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25 August 2019, 13:30 | Updated: 25 August 2019, 13:31
The cult leader tried to make it big as a rock star… before he became embroiled in the most notorious murders of the 1960s. But which songs did he write and who covered them?
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and the second season of Mindhunter have re-ignited interest in Charles Manson, the cult leader and convicted criminal who was involved in the murders of actress Sharon Tate, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and five others in the dark summer of 1969.
Manson and his Family - a dysfunctional group of young people who wound up in the drug-soaked atmosphere of California at the tail end of the 1960s - were considered to be the horrifying side of the hippie dream. Although Manson was not involved directly in the Tate-LaBianca murders, the US courts decided he had enough influence to be found guilty of conspiracy and was sentenced to death, later commuted to life.
The Manson case shocked and fascinated America. The cult leader’s claim that The Beatles’ White Album had included hidden messages inspiring him to kill, plus the fact that Tate was married to film director Roman Polanski, meant the case was rooted in the pop culture of 1969.
The other chilling fact that linked Charles Manson to the world of rock music and celebrity was that he’d spent a long time trying to break into show business before he wound up directing his murderous cult from a dilapidated ranch in California.
When Manson was released from prison in 1967, he tried to make it big in San Francisco as a musician. He befriended Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys and offered some of his songs to the group.
This association with movers and shakers in the Hollywood music scene led to some of Manson’s songs emerging into the world and even getting a limited record release. But which songs did he actually write… and which famous artists covered him?
Record producer Phil Kaufman met Manson in prison in the mid 1960s and recorded some of the soon-to-be cult leader’s songs. Once Manson was arrested for the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1970, he got in touch with Kaufman and insisted that this would be the ideal opportunity to allow the world to hear his music.
The result was Lie: The Love And Terror Cult, issued on 6 March 1970, complete with a sleeve that spoofed the cover of Life magazine. The original album contained 14 songs recorded between June 1967 and August 1968 which included the following…
Included on the Mindhunter Season 2 soundtrack, Cease To Exist is probably the Manson song with the most interesting story. The cult leader had pitched the song to Dennis Wilson and his band The Beach Boys actually recorded the song under a different title: Never Learn Not To Love. They obviously thought that the death-obsessed title of the original was unsuitable.
However, Manson wasn’t credited on the label, which was the B-side to the Beach Boys single, Bluebirds Over The Mountain in December 1968 - Charlie gave up his credit in exchange for cash and a motorbike. The track was also included on the album 20/20 in February 1969, but Manson was angry that the group had changed the lyrics. It was the nearest to legitimate stardom that the cult leader ever got.
The Lemonheads and Rob Zombie covered Cease To Exist, while Pixies referenced the song and the Manson murders in their track Wave Of Mutilation, from the 1989 album Doolittle. Singer Black Francis opens the song with the line “Cease to resist”, which is how the Beach Boys amended Manson’s nihilistic original title.
This was one of the songs that Manson hawked around record companies prior to his retreat to the Spahn Ranch in California. The song became notorious when Guns N’Roses included it on their covers album The Spaghetti Incident? in 1993.
Axl Rose claimed his brother had played him the song without telling him who it was, but many people complained that the including of a Charles Manson song on the LP was in bad taste. Royalties from the track went to Bartek Frykowski, the song of murder victim Wojciech Frykowski.
Actor Crispin Glover, best known for playing the hapless George McFly in Back To The Future, recorded an album in 1989 called The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be, which included this Manson cover. The composition can also be heard in the Tarantino movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, as the Manson Family are heard singing this the first time they appear.
Members of the Manson Family who were still free recorded their own album while the trial was going on. Titled Manson Family Jams, the record featured songs written by the leader and recorded by the likes of “Clem” Grogan and “Squeaky” Fromme. The campfire sing-a-long style of the recordings is incredibly creepy.
Both The Lemonheads and Devendra Banhart have covered this Manson song which exhorts listeners to “burn all your bridges, leave your whole life behind”. “This is for the youngsters,” Manson says by way of introduction. Creepy.
Controversial punk performer GG Allin covered this ditty in 1987 which references the Manson Family’s habit of searching through rubbish bins for food and useful items to keep them going. In Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the audience are introduced to the Family as they're in the middle of dumpster diving.
One of the many rambling acoustic tracks recorded by Manson, this is probably the most autobiographical and alarming of the songs on the album: “I don't care what they say / Just let 'em sit there and burn.”
US shock rocker Marilyn Manson took his stage name from a combination of the names Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe and covered this LIE album track… but it’s never been officially issued.