The 15 Best Songs About The Manson Family
It’s been 50 years since the Summer of Love turned into the autumn of hate, the era of peace and freedom coming to an abrupt and bloody end. On the night of August 8th, 1969, members of the “Manson Family” invaded the California home of actress Sharon Tate, brutally murdering her along with her four friends and her unborn baby, apparently at the bidding of their charismatic leader Charles Manson. The next night, six family members killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in the same bloodthirsty fashion, once again leaving bloody messages scrawled at the scene of the crime in the victims blood.
Since then — indeed, even before the Manson Family were aprehended and the trial had begun — the facts became muddied, to say the least, and so, perhaps, even more grimly fascinating. To some, Manson was guilty of nothing more than having aberrant ideas, the only serial killer in history not to have been convicted of actually killing anyone, locked away for life because of the contents of his mind. To others he was the devil made flesh, the boogeyman, a froot-loop crazy and a danger to society even after his death. Whatever the case, Charles Manson and his ‘family’ have gained such notoriety that they have become folklore, and, as such, have been an inspiration for countless songs — the irony being that Manson himself was a budding musician, a failed rock star who made rock ‘n’ roll history.
Here are 15 songs about the greatest true crime story in American history…
The Beatles - Helter Skelter
The first song on our list — being about an English fairground ride — has absolutely nothing to do with the Manson family, but rather is said to have inspired Manson, along with several other songs from the Beatles’ White Album. Charlie apparently believed Helter Skelter to be a coded prophecy from the band about a forthcoming apocalyptic race war. Whatever the case, the song has become synonymous with the Manson murders, not least because its name was written in the victims blood — misspelled Healter Skelter — at the scene of the LaBianca murders. It is also the name of the 1974 book and the 1976 movie about Manson, and has been covered by everyone Siouxsie and the Banshees and U2 to Mötley Crüe and Oasis.
The Flaming Lips - Charles Manson Blues
Indie rock act The Flaming Lips are perhaps best known for their 2002 hit, Do You Realize??, which was adopted as the Official Rock Song Of Oklahoma in 2009. But on their debut album, Hear It Is, from 1986, there is a rather more sinister tune entitled Charlie Manson Blues, which bears such lyrics as, ‘The slaughter has just been sold. To some people who won’t get old. Cause their skin is getting cold,’ before a chorus of ‘Cause I’m slipping into the Charlie Manson Blues. I’m a stupid dressed Jesus son.’ The album also contains a song called Jesus Shootin’ Heroin, which would be a very stupid thing for Jesus to do.
Meat Machine - Charles Manson (Rise and Fall)
‘I’m God and I’ve killed everybody, now what?’ begins this obscure but no less excellent electro-rock tune from 1993, sampling one of Manson’s many interviews. Indeed, the whole song is made up of looped Manson samples, and mixed with banging beats to such effect that it was Kerrang!’s Single of the Week when it was released in 1993. You would probably have heard more from Meat Machine if, when approached by Nine Inch Nails to open for them in the UK and Europe, they hadn’t chosen to split up instead.
Sonic Youth with Lydia Lynch - Death Valley '69
Accompanied by a particularly grisly video in which most of Sonic Youth are seen dismembered, this abrasive and discordant single from 1985 is clearly a reference to the Manson Family, although to be frank, it’s difficult to know what the band are trying to convey beyond, perhaps, madness. ‘Coming down, Sadie, I love it,’ obviously refers to Manson family member Susan Atkins, otherwise known as Sexy Sadie, but beyond that your guess is as good as ours. Either way, The Flaming Lips liked the song enough to offer a live cover of their Finally The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid album, and Soundgarden sampled it on Smokestack Lightning from Ultramega OK, although the sample was removed on the 2017 re-release.
Nine Inch Nails - Piggy
According to former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Richard Patrick, ‘Piggy’ was Trent Reznor’s nickname for him, and this song was written as a response to him leaving the band. Which may well be true, but given that Reznor recorded The Downward Spiral album at 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, the site of the Tate murders, and that ‘pig’ was written in on the door in Tate’s blood on the night of her death, there could be an alternate meaning. Reznor also named the studio ‘Le Pig’ in reference to the bloody message, but after accidentally meeting Tate’s sister, had change of heart. “I realized, for the first time, what if that was my sister?’” he told Rolling Stone. “I went home and cried that night.”
Neil Young - Revolution Blues
By all accounts, Neil Young was kinda friendly with Manson before all killings began, and was impressed enough with Manson’s lyrics to pitch him to Reprise records executive Mo Ostin, saying, “This guy, he’s good. He’s just a little out of control.” Understandably, Young was freaked out by what transpired on those fateful nights in 1969, and wrote Revolution Blues, which Young sings as Manson, as an exorcism. As you’d expect, the lyrics are pretty dark — ‘Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars. But I hate them worse than lepers. And I’ll kill them in their cars’ being just one example. The song was rarely played live.
Ramones - Glad To See You Go
It’s known that Ramones bassist Dee Dee had something of a tumultuous relationship with his junkie former girlfriend Connie Gripp, who, according to legend, once tried to cut his thumb off to end his music career. Not surprisingly, when Connie stormed out after their last fight, Dee Dee yelled, “Glad to see you go!” He then wrote a song about wanting to kill her, including several references to Charlie Manson, such as the tasteful line, ‘Gonna smile, I’m gonna laugh, you’re gonna get a blood bath. And in a moment of passion get the glory like Charles Manson.’ A classic song, but it does rather trivialize murder.
System Of A Down - ATWA
System Of A Down guitarist Daron Malakian has been particularly outspoken in his views about Charles Manson, and the song ATWA, from SOAD’s 2001 album Toxicity, was inspired by Malikian’s fascination with him. ATWA is an acronym of Air, Trees, Water, Animals, a phrase coined by Manson to promote harmony with nature. “I don’t agree with killing anybody,” Malakian clarified. “I don’t agree with going in and slashing anybody’s throats or anything, writing shit on the walls. That’s not what I’m into. That’s not the side of the Charles Manson that I’m into. It’s more of his ideas and his thoughts on society.” Daron’s other band Scars On Broadway, meanwhile, has a song called 3005 which includes the line, ‘Let’s clap our hands, for the president. And Jesus Christ, and did I mention. Charlie Manson and everybody else who was nice.’ ‘Nice’ might be pushing it a bit.
Alkaline Trio - Sadie
Featured on the Crimson album from 2005, Alkaline Trio’s Sadie is another song that directly references Susan Atkins, in particular her arrest after police found knives, clothing, and part of a broken revolver belonging to Charles Manson. Indeed, the quotation, at the end of the song, is taken from Atkins chilling court testimony, in which she stated, “I think that if I found a god, to me, that was so beautiful that I’d do anything for him. I’d do anything for god. Even murder, if I believed it was god, how could it not be right? Because he said it was. I have no remorse for the killer inside of me, I have no guilt in me.” Atkins, perhaps unsurprisingly, was denied parole right up until her death in 2009.
Marilyn Manson - Sick City
Come on, you didn’t seriously expect to see a list of songs inspired by Charlie Manson and his Family without a track Marilyn Manson, did you? There’s a clue in the name. Initially recorded during a break from the Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) sessions, Manson (Marilyn) first released this Manson (Charles) cover in 2000, as a ‘Valentine’s gift’ for his fans. He also shared the track, without further comment, on the day Charles Manson died. Ironically, Marilyn’s music has also been blamed for murders after it was erroneously linked with the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.
Ozzy Osbourne - Bloodbath In Paradise
From the aptly named No Rest For The Wicked album of 1988, Bloodbath In Paradise is pretty much straight to the point: ‘You’re coming home - there’s blood on the walls and Charlie and the family made house calls. If you’re alone then watch what you do, ‘cos Charlie and the family might get you.” The song begins in truly unnerving fashion with a backwards message, perhaps a hidden directive to do some dark bidding. But no, when played forwards it says, “Your mother sells whelks in Hull,” a nod to The Exorcist and, uh, the fishing industry in the Northeast of England. Ozzy has a strange sense of humour.
Monster Magnet - Spine Of God
There was always something of a twisted Manson family vibe about early Monster Magnet: bad acid freak-outs, sex cults, and knives in the night. Peace and love gone horribly awry, if you will. Indeed, the title track of their debut masterpiece, Spine Of God, is yet another song that mentions Sexy Sadie, but this time sees her for what she is: ‘Sadie Atkins, she’s just a withered old hag now. Unreachable…unfuckable.’ Granted, Atkins would have been just 43 years old when the album was released, but one imagines that after 22 years in maximum security prison, she was far from ‘sexy’.
Slipknot - 742617000027
It may only be 36 seconds long, but there are few more memorable starts to an album than the intro to Slipknot’s self-titled debut of 1999, not least because of the eerie sample, “The whole thing, I think it’s sick”, which was taken from a 1973 documentary about the Manson family. While the band insisted the voice belonged to frontman Corey Taylor, it in fact belongs to Corey Hurst, a former cellmate of Susan Atkins. Hurst, incidentally, had been busted for weed, while Atkins was incarcerated for her part in eight murders. Seems rather harsh to chuck them both in the same cell.
Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats - Get On Home
While countless artists have covered Manson tunes, from Guns N Roses’ version of Look At Your Game Girl on The Spaghetti Incident?, to GG Allin’s rather apt version of Garbage Dump, to the aforementioned Marilyn Manson cover, few have done them so well as England’s Manson-obsessed Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, with this creepy rendition of the folk tune Get On Home. “I was reading about what a great songwriter he was,” Deadbeats frontman Kevin Starr told Noisey, “how Neil Young said he was a mad genius, the Beach Boys connection. So I thought his music must say something. And it does. It’s great. It’s way out there. It’s completely nuts.” Given lyrics like, ‘When you see the children, X’s on their head. If you dare look at them soon you will be dead,’ this is rather an understatement.
Poison Idea - Getting The Fear
Okay, here’s a weird one: In 1988, Portland’s Kings Of Punk, Poison Idea wrote about the Manson family murders on the title track of their brilliant Getting The Fear EP, even using a sample of the so-called Withes Of Mendocino, a group of ‘hippies’ that included latter-day Manson family members Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel. Twenty years later, Poison Idea drummer Steve ‘Thee Slayer Hippy’ Hanford was sentenced to seven and a half years for armed robbery and served time in the same jail as former Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil. “He’s a great guy, actually,” Hanford told Kerrang! We’ll take his word for it.
Read this next:
As we’re halfway through the year, we thought we’d break down the 25 best albums of 2020 so far!
The Last Of Us’ Ellie performs blink-182’s pop-punk classic Dammit – with a little help from Mark Hoppus…