THE BEST SONGS BY CHARLES MANSON
In honor of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we’ve opted to take a deep dive into the musical significance of one of the world’s most notorious psychopaths: Charles Manson.
While the film has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack straight out of 1969, there’s only one brief mention of Manson’s own musical aspirations. We figured, since we’re a music website, it was our duty to pick up where Tarantino dropped the ball (or likely his intention to shine as little light as possible on Manson), and fill our readers in on the songs that music producer Terry Melcher notoriously “took a pass” on.
Charles Manson left Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution with a guitar on his back, and big dreams of making it as a singer/songwriter in San Francisco. He followed the hippies, with flowers in their hair, up to the Bay Area mecca of Haight/Ashbury. It was here that ol’ Charlie got his chops, singing on the side of the road, and serenading more than one girl into joining the soon-to-be Manson Family Cult.
But Charlie wanted more than busking offered him, so he packed his girls up in his van, headed down to L.A., and made serious headway with some major players: Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys) and Terry Melcher (Producer: The Byrds / Paul Revere and the Raiders). Many think that Manson’s murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Jay Sebring were targeted toward Melcher (who used to live at 10050 Cielo Drive) after refusing to work with Manson in the recording of any more music. Yeesh.
Okay, let’s start with Dennis Wilson.
The story goes that Charlie and Dennis Wilson were buds. That the Manson Family crashed with him for a while (costing the Beach Boy upwards of $100,000) and the two of them wrote songs together. Eventually, Dennis abandoned the house with Manson still in it, but not before holding onto the song and lyrics for Manson’s only official release:
THE BEACH BOYS - NEVER LEARN NOT TO LOVE
“Never Learn Not to Love” is a 1968 B-Side from the Beach Boys. Post-Smile, pre-Kokomo, pre-murders. Originally titled “Cease to Exist,” this song was released with Charlie receiving no songwriting credit, and became a major thorn in his side, even resulting in him going as far as to threaten Wilson’s life over it.
This didn’t slow Charlie down, he kept writing songs be damned, even if none of them saw the same kind of release as the Beach Boys’ one.
Terry Melcher did continue to try working with Manson after this. The record producer found himself out at Spahn Ranch on more than occasion but was unable to capture Manson’s energy on the recording-- plus Manson skeezed him out. Some of the songs written for Melcher ended up getting recorded by the Manson Family (Clem, Squeaky, and Gypsy specifically) in 1970, and then eventually released 27 years later as The Family Jams. Here’s a cut from the record:
THE MANSON FAMILY - GET ON HOME
It’s lo-fi, but catchy, jangly folk-pop, straight out of the era. “Get on Home,” amongst others sounds like the kind of songs that totally could have broken through if Manson weren’t so difficult to work with. There are 27 more of these (one for every year it didn’t get released), for those of you who want to get digging on the internet.
ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD - ALWAYS IS ALWAYS FOREVER
The girls can be heard singing the haunting melody of “Always is Always Forever” in Brad Pitt’s now-infamous Spahn Ranch scene from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The song is equally as haunting on YouTube as it is in the movie theatre. CREEPY.
Fans of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina might recognize the song from here as well:
CHARLES MANSON - LIVE FROM SAN QUINTIN
If you want to hear the jerk sing himself, you’ll have to check out his 1983 bootleg record: Live from San Quentin. There was set to be another record, acoustic songs produced by Henry Rollins, that, unfortunately (or fortunately, hell what do I care?) never saw the light of day. Rollins buried the record after some particularly bad press and intimidating death threats.
Manson’s songs from San Quentin are authentic, but almost too much so. The audio is grainy and filled with lots of background noise. There is no longer the joie-de-vivre that Manson once demonstrated outside of prison walls. These songs are largely improvised and don’t have the remotest bit of that “charm” (if you can call it that) that comes from the recordings of the Family without him.
Which goes to say, that all the best versions of Manson’s songs are all cover versions. Many come from artists who like to push buttons and rile things up. From Guns ‘N Roses, Marilyn Manson, Sonic Boom, and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats-- these artists know exactly what they’re doing releasing Manson originals.
GUNS N’ROSES - LOOK AT YOUR GAME, GIRL
Axl Rose buried this cover of “Look at Your Game, Girl” as a hidden track on “The Spaghetti Incident?” Royalties were diverted to Frykowski family for this Carribean lounge version of Manson’s tune. Not really sure what Guns ‘N Roses were thinking here, as Axl’s voice doesn’t pop with the same range as “November Rain” or “Welcome to the Jungle.” Probably should have left this one on the studio master tapes.
MARILYN MANSON - SICK CITY
Marilyn Manson, ever the instigator-- hell, he’s even named after Charlie-- released an unplugged cover of “Sick City” in the wake of Manson’s death. Here we have a clip of Manson performing a stripped-back version of the tune live. These two were penpals and apparent friends, so it makes sense that one would cover the others’ music. I’d personally love to hear a Charles Manson version of “The Beautiful People.”
SONIC BOOM - MECHANICAL MAN
Sonic Boom (of psychedelic UK outfit Spacemen3) alongside Spectrum released an intensely dark cover of “Mechanical Man” in the middle of their What Came Before After LP. This track is a spoken-word psychedelic nightmare, in what best likely best represents the madness present amongst the acid-soaked family in 1969 California. This feels disturbingly true to form.
UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS - GET ON HOME
Most recently comes Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ lo-fi psych cover of “Get on Home.” This band is just starting to crossover into the national stage, bringing a haunting version of this song with them. “Get on Home,” feels like an anthem to the flock, convincing the Family to do Manson’s bidding in a way that is all the more terrifying considering the way things played out. Compare this to the earlier version by The Family. Uncle Acid sure made this feel scarier.
Then there’s GG Allin’s “Garbage Dump,” but ain’t nobody trying to listen to GG Allin.
Well, that was grim, but I hope that you feel like you’ve learned something today. By the way, just for the record, we weren’t sure to run this piece … why give any spotlight to a guy that was behind so much mayhem, pain and suffering. But maybe those songwriting chops are helping him and all the other slimeball murders pass time in hell.
[Image labeled for reuse from Wikimedia.]