In our recent item about the film “What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USA” in New York City, we noted that disc jockey Murray the K (Murray Kaufman) was associated with the label “The Fifth Beatle.”
Peter Altschuler of the Murray the K Archives at www.murraythek.com says that label actually originated with a Beatle.
“In the Maysles’ film, there’s a scene of the Beatles walking through the train that took them to their first concert venue in D.C. It was during one of those strolls between cars that a security guard tried to stop Murray as he followed behind George Harrison. George looked back and told the guard, ‘He’s alright. He’s the fifth Beatle.’”
He says that was the origin of the moniker, “though Murray certainly qualified as part of the group during that first U.S. visit (see any other deejays in the film?).”
“He was with the Beatles at the Plaza, in Washington, at Carnegie Hall, in Miami and, after they returned to the U.K., as the emcee who introduced the group at a Wembley Stadium concert, an invited observer on the set of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ during the filming of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love,’ and the Beatles’ guest at a private club.
“It was during that trip to England that the Beatles introduced Murray to Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, which was the first step in Murray’s effort to get the Stones their own Carnegie Hall concert (and suggest they cover ‘It’s All Over Now’ which became their first Top Ten hit).”
But Kaufman was no newcomer to American radio audiences.
“Long before that, though, Murray had already established himself as a hitmaker. He championed Bobby Darin in the late ’50s (and even co-wrote “Splish Splash”), put black artists like Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, and Dionne Warwick on his roster at the Brooklyn Fox Theater rock ‘n’ roll shows when segregation was still very real, discovered and introduced acts (Bobby Vinton, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Rascals, Cream, The Who, and even Wayne Newton) that went on to become major stars, and had more angles (submarine race watching, Meusurray…) than any other DJ in town.,” he said.
“Before he even set foot on the BOAC jet, Epstein had done his homework and knew exactly who he had to court to get the group the greatest exposure. If the guy who helped Bobby Darin get his first gold record (“Splish Splash”) could help put the Beatles on the same trajectory, it made business sense. It also made business sense to Murray and the station’s management, including promotional director Rick Sklar. Higher ratings translated into higher revenue, higher salaries, promotional fees.”
However, Altschuler says Kaufmann didn’t “like to call himself ‘The Fifth Beatle’.”
“He was called ‘The Fifth Beatle,’ realized the promotional power of the association (and Brian Epstein realized the power Murray had on New York’s airwaves), and used it to attract more listeners to his WINS show which, ultimately, overtook John Gambling at the top of the Arbitron ratings in New York, the first rock ‘n’ roll program ever to do that.”
He also says the deejay didn’t chase them.
“He didn’t seek out the Beatles. In fact, one of their early releases scored third out of five on the nightly Record Review Board, and Murray figured that the listeners weren’t interested… and his listeners were the ultimate arbiters. So, when his station, WINS, called him in Miami and told him to cut his vacation short to cover the Beatles’ arrival at Idlewild Airport, he wasn’t too pleased. And I’m sure that the Beatles themselves may have had their own opinions of the people that Brian Epstein set them up with, and Epstein definitely set them up with Murray.”
And he says Kaufman’s association with the Beatles was not his only claim to fame.
“Rabid Beatle aficionados have spent decades asserting that Murray was a nobody who rode to fame on the coat tails of The Fab Four,” he says. “Nonsense. He was an established star in his own right long before they arrived. Did his association with the group burnish his image? Absolutely. Did it help theirs? A little (it was hard, if not impossible, for local radio to trump the nationally broadcast ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ even though WINS’ 50,000 watt transmitter made the signal available as far west as Kansas).”
Could Harrison have been sarcastic with his “Fifth Beatle” comment?
“At that point, why would he be?,” Altschuler says. “My guess is that, after having Murray as part of the entourage for days on end, he’d become like another member of the group. He may not have played an instrument, but he knew how to play the crowd — on the air and, unlike his on-air colleagues, in person — and that was extremely valuable to the group’s success in the U.S. in the very early days. After that, of course, they didn’t really need anyone except perhaps Epstein, George Martin and Neil Aspinall.”
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