"One of our group members unknowingly invited Satan into our midst": When The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson became friends with The Manson family his life changed forever

The Beach Boys and Charles Manson
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In 1968, The Beach Boys released the single Bluebirds Over The Mountain. Hidden away on the B-side was a new recording, Never Learn Not to Love, an outwardly dreamy, psychedelic love song featuring uncharacteristically domineering lyrics. 

That lyrics such as 'cease to resist, come on say you love me' and 'submission is a gift given to another' had undertones more in keeping with cult indoctrination ceremonies makes more sense when one learns that track was written by infamous cult leader Charles Manson. But exactly how the Beach Boys, once viewed as the poster boys for wholesome all-American values, ever established such an eyebrow-raising connection takes some explaining, and their ties with Manson were actually deeper than this one-off collaboration.

Beach Boys co-founder Dennis Wilson first came into contact with Manson earlier that same year, following a chain of events which began with the musician giving a ride to two hitch-hikers.

The two travellers, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey, turned out to be followers of Manson, and, enchanted by their conversations on spirituality and their shared interests in transcendental mediation and The Maharishi, Wilson invited the pair to visit his home. Some time later, after work commitments had taken him away from Los Angeles, he returned home to discover that the girls were now living there, along with their "guru" Manson, who he would come to affectionately refer to as the "wizard".

In a 2017 interview with ABC News, bandmate Mike Love referencse Manson's introduction into the band's lives as “an unfortunate episode", writing that Wilson "unknowingly invited Satan into our midst".

“Dennis was enthralled by him at one time, and it didn’t hurt that Charlie Manson came with this group of girls – young girls, who were very enamoured with Charlie, and looked up to him as a leader,” Love explained. 

Wilson became so captivated by Manson that, at one point, he wanted The Beach Boys to join the cult. Fortunately, his bandmates didn't agree with the idea, but they did attend a dinner party at Wilson's house to which Tex Watson and several women who were behind the 1969 killings were also invited.

As Love recalls, most guests at the dinner – aside from himself and Beach Boys co-founder Bruce Johnson – were completely naked. As the evening progressed, the family retired to a strobe-lit room to participate in an orgy while on acid. Not wanting to get involved, Love went off to have a shower, which was interrupted by Manson, who warned him that he "can't leave the group". It was at this point that the band began to realise that Wilson had unwittingly got himself involved with something much more dangerous than a group of sofa-squatting hippies.

To make matters worse, Wilson was underwriting the Manson family's lifestyle, covering the costs not only of their food and transport, but also payments for penicillin shots to treat the cult's gonorrhoea problems. The cult also destroyed the band's cars and stole most of Wilson's belongings.

In Love’s memoir Good Vibrations, he writes: "Dennis was all too happy to allow Manson and his girls to move in, use his charge cards, take his clothes, eat his food, even drive his Mercedes. Manson, after all, had something for Dennis: a stable of young women who catered to his every desire.”

It was only much later that Love learned that it was Manson who wrote Never Learn Not to Love - originally titled Cease To Exist - and not his bandmate. Wilson had taken full songwriting credits on the track after rewriting the lyrics, enraging Manson. In Jeff Guinn's book, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, the cult leader is reported to have given Wilson a bullet, telling him, ‘I know where you live. I know where your children are".

Further threats came after Wilson tried to escape the family after beginning to fear for his life. Instead of contacting the police, anxious of what the cult would do in retaliation, he simply moved home, only to find a note from Manson at his new address which read: “You can’t get away from me”.

The musician finally managed to free himself from Manson's clutches after allegedly beating him up in front of his followers. It was not long after this that the cult began plotting murders that would shake the world.

On discovering the horrific crimes that Manson and his members committed - most infamously the 'Helter Skelter’ murders which left seven people dead, including actress Sharon Tate - Love says Wilson was "shocked", and consumed by guilt right up until his death in 1983. "It had to be a tough burden for him to carry for the rest of his life," Love concluded.

Liz Scarlett

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music.