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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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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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