Beyond ‘Helter Skelter’: Guns N’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne and Other Rockers Take on Charles Manson
In the NBC drama Aquarius, David Duchovny plays an LAPD detective investigating Charles Manson in the late '60s — and with the show's complete first season (including exclusive unrated extended episodes not seen on TV) making its DVD and Blu-ray debut Sept. 15, we were inspired to take a deeper look at Manson's classic rock ties.
Obviously, the Beatles are the classic rock band most closely and unfortunately associated with Manson, who claimed their "White Album" contained secret messages for him, but other musicians have also tangled with this lunatic in various ways.
Ozzy Osbourne, for example, credited Manson's influence with securing Black Sabbath's early success — albeit in a very roundabout way. As he explained in his autobiography, "The Manson murders were all over the telly, so anything with a dark edge was in big demand. Before he turned psycho, Manson had been a big part of the L.A. music scene. If he hadn't gone to jail, we probably would have ended up hanging out with him."
Osbourne repaid the favor, so to speak, on his 1988 album No Rest for the Wicked, recording the Manson-inspired song "Bloodbath in Paradise" — complete with an opening verse that begins, "You're coming home / There's blood on the walls / When Charlie and the family make house calls / If you're alone / Then watch what you do / Because Charlie and the family might get you."
While Ozzy might have taken musical inspiration from Manson's heinous crimes, Guns N' Roses took things a step further by actually recording one of Manson's own songs. The band's 1993 covers LP, The Spaghetti Incident?, included their rendition of "Look at Your Game, Girl," originally released on the Manson LP Lie: The Love and Terror Cult. Needless to say, although the song was only tacked on as a hidden track, the idea was not well received.
Neil Young experienced Manson's musical ambitions firsthand, crossing paths with him during the period Osbourne referenced above and even going so far as to try and get him a record deal. "His songs were off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along, and they were never the same twice in a row. Kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating. He was quite good," Young wrote in his autobiography. "I asked him if he had a recording contract. He told me he didn’t yet, but he wanted to make records. I told Mo Ostin at Reprise about him, and recommended that Reprise check him out."
Shortly after this encounter, Manson spearheaded the killings that would make his name synonymous with murder, and Young was inspired to write his song "Revolution Blues," which appeared on his 1974 album On the Beach.
Young wasn't the only classic rocker who took Manson seriously as a songwriter. Manson's association with the Beach Boys is a well-known chapter of the band's history, and produced one of the stranger recordings in a catalog with more than its share of odd detours: "Never Learn Not to Love," a song initially released as the B-side to their 1968 single "Bluebirds over the Mountain" before appearing the following year on their 20/20 album.
Credited to drummer Dennis Wilson, "Never Learn" started out as a Manson composition titled "Cease to Exist" — a song Manson reportedly gave Wilson and told him he was free to alter as long as he didn't change the lyrics. Wilson went ahead and did it anyway, shouldering Manson out of the credits in the bargain, which allegedly prompted Manson to threaten Wilson with murder.
While all but universally reviled, Manson has continued to command a certain level of queasy cultural mystique — as evidenced by everything from young Brian Warner choosing Marilyn Manson as his stage name to the dark drama that propels Aquarius.