The REAL 5th Beatle

22 01 2010

You may often hear people talk about the “5th Beatle”. Well, throughout the band’s career there have been many people who were given this moniker: Producer George Martin, Manager Brian Epstein, Yoko Ono, or original drummer Pete Best to name just a few.

If you ask me, the REAL 5th Beatle was actually keyboardist/singer, Billy Preston who at the time was a great session player but is now best know for his singles, “Nothing from Nothing” & “Will It Go Round Circles”. He played with so many big names, including Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones, Quincy Jones and many more. Many people don’t realize that Billy actually played keyboards (Hammond Organ and Fender Rhodes) on the Get Back/Let It Be sessions which eventually became the album, Let It Be. This was an extremely tumultuous time for the Beatles as documented in the film and in numerous writings about the band. Billy was brought in as a suggestion from George Harrison in order to ease the tension between the Fab Four. Keep in mind, this was after George had “quit” the band, returning on his own terms which included Preston.

As I said, these recording sessions were a particularly tough period for the band, later considered to be the beginning of the end. The back story to all of this is so rich and intense that I can’t even began to hash it all out in one single post. In order to get a full grasp on it all, you need to read the reference links at the very bottom. I really encourage you to do so as it is an incredible story that shows some real insight in to what happened to the world’s greatest rock band. If you’re up for it, also read The Anthology… it’s very cool.

Anyway… Paul felt the band was too disjointed at this point and wanted to “get back” to their roots of being a live band. The way I see it, Billy Preston really helped them do this. It was later noted that his professionalism and musicianship was a large contributing factor to the success (if you could call it that) of this session. Lennon, who was definitely the most aloof about keeping the band together, had even suggested at the close of it that Billy formally join the band as the official 5th Beatle. Of course, McCartney said no way as it was hard enough keeping the original 4 members happy.

As I said, this story is SO layered and intricate that I can’t do it justice here. Immediately below you will find some of the infamous videos from the final Beatles live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Records building… with Preston. I’ve included my favorites: “Get Back, “Don’t Let Me Down” & “I’ve Got A Feeling”. There’s also “Let It Be” from the recording session. See also Billy’s “Nothing from Nothing” which is an absolute Soul/R&B classic. At the very bottom, there are the links I mentioned. The Rolling Stone article is pretty interesting stuff. The Wiki page is good and thorough. There is also the FULL LENGTH Let It Be film, albeit in multiple parts… it’s totally worth it if you haven’t seen it before.

*Rolling Stone article… probably one of their best.

*Let It Be Wiki Page

*5th Beatle Wiki Page

*Entire Let It Be film in 9 parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

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