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Charles Manson’s Musical Legacy: A Murderer’s Words in 9 Tracks

From Beach Boys to GN’R, how Manson made his way onto other musician’s music

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Axl Rose, the Beach Boys and Marilyn Manson all reinterpreted Charles Manson's music in their own ways.

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Charles Manson wanted to be bigger than the Beatles. Today his name may be almost as well-known, but his original goal was to achieve that end via a recording contract – not multiple life sentences.

When Manson arrived in Los Angeles in the fall of 1967, he was a career criminal who’d learned guitar in prison and was trying to parlay a vague prison contact into a legitimate deal. Over the next year-and-a-half, he met some people who might have made it happen – Beach Boy Brian Wilson, producer (and Doris Day offspring) Terry Melcher – but between his creepy demeanor and clear lack of talent, Manson wasn’t able to get anything off the ground. After his disillusionment with the music scene – and perhaps because of it – Manson, a small-time hippie guru, ordered his followers to murder Sharon Tate, Jay Seabring and four other people on the nights of August 9th and 10th in 1969. They were arrested that fall, and Charles Manson has been a national bogeyman ever since.

Following the murders, there has naturally been an unending stream of Manson-related pop culture, from tell-all books to made-for-TV movies to strange bits on 1990s sketch shows. But what about his non-murderous dream – his music? His voice and words have appeared on more than a few tracks over the years, offering him a place in musical history, courtesy of some morbid artists who found inspiration in his creative output. Here are nine times Charles Manson showed up in other people’s music. 

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Beach Boys, “Never Learn Not To Love” (1968)

The only entry on this list that was recorded before the murders. Since Charles Manson and Dennis Wilson met in early 1968, the drummer had introduced Manson to his friends and even set up a session to record a demo – which would be released in 1970 as Lie: The Love and Terror Cult – but no one was willing to give Manson a deal. Dennis did, however, manage to get one of his songs onto his band's 1969 album 20/20, which was a small coup for Manson. Though the song's lyrics about getting a girl to submit went largely untouched, they changed the original title, "Cease to Exist." Worse, Manson didn't even get a writing credit on the LP. Needless to say, he was not pleased. 

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Cabaret Voltaire, “The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord” (1985)

By 1985, many musicians had taken inspiration from the twisted guru – Neil Young, the Ramones, Black Flag and most the other bands in the early hardcore scene – but it seems to be industrial Dadaists Cabaret Voltaire who first sampled Charles Manson on record, running clips of his voice between tracks on The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord. Fittingly, it's named after a far right group whose white power dogma mirrored Manson's own racist beliefs. 

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The Lemonheads, “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy” (1988)

For this track off 1988's Creator, college radio rockers the Lemonheads did a pretty faithful cover of the Manson demo of the same name, keeping the lyrics intact and performing it on acoustic guitar. Manson was listed as a writer on the song and thus was entitled to royalties, though according to Jeff Gunn's 2013 biography Manson, all the profits went to murder victim Voytek Frykowski's son Bartek. 

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Crispin Glover, “I’ll Never Say Never to Always” (1989)

It's perhaps not surprising that child-actor-turned-Hollywood-eccentric Crispin Glover decided to cover the notorious Angelino – the surprise was that he put out an album in the first place. After coming up on sitcoms like Happy Days, Glover had found mainstream success as Marty's dad George McFly in Back to the Future. But by 1989, he was bored with the industry and took a hiatus from acting to make his debut album The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be, which included this Manson-penned track. For his version, Glover layered falsetto, crying babies and distant whistles to make the track even more menacing than the original – yet somehow not even the creepiest song on the album

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Skinny Puppy, “Worlock” (1989)

For this track off its album Rabies, the influential industrial act Skinny Puppy added a clip of Charles Manson singing the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" – the song Manson claimed was a call for him to start an apocalyptic race war – over the Fab Four's guitar intro to their White Album track. Though Cabaret Voltaire had sampled him a few years earlier, this seems to be the first time Manson's voice was fully been incorporated into a song – but it wouldn't be the last. 

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Nine Inch Nails “Gave Up” video (1992)

Not technically an appearance of Charles Manson, but weird enough to make the cut. In 1992, after the success of 1989's Pretty Hate Machine, NIN founder Trent Reznor moved into Sharon Tate's former home on Cielo Drive in Los Angeles to record his follow-up EP, Broken. For the beginning of the single's video, Reznor decided to splice in shots of the home’s manicured exterior over menacing synth – and like the opening moments of a horror movie, they are used to a surprisingly chilling effect. But Reznor would eventually feel guilty about using the Manson imagery. He recalled to Rolling Stone in 1997 that, after a chance encounter, Sharon Tate's sister asked him point-blank if he was living there to exploit Sharon's death. "I realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?'" he said. "I thought, 'Fuck Charlie Manson.' I don't want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullshit."

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Guns N’ Roses, “Look at Your Game, Girl” (1993)

Marilyn Manson would later take credit for Axl Rose's interest in Charles Manson, which led to this macabre addition to the Spaghetti Incident? and by far the most well-known song on this list. Another straightforward cover from Charlie Manson's 1970 album Lie, it's a rather unimpressive track on first listen – a half-assed attempt at seducing a woman via Axl's nasal croon over a vaguely caribbean beat – until you realize that the guy who wrote it led a female-heavy cult. 

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Marilyn Manson, “My Monkey” (1994)

As if it weren't enough to name himself in an homage to Charlie, Marilyn Manson also repurposed a verse from Charles Manson's "I'm a Mechanical Man" for this track off his 1994 debut Portrait of an American Family, creating an ominous chant about a monkey sent to his death in the country, layering in samples of Charles's real voice for effect. The shock rocker had long wanted to cover the song – he'd discovered it in high school, later saying it was "the beginning of my identification with Manson." When he first met Trent Reznor – who was living on Cielo Drive – Marilyn told his new friend how much he'd like to cut the track at Sharon Tate's old home. While that didn't happen, he was there late one night mixing another American Family track including samples of Charlie's voice. He eventually gave up for the night, and the next morning the samples were gone from the tapes. "There was no real logical or technical explanation for it," he later said in an interview, albeit one punctuated by him doing lines of cocaine. "It was a truly supernatural moment that freaked me out."

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Brian Jonestown Massacre, “Arkansas Revisited” (1999)

Though it doesn't exactly feature Manson's words, "Arkansas Revisited" makes the list because of it's a genuinely thoughtful reinterpretation of the song. What began with Manson as "Arkansas" was transformed into something beautiful – and that expresses desires that sound an awful lot like Charlie. As on the original track, the San Francisco psych-folk band with the cult-y name kept the instruments largely acoustic and maintained the original bluesy beat. But instead of Manson's somewhat incoherent rant about squatters in the south and men with droopy beards, singer Anton Newcomb tells the story of a person returning home to Arkansas to kill his parents because of the emotional damage they caused during his childhood. 

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