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Music

The songs Charles Manson wrote...and the bands who covered them

Away from the headlines of his cultist atrocity, Charles Manson also had a music career that put him in the same room as some of the biggest counterculture stars of all time. In a quirk of history, the notorious criminal even shared a jam session with Neil Young when he was an up-and-coming talent in the music industry before it all turned horrifically sour. 

The cult leader’s life has been eternalised many times over through movies, songs, books and every other medium possible, but naturally, few have the same spooky insight that Young has on the matter when he wrote ‘The Revolution Blues’. In many ways, Young captures both the individual and the societal issues that led to the heinous crimes that shocked Hollywood. 

As Young said himself, “A few people were at this house on Sunset Boulevard, and the people were different. I didn’t know what it was; I was meeting them, and he was not a happy guy, but he seemed to have a hold on girls. It was the ugly side of the Maharishi. You know, there’s one side of the light, nice flowers and white robes and everything, and then there’s something that looks a lot like it but just isn’t it at all.”

Manson certainly operated on the three tenets of late sixties pop culture: sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – but he did so in a much more nefarious manner than the flower power that sought progress. Ultimately, this all culminated in a series of gruesome murders that he hoped would trigger a race war. 

Prior to that, however, he had learnt to play the guitar while in prison for various juvenile offences, after being taught by an inmate named, Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis. He saw music as a way to achieve the notoriety he crazed. This dream came somewhat closer to fruition than many would like to admit. 

Manson ended up lodging with the Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys just a year before his murder spree and Wilson introduced him to Neil Young. “He had this kind of music that no one was doing,” recalled Young in a 1986 interview. “He would sit down with the guitar and start playing and make up stuff, different every time; it just kept comin’ out, comin’ out, comin’ out. Then he would stop, and you would never hear that one again.”

Young added: “Musically, I thought he was very unique. I thought he really had something crazy, something great. He was like a living poet. It was always coming out. He had a lot of girls around at the time and I thought, ‘Well, this guy has a lot of girlfriends.’ He was very intense.” However, this encounter didn’t materialise into a record deal—something that supposedly infuriated Manson and turned him even more neurotic.

Nevertheless, his songs have since woven their way into musical history, not just because of their notable songwriter, but because many of them have been subsequently covered by many big names in the industry. Some of them made their way onto records before the murder spree occurred, but others have followed after his arrest when the post-spree record Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was released. The famed, or infamous, covers are the tracks we’re looking at below.

The artists who have covered Charles Manson songs:

‘Cease To Exist’

“…Submission is a gift
Go on, give it to your brother
Love and understandin’
Is for one another…”

‘Cease to Exist’ is one of the tracks that Manson offered up to Dennis Wilson and the band would actually go on to record an adapted version of the song under the title, ‘Never Learn To Love’. The track was released as the B-side to the ironically sweet ‘Bluebirds Over The Mountain’. Manson never received a songwriting credit, instead, he opted for the labels offer of cash and motorbike. 

The infamous track was also covered by Rob Zombie, and it is one of the many Manson-penned tracks that The Lemonheads covered. 

‘Look At Your Game Girl’

“…What a mad delusion
Living in that confusion
Frustration and doubt
Can you ever live without the game?
The sad, sad game
Mad game…”

This dark track was one that Manson wrote and desperately tried to foist on record labels before retreating to Spahn ranch with his tail between his legs and a sick plan forming in his addled mind. When Axl Rose’s brother reportedly played him this track without ever revealing who it was originally by, he was intrigued enough to include it on the cover’s album The Spaghetti Incident.

Fortunately, in the end, the royalties for the track went to the son of one of Manson’s murder victims as the NY Times reported in 1996: “Twenty-two years after winning a $500,000 lawsuit against Charles Manson for the murder of his father, Bartek Frykowski stands to collect at least part of what is owed him, thanks to the latest album by the rock group Guns ‘n’ Roses. The band’s label, Geffen Records, announced last week that it would pay Mr. Frykowski $62,000 for every million copies of the album, “The Spaghetti Incident?” that are sold.”

‘Home Is Where You’re Happy’

“…Your home is where you’re happy
It’s not where you’re not free
Your home is where you can be what you are
‘Cause you were just born to be…”

The Lemonheads continued their somewhat nettlesome appraisal of Charles Manson by covering this song. On this occasion, they have also been joined by Devendra Banhart among the notable artist to take on this tune about “leaving your old life behind”.

‘Sick City’

“…Restless people, from the sick city
Burn their home down
Make the sky look pretty
What can I do?
I’m just a person
This is a lie we always seem to hear
You just sit and things get worse and
Watch tv and drink your beer…”

By far and away the least surprising artist on to cover the music of the deranged cult leader is fellow criminal Marilyn Manson. The musician, whose real name is Brian Warner, even concocted his stage name by clubbing together the unlikely pairing of Marilyn Monroe and Manson.

He has played live on a few occasions and recorded it acoustically during his Holly Wood sessions but it has only ever been bootlegged and never officially released. 

‘I’ll Never Say Never to Always’

“…It’s time we put our love behind you
The illusion has been just a dream
The valley of death and I’ll find you
Now is when on a sunshine beam
So bring all the young perfection
For there us shall surely be
No clothing, tears, or hunger
You can see you can see you can be…”

In one of his most eerie songs this chanted campfire incantation made its way onto the album released by the cult members who avoided prison.

Their haunting acapella delusion isn’t the only version, however, Crispin Glover – AKA George McFly from Back to the Future – also had a bash at this track for some inexplicable reason on an album entitled, The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be.