George actually played guitar, or if he had an elaborate marionette system connecting his arms to an off-stage puppeteer at all times.
Rather than take anyone else's word for it, I'm going straight to the horse's mouth. Well, not Paul or Ringo, as their assistants refused to speak with me. And not the famed Beatles horse, Eleanor Rigby, as she met her end in the glue factory, hitting her head on a low-hanging pipe on a behind-the-scenes glue production tour. But I bring you the next best intel: Interviews with the very people once deemed the Fab Fifth. Will emotions run high? Yes. Will secrets be uncovered? Most definitely. Will a third question be asked to build suspense? Potentially. But this mystery is frankly too big to let it be.
Starting my quest next week, I sit down with none other than Dan Harrington, The Fifth Beatle.
Dan Harrington, The Fifth Beatle
It's a cold day in Liverpool. Frost lightly blankets car windshields outside the humble hole-in-the-wall I sit sipping a coffee blanketed in a warm, wintery foam. To my right is a knick-knack shelf with an apropos John Lennon bobblehead gently nodding along and counting the minutes with me, waiting for The Fifth Beatle.
At 10:15 a.m. a tired bell summons the arrival of Dan Harrington. Slightly reserved and lugubrious, he's lanky and all legs — which he later explained was the result of a torso-shortening procedure he underwent as a child. But his most distinctive feature he wears a bit farther north.
"Yes, you could call these 'John Lennon' glasses, I expect," Dan says after his friendly "Cheerio" is met with my own inquisitive stare.
To die hard fans and the rest of the population alike, John Lennon's circinate spectacles are as character-defining as Paul's left-cheek mole or George's 10-gallon cowboy hat. Wearing these particular frames is, to some, as bold a statement as a "toothbrush" mustache.
"Actually, I've been wearing these specs since about 1956," the 70-something-year old optometrist calmly explains after I am detained by the café staff for slapping them off his face in a blind rage. "But you'd be surprised how often this sort of tizzy happens."
In 1964, Lennon is in full swing of Beatlemania and is cancelling appointments left and right. He never knows when he'll be playing a gig, attending a press junket or offering spokesman-ship to the latest Beatles-themed product. (Beatles "Obladi Obla-Denture Cleaner" was a top seller, with Lennon starring in all 800 commercials.) The foursome barely has time for personal matters and Lennon is blind as a bat. The stutter in "Twist And Shout" is not a lyrical affectation, but a result of Lennon not being able to read the words.
Finally, after nine rescheduled appointments, John checks into the office of one Dan Harrington. The rest, as they say, is history. But for the purposes of this blog, I will expound:
"When it came time to pick out his new glasses, he didn't have a lot of time. So he just pointed at me and said he'd take what I had." Lennon literally meant this, and slapped the frames off of Dr. Harrington's face before fleeing his office, Dan recalls. Harrington still liked the stolen frames and so he ordered another pair. He had no idea what kind of impact they would have on history.
"So you really could say, Lennon wore signature Harrington spectacles, and not vice versa!"
After blacking out from an apoplectic fit, I regain my composure to summarize my findings. To some, Dr. Dan Harrington is Liverpool's finest optometrist. To music fans everywhere, because of his iconic contribution to the world's greatest band, he is known as The Fifth Beatle.
"Actually," Dan rudely interrupts, "that was just in an article written about John nicking my glasses. Nobody else really ever called me that, that I know of. However, I do know the bloke you want to talk to."
And in the blink of an eye, my investigation went from closed shut to wide open. Next week, following Dan's advice, I sit down with none other than Chester Helmsley-Foster, The Fifth Beatle.
Chester Helmsley-Foster, The Fifth Beatle
The grey morning makes for a brisk walk to a quaint music shop in North Liverpool. Suddenly, sunlight bursts through billowing clouds like a chorus summoning my arrival to meet The Fifth Beatle.
The burgundy brick façade of Helmsley-Foster's Handmade Musical Instruments bears a patina contradictory to its ebullient interior.
"And therein lies the wonder that is my store," explains proprietor Chester Helmsley-Foster. "Brilliance and beauty from a spartan, unassuming place.” I tell him I have no time for lofty and eloquent metaphors. I’m here for cold, hard metaphors: facts.
The steely-eyed octogenarian still uses traditional techniques to expertly craft all his instruments, ranging from the most austere, lonely banjo to the most ornate, jubilant banjo. But tradition didn't stop Chester from crafting the most iconic bass guitar of all time.
“I saw Paul playing at a local café with his mates, about 1960. What struck me as a bit daft was that he was using a stand-up bass, but trying to hold it horizontally like an electric one.”
Paul is suffering from chronic back pain on account of holding the monstrous instrument. (The song “Misery” was originally about this affliction.) But he refuses to buy a more accommodating bass, deeming himself a “traditionalist.”
“Really I just felt bad for him,” says Helmsley-Foster, “and I wanted to help.”
Chester sets out to create a modern bass with classical roots for McCartney. After 96 prototypes, he finally has the perfect bicycle. So he sets aside that project to focus on the bass. His final design is one so iconic, the very sight of it alone brings Beatles songs to my ears — the bass lines of them, anyway.
“I’d say he was quite pleased,” boasts the old luthier. “And ever since, I’ve been his instrument guy.”
Later, as Paul’s solo career continues to burgeon, Chester attempts creating a violin-shaped piano, violin-shaped microphone and other classically-inspired memorabilia that doesn’t quite pan out. But something that does pan out is his place, cemented squarely in the Fab Four’s lineup as The Fifth Beatle.
“Well, no, Paul always called me that as sort of an inside joke,” Chester clarifies while gracefully sanding a violin-shaped violin. “But the true Fifth Beatle? I believe I know someone you should talk to.”
My mysterious investigation trudges onward, straining my own back under its growing and unassailable weight. Next week, I talk to none other than Jon Finley, The Fifth Beatle.
Jon Finley, The Fifth Beatle
Steadily revolving, the somnambulist pirouette of red, white and blue stripes beckons me to a simpler time. A time unknowingly on the verge of musical legend. A time when the Fab Four met their Fifth.
Finley’s Traditional Barbershop recedes with a diminutive stature under the hulking monoliths of Liverpool’s Ropewalks neighborhood. Once a quiet and humble street, the cheery old barber doesn’t see nearly as many familiar faces anymore. He went blind a number of years ago after mistaking barbicide for mouthwash.
“In the last decade or so there’s really been a change,” reflects Jon Finley. “But I keep tellin’ them I’m not movin’ my shop, even if nobody wants to go to a blind barber.”
The city has tried everything to snatch up his coveted real estate to build the 26th luxury apartment building in the neighborhood. When John, Paul, George and Ringo wandered into Finley’s 50-some years ago, things were a totally different.
“The boys come in and say they need new haircuts for the Ed Sullivan Show. Something memorable, new, clean and simple.”
Jon looks around for inspiration, until realizing he holds it squarely in his own hands. At the bottom of his cereal bowl lies the idea of the century.
“I tell Ringo to sit down in the chair and I put the bowl upside down on his head, like this,” Jon mimics a bowl with his hands and smacks the top of his own head. “And that was that. History was made.”
The Beatles make their television debut. People are intrigued. Mistified. Excited. All anyone wants to do after seeing the musicians’ new do’s is tousle their hair. Fun at first, the endless tousling results in scratches, rashes, sores and eventually, hair loss. The band is mortified and retreat to Finley’s Barbershop.
“Four bald boys walk in and I realize it’s them! The haircuts I gave them, they tell me, worked too well. Everyone loved them too much and now they were bald from the tousling!”
Thinking quickly, Jon runs to his office for the band’s hair clippings. “I keep all my customer’s clippings for just such an occasion. Bill Shatner came in here in 1981 and I still have his hair.”
Putting his barber skills to the test once more, Jon crafts four wigs for the foursome. “Ironically,” says the coiffeur, “the first Beatle wigs created were worn by the Beatles.”
Finley opens the top drawer of his desk and gently removes a Beatle wig constructed, he tells me, of all four members’ hair. He lightly and euphorically places it atop his head and I know I am staring at The Fifth Beatle.
“Oh, once they knew I was using their hair to makes wigs for myself, they stopped coming here. I don’t blame ‘em. No, I’m not The Fifth Beatle — I can’t go within 500 miles of The Four Beatles. But I know a bloke who can.”
Next week, I meet none other than Harrison George, The Fifth Beatle.
Harrison George, The Fifth Beatle
The glimmer of success is bright, but fleeting. When immortalized on a wall, its glow is not only captured, but preserved as a constant reminder of what was, or what could have been. A lightning bug basking in a bottle of its own reflection.
I sit staring at the innumerable framed gold records adorning the walls in the studio of Harrison George, The Fifth Beatle. Prolific multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and sound engineer, George spends his days in his Liverpool home office making music, and often making memories no one but he will know.
“I met George and John right after we’d graduated,” remembers the 75-year-old songsman. I soon realize his recollections aren’t as rosy as his glasses would suggest. “We started recording music together so we had demos, but I would constantly have to re-record all their parts myself.”
Refusing to play any chord but A, George and John grow frustrated with Harrison’s “new-fangled” playing style.
“They said they wanted to be pure and simple. All I wanted to do was play a bloody F-sharp once in a while — even an E or a G.” Harrison’s musical talent went ignored. Until it wasn’t.
Club managers start specifically calling out the group’s use of F-sharp and E in their demo tunes. Much to the dismay of George and John, Harrison’s musical talent is becoming a nuisance to their own creativity.
“Paul and Ringo joined the band, but I felt I could still play all their instruments better. It was all me on the early recordings, anyway.” Harrison pulls out an old Polaroid of a recording session to show me. The Fab Four lazily lounge on a sofa as Harrison looks to be playing every instrument at once. Furious, I rip the Polaroid in half.
Tensions continue to mount, until the newly-formed Beatles decide to give Harrison the boot. “Their excuse was that it was too confusing to have two guys with opposite names in the band — George Harrison and Harrison George. But up until that point, all our early songs were duets about that confusion.”
It’s not long before the group realizes they need Harrison. They induct him as a behind the scenes member to aid in their recordings. As he explains this, I notice all the records on the walls are Beatles records.
“I produced all those albums. And they would bring me in when they needed other chords in songs. So I played the B in ‘Hard Day’s Night.’”
When I regain consciousness I’m told I destroyed several priceless pieces of memorabilia and had to be escorted off Mr. George’s premises. The premises of the man I now know as The Fifth Beatle.
“Fifth Beatle?” George shouts out his window at me, “I was THE Beatle! But those arseholes would never admit it. I’ll tell you who their fifth member was, if that’s what you’re after.”
Next week, I talk to Curtis LeFleur, The Fifth Beatle.
Curtis LeFleur, The Fifth Beatle
Calendar pages flip by as my journey continues. I close the car window because it’s windy and my Beatles Quote-A-Day calendar is now several months ahead. But before I turn back time, I catch a glimpse of May 9th: “I ain’t got nothing but love babe, eight days a week.” I look up and we’ve arrived at the house of The Fifth Beatle.
“You know,” says the cabby as I step out, “I heard that song was inspired by an over-worked chauffeur! Sometimes I feel like I’m working eight days a w—” I slam the door, uninterested.
Curtis LeFleur lives in East Liverpool. His brownstone cottage is enveloped by ivy, clinging to the brick as if it alone supports the structure. And it alone holds in the secret of Curtis LeFleur — beside he himself.
“That cabby was half right,” Curtis tells me over a coffee. “But that’s only because John, Paul, George and Ringo don’t want you to know the whole story.”
The Beatles sit in their recording studio April 16, 1964. In walks LeFleur, longtime friend and perpetual prospective band manager.
“I never could play an instrument, but we were all mates and I just thought it would be fun to help out,” reminisces LeFleur.
Curtis’s presence is a constant burden on the band’s actual manager, who constantly gives him menial tasks to keep busy. Curtis starts to grow tired of being the band’s errand boy, and he starts passing the time by playing practical jokes on the Foursome.
“It was your usually dickery. Getting them coffee that I’d pumped mustard and jelly into, purposely shrinking their clothes in the wash, introducing John to Yoko — harmless stuff. But my proudest prank happened that day, April 16.”
Curtis hands the band copies of their upcoming tour dates containing one minor adjustment with major consequences. Their bewilderment is so palpable it echoes through the soundproof studio, whose thin walls were scheduled to be fixed the following day.
“I’ll never forget them looking at those calendars. I’ve still got one of them,” he says, taking a framed schedule off his kitchen wall and handing it to me. I check off the days of the week until I get to the eighth column: Snerchday.
Curtis convinces the Fab Four that the standard week recently gained an extra day to reverse the detrimental effects of the Gregorian calendar. Not only does the band believe him, they observe Snerchday for the next four years. Schedules are skewed, shows are missed, relationships are broken, all because these Liverpool Lads believe the eight-day week to be true. Curtis becomes their full-time manager because he is the only one who can manage (or mismanage) their curious schedule. Their timeline troubles even inspire a hit song.
“They write this song, and people love it,” remembers LeFleur. “Everyone’s asking them where they came up with the eight-day week idea, and that’s when it hits them. They demoted me and came up with that cover story about the chauffeur. A bunch of bullocks, though.”
Curtis LeFleur’s intentions may have been questionable, but he inspired four musical legends to create an unquestionably incredible song. I wish him a good Snerchday, and bid adieu to The Fifth Beatle.
“Oh, no. I was was almost The Fifth Beatle before they figured out the whole Snerchday thing. That ship sailed long ago. But I know the man you want to see.”
In eight days, I meet none other than Hector Cromwell, The Fifth Beatle.
Hector Cromwell, The Fifth Beatle
As The Beatles eventually had to leave their hometown behind, I now leave behind the start of my journey. The band had their sights set on fame. I have mine set on The Fifth Beatle.
I am at a crossroads. In some cases, crossroads are symbolic but in rare cases they are quite literal. In even rarer cases, they are both: A physical intersection standing for something more than simply asphalt and white paint could evoke on their own.
Meeting me at these zebra stripes in London is Hector Cromwell. At 11:30, I immediately recognize him crossing the road. Not because I know him, but because I know his gait, his stride, as well as I know my own. At 11:31, on the east side of Abbey Road, I shake hands with the most iconic street crosser the world over.
“You know, I don’t really even think about it anymore since I cross this road so often,” says Cromwell, a 70-year-old banker and lifetime resident of the neighborhood. “But whenever I pass any record store, coffee shop, or bar in the entire world I guess it does spark some memories.”
1969, the summer of crosswalks. Every band is jumping on the trend of putting a photo of themselves crossing a street on their new albums. It evokes change, evolution, a bridge to something new. The Fab Four are on the hunt to claim a crosswalk of their own. But all they have to do is look out the window of their recording studio.
“It was George who rushed up to me when I was crossing the street just like I did today,” Cromwell reflects, “and he said I’d be perfect! For what, I’d soon find out.”
With the crosswalk secured, the photographer ready, the town constable holding traffic, all the Liverpool Lads need to do is to cross Abbey Road. But a simple, inconveniently strewn piece of litter would change the course of history.
“On the first take, Paul slipped on a banana peel and broke his ankle,” Hector says, fixated on those zebra stripes, a film reel projecting only to him a vivid and flickering memory. “So they all scrambled to get a stand-in for him, and that’s… that’s when they found me.”
Hector changes into Paul’s suit, but can’t squeeze into the musician’s size 5 shoes. McCartney had his feet bound as a child and wears specially designed shoes that look like size 13’s to compensate for this embarrassing affliction. The photographer instructs Hector to go barefoot, as his banana yellow shoes are upsetting to the injured McCartney.
A shutter click heard around the world catapults the mundane activity of crossing Abbey Road to an era-defining musical symbol. The Beatles take a break from bickering to rejoice. College freshman everywhere rejoice with their newfound staple décor. And Hector slips on his banana yellow sneakers—the same ones he wears today—and recedes from the spotlight, a postscript on the liner notes of history.
“Here’s the original photograph, before they put Paul’s head on mine.” Hector hands me the yellowed print. It’s surreal and captivating to look at an image I’ve seen infinite times with an entirely new perspective. As I gaze trembling at the photo, I brace myself against the rough exterior wall surrounding Abbey Road Studios. In its graffitied sea of signatures I find the name Hector Cromwell. I pull out a pen and begin to write beneath it: The Fifth Beatle.
“Uh—” Cromwell interjects, “You really shouldn’t do that. I’m not The Fifth Beatle. McCartney fervently denies that’s not him walking across Abbey Road. But if you’re looking for The Fifth Beatle, I think you should talk to this bloke.”
At the crossroads of Hector’s finger and the wall lies a name written in blue sharpie next to his own. None other than Davidson Marquette, The Fifth Beatle.
Davidson Marquette, The Fifth Beatle
“Are you ready to order, or should I give you a minute?” the waiter asks, standing in attempt to make the last few wrinkles of his freshly pressed shirt pulled taught. I glance from the menu and respond: “I know what I’d like, but it’ll just be a minute. I’m waiting for The Fifth Beatle.”
At 7:24, a dapper gentleman in a tweed suit approaches my table. Although I know from research that Davidson Marquette is in his late 70’s, he has the physique of a man half his age. When I offer him a menu, he politely declines. He tells me he practices strict adherence to a diet consisting solely of plant vapors from the jungles of Morocco.
“I’m a nutritionist, and I take pride in knowing all there is to know about what we put in our bodies.” Marquette has made his career on helping people be healthy, and in many ways, that career started in this London restaurant, La Casa Castillo.
It’s an unseasonably warm February night in 1965. The Liverpool Lads decide to have a night on the town, starting off with their favorite Spanish cuisine. They sit at their regular table, and eagerly await their authentic dining experience. But one Beatle can’t wait long enough.
Ringo reaches over to the decorative avocado bowl. Having never seen a whole avocado before, he decides to eat it like an apple. In two bites of tough, prehistoric skin complemented by bland, mushy innards, Ringo finds himself choking on a pit. As luck would have it, a doctor is in the house.
“Now, as any good nutritionist will tell you, avocados should be ingested as a vapor only,” explains Marquette. “So he’s sitting at the table next to my wife and I, writhing and flailing,” he remembers. “Paul, John and George are having a good laugh until they realize he’s serious. And that’s when I gave him the Heimlich maneuver, which from that day in London was referred to as the Ringo Reach Around.”
Davidson decides right then to become a nutritionist, believing that if only Ringo knew what an avocado was, he could have prevented this precarious situation. “I still keep that avocado pit on my desk, to remind me of the empowering knowledge food can provide.”
Ringo can’t thank Davidson enough, and vows to be his lifelong friend, keeping in contact to this day. “I usually just throw out any solo album he send me,” says Marquette, “but I did appreciate the signed Beatles memorabilia—that was great.”
I like to think something else happened that day; dusting off his trousers and re-tousling his hair just the right way, Ringo gets up and not only thanks Davidson, but proclaims him The Fifth Beatle.
“That’s a fun thought,” says my dinner mate, interrupting my imaginative aside. “But that didn’t actually happen—it was mostly how I told the story. Although, Ringo still also calls me about nutrition advice, or sends me photos of various fruits and vegetables to confirm what they are.”
Unfortunately this week, one more detail left unconfirmed is the identity of The Fifth Beatle. And that is one hard avocado pit to swallow. But the Ringo Reach Around to my predicament is a contact whom Davidson thinks I should meet. Next week, I talk to none other than Josephine Saunders, The Fifth Beatle.
Josephine Saunders, The Fifth Beatle
It is often hard for me to remember that music did exist outside of The Beatles. There were, in fact, other bands beside them; albeit inferior in every way, shape and form, but other bands nonetheless. The Beatles created their own musical universe, sucking any other band into a toe-tapping black hole from which they would never emerge. To even exist as a band during the reign of the Fab Four was musical heresy. But one stubborn group thought they were up to the suicidal challenge. Little did they know their leader would one day be The Fifth Beatle.
I sit across from Josephine Saunders in Archie’s Music Hall in East London. It’s hard to tell if her androgyny is a product of her aesthetic or the cloud of cigarette smoke enveloping her. She assures me, it’s both.
“The only way I was ever able to be successful in the musical boys’ club was to become one of them,” says Saunders, her voice so gravely I can’t imagine it ever producing anything that could tangibly be considered a note on a scale. “But that’s not how I started my career. Quite the opposite, actually.”
Josie and the Pussycats are on every poster outside every bar in 1964. Aside from their rhythmic endeavors, the girls are gaining notoriety as top-notch detectives. Natives of Los Angeles, the singing sirens are on a London tour coinciding with a reign of costumed terror threatening to shut down the city’s abundant amusement parks; London’s once bustling Amusement Park District is under siege by a veritable Who’s Who of mayhem: The Funhouse Fugazi, The Terrible Tycoon, The Coaster Ghoster, to name a few.
“Actually, taking down that crime syndicate was the easy part. The hard part was getting booked in any nightclub already claimed by The Beatles. Which, at the time, was all of them,” reflects Saunders.
Because crime doesn’t pay, much less solving it, Josie and the Pussycats fund their sleuthing by playing music. But because the Liverpool Lads staked their claim at every club the Cats tried to get their paws on, their music begins to fall on deaf ears—the one place in town they are permitted to play is the North London School for the Hearing Impaired.
“Those were okay shows, but not exactly the draw we were looking for,” says Josie, “so I took matters into my own hands.”
Ringo has a terrible ghost phobia. Years later, it would take a team of devoted psychoanalysts, ghost hunters, and Paul McCartney himself to convince Starr his band mate was still very much alive, despite ubiquitous disputes and satanic messages. Josie strikes a deal with The Beatles that if she can rid Ringo’s house of any ghoulies and/or ghosties, the Pussycats can not only open for them for the rest of their time in London, but she can sit in for Starr in disguise.
“They were hesitant at first, but they came around. Well, they came around when I put on a white sheet and hid in Ringo’s closet one night.” A bright memory shines across the cracked and desolate landscape of Josephine’s face.
Fans are none the wiser, and The Beatles actually prefer Josie over Ringo. From then on, whenever their doldrum drummer was incapacitated by supernatural paranoia, Josephine Saunders would take the stage.
“I got more recognition in disguise as Ringo than I ever did in the Pussycats, unfortunately. But that’s the world we live in. Music is a boys’ club and if you want to play ball, you’ve got to have one or two.”
Josephine Saunders may have traded in her go-go boots for a shaggy wig—she is currently in the process of several surgeries—but one thing she will never trade is the moniker she earned as The Fifth Beatle.
“Well,” she interrupts, “It’s not so simple. The Lads didn’t want people to know a girl was in the band, so they’d never admit to any of this. If you’re looking for the real Fifth Beatle, though, I know where to point you.”
And so my journey continues when next week I talk to none other than Francis Kettleman, The Fifth Beatle.
Francis Kettleman, The Fifth Beatle
The term “concept album” is thrown around all too often these days. From Ziggy Stardust to Tommy, the idea of music as an artistic expression to which a band’s canonical integrity does not have to be bound is always intriguing. It can also have disastrous effects.
Who could forget Bob Dylan’s concept album, Here’s My Stop, in which his Train Conductor persona simply named off destinations along the St. Paul–Chicago Amtrak line? Or Pink Floyd’s oft-forgotten, Building The Wall, a series of phone conversations with contractors scoping a hypothetical project building a large subway tiled wall.
Between hit and miss, the line is indiscernibly fine—with the exception of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s a body of work that defined the concept album. And one that almost didn’t happen at all.
I sit with Francis “Frank” Kettleman at his home in Biggin Hill, London. An octogenarian with the fiery spirit of a genarian a quarter his age, Francis proclaims himself the inspiration for not only Sgt. Pepper, but the entire Beatles album.
“Well, I was in the army with Paul’s father,” recalls Frank. “Back then—of course you can’t tell now—I had bright red hair and my mates took to calling me Sergeant Pepper.”
On a cold winter day in February 1967, Frank gets a demo recording from Paul’s father with a note saying, “For Sgt. Pepper and His Lonely Heart.” However, the song’s psychedelic grooves hurl Kettleman into a PTSD fueled fever.
“I hear the song, and something in me snaps; the war all comes flooding back. See, I was a POW in Japan and was officially pronounced dead. The enemy buried me and I crawled out of that grave and escaped. Doctors say I have a ‘Lonely Heart’ meaning it will stop beating for hours at a time under stress. Ironically, it saved my life.”
Paul feels awful about the song, and visits Frank every day in the hospital. And through these visits, he is inspired to develop the full album.
Every song becomes a story of an interaction Paul has with Frank in the psych ward. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is a journey to Japan, with Kettleman’s escape down a river under “marmalade skies.” “Fixing A Hole” is about Kettleman’s psychoanalysis and “filling the cracks” in his mind. The material is as endless as it is immersive.
After months, Sgt. Pepper is fully recovered, and Paul has written a full album—which he can’t release.
“I just wanted to credit,” says the Sergeant. “I mean, this was my life he was writing about! We talked about it for a long time, and I suggested he call the whole album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band instead of the working title, Paul McCartney’s Super Duper Concept Album Extraordinaire.”
Paul acquiesces, along with one other request: on the album cover, he wear Frank’s Officially Pronounced Dead, or OPD, badge from Japan as a memorial. The Beatle graciously and proudly accepts.
And with that, I officially pronounce this case closed with Francis Kettleman, The Fifth Beatle.
“Not quite,” interjects Frank. “I wouldn’t say I’m the Fifth Beatle. Especially with all the unfortunate hubbub surrounding the OPD badge and linking it to the Paul Is Dead conspiracy, the boys would never say I’m the Fifth Beatle. I know who is, though.”
Next week, I talk to none other than Richie Hughes, The Fifth Beatle.
Richie Hughes, The Fifth Beatle
It’s my first interview in an actual recording studio and I feel closer to the Fab Four than ever before. In particular, I feel closest with The Fifth Beatle, with whom I share this intimate space.
Richie Hughes stands approximately 4 inches away from me in the studio of his North London home. The studio reminds me, a layperson in terms of the recording industry, of a closet. Down to the pressed shirts hanging neatly around us and the loafers at our feet, there is a distinct armoirian feel. But Richie assures me it is the only studio he ever uses.
If you’ve ever met someone whom you’ve only before heard and thought, “That’s not what I expected,” I assure you, I share those sentiments in this moment. Laying eyes for the first time on a previously only audible hero is an unparalleled feeling. But I still feel estranged gazing into paper the bag placed firmly over Richie’s head.
“I haven’t left my home in 30 years,” Hughes tells me, “and nobody knows what I look like, so I hope you don’t mind the smoke and mirrors.” When I ask him to extrapolate on his reclusive ways, he tells me a story too amazing to be hidden away in a closet in North London.
1968 is bursting at its seams with Beatlemania. The Lads from Liverpool have written songs, produced albums, toured the world, starred in films, but have yet to embark on the final creative frontier: animation. Director George Dunning comes to the boys with a solution that would later be viewed as the best animated film of all time.
The Beatles love the idea, tell Dunning they can use their music, and even help out with some of the jokes in the script. But there’s a catch. All four refuse to do the voiceover work for speaking scenes.
“They tell Dunning they’re really more singers,” Richie informs me, his paper bag stoic yet kind. “He can’t persuade them to talk into a microphone; they keep slipping into song. So Dunning has to figure out who can voice the biggest band in history’s cartoon counterparts, and on a budget!”
Dunning meets Hughes at a voiceover recording for a radio ad. The ad features Hughes expertly switching between 17 different voices—which is unprecedented because it is only supposed to feature one person.
“Yes, that ad I see as my big break. They kept telling me to read the lines as written, but I said I read them as they sounded. And they sounded like 17 people explaining bail bonds.”
Upon getting fired and leaving the studio space, Dunning had overheard and tells Hughes he is hired for Yellow Submarine.
He effortlessly changes between John, Paul, George and Ringo, bringing a harmony to the film only matched by if The Beatles actually voiced themselves. Yellow Submarine sees immediate success, but Richie is told never to reveal he is the voice behind the Lads. As an uncredited actor, he is to remain, for once in his life, quiet.
“I knew I’d go telling the first person I ran into, so I shut myself away in this house,” says Richie. “After a while, I quite liked the solitude. And after a longer while, anyone who knew what I looked like was gone or had moved away.”
Hughes’s name still resonates throughout the animated film industry as loud and bellowing as his many voices. He tells me he still works in his quiet studio space, and I wonder how he can when all the cables, cords and tethers remain unplugged and dusty.
Although uncredited, Richie Hughes was at one point, the voice of the most famous band of all time. And will remain for all time, The Fifth Beatle.
“Well, part of my contract explicitly stated that I was under no circumstance The Fifth Beatle. But if you’re looking, I know who is.”
And with that, my search once again expands from 4 inches to 40,000 inches. Next week, I talk to none other than Reed Wilcox, The Fifth Beatle.
Reed Wilcox, The Fifth Beatle
I begin today sitting in a northern Wales home whose decor is practically lifted from the sets of Bollywood. At 10 am who should come to welcome me but The Fifth Beatle himself.
Reed Wilcox is about as pale and pasty as a Brit can get. But in his mid-80’s, age is all but concealed and nearly reversed under his vibrant and colorful robes and turban. He assures me they are spun from the most authentic Indian thread—more than several times.
“I identify more with the Indian people than with my own genealogy,” Wilcox tells me after kindly asking me to remove my filthy white man’s shoes in his house. “But I am a man without a country. For I can never go back to my beloved India. It betrayed me.”
It’s 1968 and The Beatles are soaking in any new influence they can. They’ve rocked, they rolled, but what’s next? The Fab Four are in search of a new fab sound; the trouble is, they don’t know what it sounds like. But fate has a way of working things out in the most unexpected ways.
At the bottom of Ringo’s Tasty Checkers Cereal box—yes, the one with the music note marshmallows discontinued after the 1980 incident killing several children—lay the answer to the band’s musical woes.
“As luck would have it,” Reed tells me, “Ringo won a trip for four to India. You have to remember, this was back in the times of good cereal box prizes. Nowadays, just because some kids can’t handle authentic ninja weapons in their Tasty Checkers boxes, everyone has to suffer.”
The Liverpool Lads certainly weren’t in Liverpool anymore. Because they were in Rishikesh, India, absorbing the culture, finding new inspiration and developing a sound that would later become linked to the band’s golden age. But gold inherently means others taking silver and bronze.
“I moved to India in the 50s and quickly learned I had an affinity for the sitar,” Remembers Reed. “It’s really a magical instrument. It combines what everyone loves about music: complexity, dissonance, drawn out, non-melodic progressions. I really was a master. But so was Ravi Shankar.”
Wilcox and Shankar have a rivalry reaching its boiling point as The Beatles begin meditating their way through India. What began as friendly, with a show entitled “Dueling Sitars”—a 5-and-a-half hour laborious and languorous musical battle between two stolid and serene juggernauts—culminates into one of the most heated musical rivalries of all time, on the cusp of one of the most influential moments in history. Only one of these Sultans of Sitar would have the chance to play with The Beatles.
“They saw the both of us play. Technically, I was better. Musically, I was more adventurous.” Reed continues, “but because of my English heritage, I was old news to the Lads. Ravi embodied Indian culture to them purely on account of being Indian.” John, Paul, George and Ringo tell Wilcox they can’t very well go to India to write one of the most iconic albums of all time with the help of some white guy.
“It was that God damned Maharishi. He had it out for me ever since I didn’t bring an appetizer to his birthday party. Who expects people to bring an appetizer when they don’t know how many guests will be there? If you bring too little you look like an arsehole; too much and you’re out 70 quid for some crudités!”
Despite following the advice of the Maharishi to work with Ravi Shankar, The Beatles still gain some inspiration from Wilcox on a few songs. They even name the album after him: The White Album. And so his dulcet, bending and harmonic swansong will forever be known throughout history as the Ballad of The Fifth Beatle.
“No, they never called me that. Again, I was just some white guy pretending to be Indian to them. That White Album thing I think was them being a bunch of dicks. And jokes on them, because they offered Ravi to be The Fifth Beatle, and he told them no! But I know who is.”
Next week, following Reed’s advice, I talk to none other than Sandy Smithe, The Fifth Beatle.
Sandy Smithe, The Fifth Beatle
Back in London in a somber café, the grey morning reflects my disposition. My journey has been if nothing else, circuitous; the results thus far have been degrading and draining. But every cloud has a silver lining, and mine strolls into meet me at 9:00 am.
Sandy Smithe is so jovial it’s hard to believe a smile could ever leave his face. Once voted “The Happiest Man In London” this Brit has a dark past that can only be extinguished through a constant, hellfire blaze of ebullience.
“No, I wasn’t always like this,” Sandy tells me. “But I’ve no reason not to be cheerful, gleeful, upbeat or otherwise. And it’s all thanks to The Beatles.”
January, 1969 is a bleak time. But a ray of hope comes shining through. Not literally, as the day is seasonably overcast. But metaphorically. The Beatles amble up to the roof of their Apple Corps. offices to set up what would become the most iconic impromptu concert in history. Not metaphorically, but literally.
“You could say I had a front row seat, because I was already up there,” says Smithe. “I was a coffee boy at Apple, having another rotten day. And I decided it was time to end it all.”
Sandy peers over the edge to his demise on the street staring up at him. His macabre preparations are interrupted by the jostle of a door.
“Ringo walks out onto the roof carrying a kick drum. Then Paul comes out, followed by George and John.” Smithe says although he was contemplating his death, he was still starstruck.
Sandy does his best to keep his composure. He decides to just go on about his business. It’s bleak business, but it’s his own. The Beatles set up their instruments and are too polite to interrupt the employee standing on the ledge in front of them, lost in thought.
“I was nervous, but also upset they wouldn’t even take the time to interfere, or ask me why I was about to kill myself. To me this was the whole problem! Nobody noticed me.”
The Lads begin playing their set, all the while with Sandy standing on the ledge. As a crowd gathers on the street below, Smithe begins to doubt he can go through with his plans.
“They’re playing their set, and everyone’s having a grand old time. But the police catch wind of it. Before I know it squad cars are below me—not to talk me off the ledge, but to tell The Beatles to quiet down a bit!”
Paul stands on the ledge next to Sandy and obliges with the Constable’s request to turn the volume down. As Paul thanks him, the Constable adds a parting thought through his megaphone, finally addressed to Sandy: “Sir, you’ll have to wait until after the show to get autographs.”
“I couldn’t believe it! The only way I could get people to notice me was by actually jumping, I thought. With one foot off the ledge, Paul grabs my shoulder and says, ‘It’s okay, officer, he’s with us!’ I was in shock.”
Paul hands him a tambourine and Sandy finishes the set with them. He makes a vow to thank Paul by living out the rest of his days to their fullest, happiest potential. On this day, Sandy Smithe becomes The Fifth Beatle.
“Well, he was actually pretty explicit I was not The Fifth Beatle. Super nice guy, though. But, I mean, Billy Preston was standing about three meters away from me at the time. However, he was pretty clear Billy wasn’t, either. He did mention someone else, though.”
And with that, I step off my own ledge to continue my journey. Next week, I sit down with none other than Shannon Farrows, The Fifth Beatle.
Shannon Farrows, The Fifth Beatle
Part of life is finding someone with whom to share it. For many, this search is fruitless. For others, it’s a simple walk in the park. For John Lennon, it was strolling through the park I’m in right now.
Meeting me at Hampstead Heath is The Fifth Beatle. In the distance, her silhouette is ambiguous and purposeful all at once. We meet in the middle of the grassy expanse as if the subjects of a romantic film. But unlike any rom-com I’ve ever seen, the story of Shannon Farrows is one where the protagonist starts in one place, and through a series of turns and life lessons, ends up in a completely different one.
“I met John right at this spot, in fact,” reflects Shannon, lost in a years-long gaze. “I used to take walks here with my quintessentially attractive roommate. I wore glasses, so it wasn’t evident I would be attractive to John.”
1966 is a year fraught with difficulties for Lennon. Still in the throes of success, he finds it increasingly difficult to write new and meaningful music. So every Saturday afternoon, he comes to Hampstead Heath with a stack of paper to gain inspiration and write.
“I never understood why he didn’t just buy a notebook,” Farrows tells me. “With all the writing he was doing in such a windy and open space, it seemed almost nonsensical that he’d be writing songs on dozens of sheets of loose leaf paper. But then again, if it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have met.”
Shannon and her roommate, Alice, spot a piece of paper on the ground with the words “Tomorrow Never Knows” scrawled across it in blue ink. Alice picks it up and is met with the frantic stare of John Lennon himself, collecting his windblown documents. The two lock eyes with immediate chemistry. Simultaneously, another sheet blows into Shannon’s face, knocking her glasses on the ground and revealing her previously unnoticed beauty. She and Lennon lock eyes with an immediate chemistry.
“If that paper hadn’t blown my glasses off, John would have never even seen me. But it was love at first sight—if you don’t count his first sight of Alice, I suppose.”
John and Shannon become the perfect couple. John is inspired to write as he wills it. Shannon is inspired by John to pursue her own career in medicine. The only people not feeling the love are the other three Liverpool Lads.
“I always felt that John needed his space to create,” explains Shannon. “He had his own world, and I wanted to respect that. He respected my professional endeavors, and I had nothing but admiration for his. But Paul, George and Ringo interpreted my intentions as an affront to The Beatles.”
The boys sit John down to talk to him about Shannon: Why does she never come to recordings? Why doesn’t she give you her opinion on songs? Why aren’t they dressing the same? Paul, George and Ringo think Shannon doesn’t care about the band and John is not only making an unhealthy relationship decision, but is putting The Beatles in jeopardy.
“What started as the most amazing period in my life ended in tragedy. I kept waiting for a third act to our play, but it never came.” Shannon can barely find the words to explain what happened next.
John tells Shannon they need to break up. It’s for the good of the band. But he promises he would never find another like her—because he ends up finding the exact opposite.
“I heard from a friend he started dating Yoko. Wearing matching berets, posing nude together, making some sort of plastic miniatures of her. It was just a bit much for my taste. But I wished them well. Who would have thought that another one of my wishes wouldn’t come true.”
Tomorrow never knows. And unfortunately neither does the next day, or the day after that. The demise of The Beatles is often attributed to Yoko. But credit is never given to the creative influence over John to write some of the most poignant pieces of his time. The influence of The Fifth Beatle.
“No, I don’t recall him once calling me that. But you might want to talk to someone I know.”
Shannon and I part ways across the grassy plains of Hampstead Heath, and can’t help but think of the significance. I also forgot to ask her the best way to get back on the highway from here. Next week, I catch up with Mark York, The Fifth Beatle.
A Conclusion, The Fifth Beatle
A journey is, by definition, taxing, arduous and winding. But it is also rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful. This week, I had set out to meet Mark York, The Fifth Beatle. Unfortunately, he’ll be waiting for a long time.
On the way to York’s home out in the wilds of the English countryside, my car began to sputter and eventually exhausted its final breath. I quickly realized, however, that I wasn’t stranded; I was exactly where I needed to be.
I also couldn’t afford to leave my current predicament; at the start of my quest, I had liquidated my entire savings. And in purchasing the gas to reach Mark’s home, I spent my last penny.
1957 marks the meeting of two musical juggernauts. Paul McCartney and John Lennon instantaneously strike up a friendship and share their passion for songwriting. But neither have ever written a song. They know they need paper, pencils and guitars: the key components of creative juice-flowing.
So the duo stroll down to their local instrument shop barely containing their excitement. The ideas are shaping, and distance iotas of “Penny Lane,” “Nowhere Man” and “Imagine” begin to percolate.
John and Paul reach the cash register with paper, pencils and guitars in hand. But the twosome quickly realize that by purchasing these necessary tools, they would no longer have a single penny in their position.
“Don’t worry,” says John. “It’ll be worth it.”
My thoughts exactly as I stare out onto the countryside. I may not have found the one true Fifth Beatle. But I found a dentist who once saved Ringo from choking on an avocado pit; a Yoko who was Yoko before Yoko; the voice of the cartoonized Fab Four. And for those interactions, I am forever grateful.
I may have spent my last penny. I may have gone wildly out of my way to answer a question either no one had asked, or others felt they answered. But maybe the answer isn’t as simple as finding a person deemed and crowned “The Fifth Beatle.”
Maybe The Fifth Beatle is Mark York. But maybe it’s Shannon Farrows, Reed Wilcox or Curtis LaFleur all the same. Maybe it’s me; maybe it’s you. Maybe The Fifth Beatle is in all of us. Or maybe they’re out there, waiting to share their story — a story that one day I, and the world over, would love to hear. But for now, we’ll just have to let it be.