From The Beach Boys to Nine Inch Nails: The bizarre musical influence of Charles Manson on today’s music

Brad Smithfield
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Charles Milles Maddox, undoubtedly one of the most ruthless and insane serial killers to have ever walked this earth, was also bizarrely involved in music and its many subcultures. Unknown to many, Charlie Manson has deep, shady roots in the music industry of the 60s and 70s hippie culture, influencing many of the musicians of that time and beyond.

The serial killer is known for conducting multiple murders through his so-called “Manson Family” cult in L.A. When the hippie movement was arguably at its peak, the infamous cult leader also dabbled in playing the guitar and songwriting.

At the end of the 60s, Manson’s psychotic followers committed a string of murders, following his insane “Helter Skelter” ramblings (taken from a Beatles song) about an apocalyptic race war. Nine people were murdered at four locations during a period of 5 weeks in 1969.

He was found guilty in 1971 of conspiracy and murder, with the most known murder case being that of actress Sharon Tate. The cult leader is now serving nine life sentences at Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California.

County Sheriff mugshot of Manson August 16, 1969.


Photo of actress Sharon Tate from the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls. She is one of the most known victims of the Helter Skelter murders.

Through his unhinged, orchestrated murders, he has indirectly inspired many musical outputs, artists, songwriters and singers since. From rock pop legends The Beach Boys to the industrial act of Nine Inch Nails, Manson didn’t fail to shock, terrify, and cement his bloody legacy throughout various pop-culture references.

He somehow went into mingling with drummer Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, as well as Neil Young, and record producer Terry Melcher, with whom he desperately tried to land a record deal for a folk album.

The producer finally granted him a chance to record his songs, but after Manson gave a very poor and mediocre performance, as well as causing drunken fights, Melcher quickly dropped the idea.

It comes as no surprise that, after Melcher and Manson’s disagreement, the first ever target of the Helter Skelter spree was at 10050 Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills, the house where Melcher formerly resided. Although it was the crime scene of the Tate murders, and Manson knew Melcher didn’t live there anymore, this surely would have served as a psychological fear tactic.

Melcher took this as a serious death threat and ultimately severed many ties with those around him, as the people he knew were somehow connected with the Manson Family. Paranoia or not, Melcher and his family went into deep isolation and hiding.

Manson’s influence of absolute fear and confusion was heavily expressed through hardcore punk acts Redd Kross and Black Flag. The unthinkable crimes and pure brainwashing that took place within the Manson family has, over the years, been an endless source of morbid interest and the subject of creative inspiration for many musical outputs.

Melcher, left, in the studio with the Byrds’ Gene Clark, center, and David Crosby in 1965.


Black Flag performing at Liberty Hall in Dallas, Texas in 1984. Photo Credit

Countless other bands, such as Catherine Share and Psychic TV, have been directly or indirectly influenced or connected with the unbelievable acts of the Manson Family.

Although his psychedelic folk album was not a huge commercial success, it has bizarrely gained a cult following among many who have an interest in the Manson case.

The cover of Manson’s album is a parody of the cover of Life magazine’s text and font, with the headline “LIE: The Love and Terror Cult”; as the “F” in “LIFE” was deleted. It garnered much attention throughout L.A. and around the world.

Bobby Beausoleil was himself a member of the Manson family. He had been a former roommate of the cult filmmaker and director Kenneth Anger. Beausoleil, a psychedelic rock musician, is allegedly as largely responsible for the Helter Skelter killing spree as Manson was, torturing and murdering his music teacher Gary Hinman himself.

The maddened Beausoleil was given a life sentence for the brutal murder. He composed the psychedelic rock soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s magnum opus movie “Lucifer Rising”.

Manson’s infamous album “Lie: The Love and Terror Cult”. Released on vinyl on March 6, 1970, by Phil Kaufman, through Awareness Records. Photo Credit


Beausoleil’s mugshot from his 1969 arrest. He denied being a member of Manson’s cult but to no avail.


Cropped photo of Dennis Wilson with the Beach Boys in 1966.

Dennis Wilson, the drummer of The Beach Boys, is probably Manson’s oddest connection. When he first met Manson, he was so “mesmerized” by him, that he urged the band to record his “Cease to Exist” song and even play it live.

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Ultimately, the song was retitled “Never Learn Not to Love”, much to Charles Manson’s disappointment and frustration. Manson was furious with Wilson for butchering his song and their friendship ended after he was beaten up by Wilson following an argument between them.

Legendary industrial act, Nine Inch Nails’ album “Downward Spiral” was recorded at the infamous house where members of the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate; at 10050 Cielo Drive, on custom equipment that Trent Reznor made.

Among other things, the house is regarded as the birthplace of NIN’s magnum opus and after many years, Reznor admits he regrets the decision to make the brilliant album on the bloody foundations of a horrible tragedy.