an investigative report by Garbago Riviera
Most people familiar with the Beach Boys' story know all about Dennis Wilson's involvement with Charles Manson. However, few realize that Manson's involvement with the Beach Boys actually started in 1966 and that he was a key player in the SMiLE saga. Charlie's involvement went as far as a silent collaboration on the SMiLE album, influencing both the songs and even the cover.
Having just been released from prison in 1966 (so he couldn't have auditioned for the Monkees in 1965 like it is widely purported!), Charlie fell in with the burgeoning hippie crowd in San Francisco. A chance meeting with rock producer Terry Melcher convinced Manson that he had a future in rock and roll! Terry told Charlie that he had talent, after hearing him sing the songs he had written in prison."Why don't you come to L.A. and make a demo? I know various producers AND the Beach Boys".A week later, Terry was somewhat shocked to see Manson show up at Goldstar Studios during a Beach Boys' recording session for "Good Vibrations". Melcher had only half-expected to see Manson again. Outside the studio, Charlie struck up a conversation with Dennis Wilson (making a rare studio appearance) and Charlie had his foot in the door, literally. Dennis' main attraction to Charlie was the handful of hippie girls that he had picked up on his way from San Francisco. Dennis invited Charlie and the girls in to meet Brian. (Note: the rare studio photo of Charlie, Dennis and Brian can be seen for the first time on this page) Manson had just recently discovered LSD, and in Brian Wilson he saw an easy target. Hearing Brian talk about acid, "vibes" and "religion" was all he needed.
Charlie started ranting about REVELATION 9 in the Bible: the chapter starts out with 5 angels, but ends up with 4.Charlie explains:"That's the Beach Boys, man. When you quit touring, they became four!".The part about the 'angels with breastplates of fire':Charlie explains: "That's the touring Beach Boys, man, with their electric guitars…"'Faces of men but hair of women':Charlie explains: "That's the long hair of the Beach Boys!"The 'fire and brimstone' from their mouths:Charlie explains: "You're gonna write a cool song named, FIRE!"
Brian was fascinated! Charlie seemed to be hip and have all the answers. Along with Van Dyke Parks, Mike Vosse and the rest, Charlie became part of the "in-group". He participated in all the late night parties. In fact, if you hear the complete bootleg recording of the "Smile Era Party", you can hear Charlie's rendition of his song, "Cease To Exist". Brian even attended a Beach Boys photo session, sitting in on one shot. (Note: the rare photo of Charlie and the Beach Boys can be seen for the first time on this page)
After a month of hanging out and discussing the new Beach Boys' album, Charlie suggested that they collaborate on the project. Charlie showed him a rough sketch of an album cover that he had drawn, entitled, "Open Your Mind and Smile". Charlie had a few additions in mind for the cover:"You see, its like a little karma shop? And we can both be the shop owners, me givin' philosophical remedies and you doin' music? It can be like Mom & Pops America…"So, the next day, Charlie took some black and white photos that Brian had and went to work on a full colour rendition of the cover. (Note: this rare cover has been kept as police evidence for more than 20 years, its reproduction here being the first time seen by the general public)
By late 1966, Charlie had expanded Brian's original subtle theme of Americana/Religion/Humour and added himself as a character in the plot. It became a musical journey of a wandering hippie. A look at handwritten list of songs in late 1966 loosely reveals the story:Heroes & Villains & Hippies & Pigs (the establishment keeping us down)
Mechanical Man* (what men in the establishment become)
Wonderful Revolution (the hippie quits his job to join the "revolution")
People Say I'm No Good* (what his parents say when they kick him out)
Do You Like Worms Pig? (anger towards the establishment)
Illegitimate Child is the Father to the Charlie (hippie fatherhood)
Home Is Where You're Happy* (the life of a hippie hobo)
Spahn Ranch Cabin Essence (finally a refuge is found)
Wind Chimes at the Tates (meanwhile the rich still enjoy life)
The Elements (what you gotta endure when you're homeless)
Garbage Dump* (what the establishment calls my life)
Surf's Up, It's Charlie Time! (time to rise above)
Cease To Exist* (need I say more?)
* notes original Charlie Manson songs
However, when the Beach Boys arrived home from a European tour in December, they were horrified at what they found. This "concept" album was full of hippie ideals and anti-establishment thought! How can America's premier rock and roll band stand behind this stuff? Brian was given an ultimatum, no more Charlie! Manson was immediately banned from the recording studio and Brian's house. Brian struggled to re-write the album, now simply entitled, SMiLE. He re-designed the cover. He took off all the hippie, anti-establishment references, but it was to no avail. The rest of the band still vetoed the album, it was still too uncommercial. SMiLE was dead…
In disgust, Charlie started listening to the Beatles…"hmmm, now THEYare talkin' to me!"
But, a little bit of Charlie's SMiLE lived on. Released the following year on the Beach Boys' album, 20/20 was a song called "Never Learn Not To Love". It was simply Charlies' song "Cease To Exist" with a different title. It seems the Beach Boys WERE listening to Charlie…
But, Charlie wasn't done with music just yet...
After it became obvious that Dennis Wilson was not going to promote Charlie as a new artist on their Brother Records label, Charlie came up with a new game plan for his music career. In February of 1968, armed with his growing cache of demo tapes, Charlie visited Apple Records in London. Apple had been advertising that they would sign anyone with talent, so Charlie figured, "Who better than ME to be on Apple Records?"
However, Charlie was unable to gain an audience with any of the fab four. Not to be discouraged, Charlie set his sights on Yoko, figuring it would be a way to get to John. Charlie gave Yoko his usual hip talk, offering a copy of some of his tapes for her to listen to. To further try and impress her, he showed her some of the Beach Boys gold discs that he had transported from California. "Yeah, the Beach Boys have recorded a couple of my songs on their newest album," Charlie said.
Charlie hung out around Apple for the next few days chatting with the staff, smoking dope with Richard DiLello, know as the 'house hippie' at Apple. Through casual conversation, Charlie found out that Paul McCartney was a HUGE Beach Boys fan. Presto, another Beach Boys gold disc found its way to Paul McCartney's office as a 'gift'.
Both these ploys worked and Charlie was soon assigned studio time at Abbey Road studios to make a demo of two songs for a possible 45 single. Charlie chose his song "Cease To Exist" as the A-side and a cover of the recently released "Helter Skelter" as the B-side (to try and further ingratiate himself with The Beatles). As with a lot of the Apple Recordings at that time, The Beatles played an uncredited backing band behind Charlie.
Charlie's single was assigned an Apple number and some promo pictures were taken before he left for California. However, before the record could be released, Allen Klein came on board Apple to 'clean house' of the dead weight that was sucking Apple out of millions of pounds. Charlie's career at Apple was put on temporary hold whilst Mr. Klein went through the books.
Ultimately, the Tate/LaBianca murders and Charlie's subsequent arrest pretty much put a stop on Charlie's tenure at Apple records. However, a few test pressings of Charlie's single survive and fetch very high prices at rock auctions.