Charles Manson — infamous cult leader connected with multiple brutal murders… and renowned songwriter? Believe it or not, one of America’s most hated criminals — who died on Sunday, Nov. 19 at the age of 83 — also wrote a slew of hits that were covered by Guns N’ Roses, The Beach Boys, and more. His first album, Lie: The Love Terror Cult, was recorded in 1968 and released in 1970, just in time to help him pay for his legal defense.
Charles once dreamed of stardom and claimed his reason for murdering Leno LaBianca’s family and the residents at Sharon Tate’s home had to do with The Beatles. “It’s the Beatles, the music they’re putting out,” he told the district attorney. “These kids listen to this music and pick up the message. It’s subliminal.” The words “Healter [sic] Skelter” had been painted in victims’ blood on the LaBiancas’ fridge.
In the 2000 book The Beatles Anthology, Paul McCartney said, “Charles Manson interpreted that ‘Helter Skelter’ was something to do with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse,” he explained. “I still don’t know what all that stuff is; it’s from the Bible, ‘Revelations’ – I haven’t read it so I wouldn’t know. But he interpreted the whole thing… and arrived at having to go out and kill everyone… It was frightening because you don’t write songs for those reasons.”
“It has nothing to do with me,” John Lennon said in a 1980 Playboy interview. “Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the ‘Paul is dead’ thing or who figured out that the initials to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid.”
One year before the killing spree, the “family” briefly lived in the home of Dennis Wilson, the drummer for The Beach Boys. Charles hoped to parlay that friendship into a record deal, but their relationship soured and a music career never materialized.
Charles Manson poses for a photo on Mar. 18, 2009 at Corcoran State Prison.
Years after the murders, he released two albums from prison, LIE and Live at San Quentin. Guns N’ Roses and Marilyn Manson — whose stage name was in part inspired by Charles — recorded songs he wrote. The Beach Boys released a song based on one he wrote, too, but they gave it new lyrics and a new title, ‘Never Learn Not to Love’. Charles’ version had been called ‘Cease to Exist.’
His relationship with the entertainment industry and his obsession with fame were chronicled over 12 episodes of Karina Longworth’s Hollywood history podcast, You Must Remember This, in 2015. “Maybe more than anything else, Charlie Manson’s story is a Hollywood story,” she told her listeners at the time. She added that the killings could be seen “as the fulfilled revenge fantasy of one of the millions of pilgrims who have come to Hollywood looking to make their mark, only to be condescended and lied to and turned away with nothing to show for their efforts.”