How Charles Manson went from failed musician to cult rocker – it only took a multiple murder conviction
Songs from Manson’s album ‘Lie: The Love and Terror Cult’ have been covered by Guns N’ Roses and the Lemonheads, while the Beach Boys’ reworking of one song without crediting Manson led to a dispute that cost a band member dearly
Starting in the 1970s, not long after Charles Manson directed his followers to murder seven people over two bloody nights in Los Angeles, the convicted killer’s music and notoriety fuelled a small underground industry.
The allure was centred on Manson’s only album, recorded in Los Angeles in 1967 and ’68 and issued a year after the 1969 murders. Manson, it turns out, was a failed folk rock artist who desperately sought the attention of a Los Angeles music scene then thriving in the studios, labels and clubs along Sunset Boulevard.
He didn’t get it, and that rejection by insiders – including the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and record producer (and Doris Day’s son) Terry Melcher – helped ignite Manson’s rage.
Called Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, Manson’s album was issued on an imprint named Awareness and featured 14 Manson originals, including Garbage Dump, Sick City and Look at Your Game, Girl.
Songs from it have been covered by bands including Guns N’ Roses and the Lemonheads, while punk singer-writer-DJ Henry Rollins produced some Manson jailhouse recordings that have never been officially released.
Most notably, Lie features a Manson-penned song titled Cease to Exist, which became the centre of a dispute between him and the Beach Boys after the band reworked the song – changing the lyrics and the tone – and renamed it Never Learn Not to Love.
Manson, who died on November 19, had barged his way into the world of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson after the musician picked up two women hitchhikers from Manson’s posse. For a while he and members of the so-called “Family” lived at Wilson’s Sunset Boulevard home. Manson even lobbied to be on the Beach Boys’ imprint, Brother Records.
During a 2016 interview with The Wall Street Journal, the Beach Boys’ Mike Love recalled going to a dinner party with bandmate Bruce Johnston at Dennis Wilson’s house. The Manson Family was there and after dinner, he said, most took LSD. “We were the only ones with clothes on,” Love, who declined the drug, said of his and Johnston’s arrival. “It was quite unusual.”
The Beach Boys issued Never Learn Not to Love as the B-side to Bluebirds over the Mountain in early December 1968. Manson was said to be furious that the Beach Boys had not credited him for his work, and that they had changed some of his precious words. “Submission is a gift,” Manson’s version goes. “Go on, give it to your brother / Love and understanding / Is for one another.”
Within months of the release, Manson’s Family had stolen some of Dennis Wilson’s gold records, totalled his Mercedes and cost him a reported US$100,000.
Manson and many Family members were arrested in October 1969 for the Tate-LaBianca murders, and the owner of Awareness, Phil Kaufman, pressed Manson’s album the next year. Kaufman was a famous tour manager, perhaps best known for absconding with the body of the late country rocker Gram Parsons after he died at the Joshua Tree Inn – and then lighting fire to the artist and his coffin in the desert.
Kaufman came to put out Lie after meeting Manson in the mid-1960s in jail. Kaufman was in prison for a marijuana conviction, and Manson was jailed for crimes including forgery and pimping.
Kaufman recalled in a 2013 interview that after Manson was arrested for the murders, but before being convicted for his part of them, “we made a deal. [Manson] said, ‘Put out my record and you can have all the rights to my music.’ So I did.”
Kaufman remembered pressing a few thousand copies, but said that “half of those were stolen by the Family when they broke into my house. They tried three more times, and the last time I chased them off with a gun, so I never saw them again.”
A year later, a Spanish label titled Movieplay issued a European version titled 12 Canciones Compuestas y Cantadas por Charles Manson. The noted avant-garde label ESP-Disk put out an edition in the early 1970s, and the notorious label Come Organisation issued a version in 1981. During the compact disc era, the record is said to have sold thousands of copies.
The mid-1980s saw the release of a record of songs by Manson’s followers called The Manson Family Sings the Songs of Charles Manson. Recorded in 1970 and featuring home-recorded renditions of Manson’s unpublished songs, the album features contributions from Family members including Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Sandra Good and Steve “Clem” Grogan.
By law, Manson was not allowed to collect royalties – those are supposed to go to victims’ families – but a number of well-known and respected artists have used Manson’s music and image for shock value, ensuring his songs are not totally forgotten.
Cease to Exist has been covered by artists including Redd Kross and the Lemonheads, while Guns N’ Roses recorded Look at Your Game, Girl for their record The Spaghetti Incident?
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails recorded the classic album The Downward Spiral at the Benedict Canyon home where Manson’s followers murdered Sharon Tate, who was eight months’ pregnant at the time.
Manson’s Lie: The Love and Terror Cult is currently available on all the major streaming services.