The Disturbing Story Behind “Never Learn Not To Love” by The Beach Boys

“Never Learn Not To Love” may not be The Beach Boys’ most famous track but, it definitely has one of their more interesting backstories.

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The Beach Boys released “Never Learn Not To Love” in 1968 as the B-side to “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.” It later found a permanent home on the album 20/20 the following year. Around the same time, Charles Manson’s “Helter Skelter” conspiracy was starting the come to a head. His band of followers would go on to commit a series of tragic murders mere months after The Beach Boys’ album was released.

Though the above statement might seem like a non-sequitur, the two events are strangely intertwined. How does Charles Manson connect to this deep-cut Beach Boys track? Find out below.

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Behind The Song

In the summer of 1968, two members of the Manson “family”—Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey —were picked up by The Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. The pair of hitchhikers then spent the night with Wilson at his home in Pacific Palisades.

The following day, Manson (having heard all about the incident) went over to the drummer’s house to strike up a friendship. The pair grew increasingly close as the months went on and Manson began to have his big break in the Los Angeles music scene.

One of Manson’s now-infamous songwriting efforts was a song called “Cease To Exist.” After hearing the song Wilson offered to buy the song for use in the latest Beach Boys effort.

“Wilson indulged Manson’s musical grandiosity,” wrote authors Dylan Howard and Andy Tillett of The Last Charles Manson Tapes: Evil Lives Beyond the Grave. “He and Manson jammed together and made a few attempts at collaboration. He arranged for recording time in a Santa Monica, California, studio.”

Manson’s original version of the song was a loose, bluesy number that waxed poetic about an all-encompassing relationship. The lyrics read, Cease to resist, come on say you love me / Give up your world, come on and be with me / I’m your kind, I’m your kind, and I see.

Manson agreed to give up the song on the condition that it would not be changed from its original format. Wilson and the rest of his bandmates blew right through that request, turning Manson’s blues number into a classic West Coast pop hit.

Apparently, Manson happily took some money and a motorcycle as payment for the song but became enraged when he found out the lyrics had been altered. He delivered a bullet to Wilson in response.

“One day, Charles Manson brought a bullet out and showed it to Dennis, who asked, ‘What’s this?'” The Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks once recalled. “Manson replied, ‘It’s a bullet. Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe.’ Well, Dennis grabbed Manson by the head and threw him to the ground, and began pummeling him … I heard about it, but I wasn’t there. The point is, though, Dennis Wilson wasn’t afraid of anybody!”

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Many people, including Wilson, credit the rights dispute over this song as the moment Manson got pushed over the edge. The theory goes that the loss of an industry connection, alongside a number of rejections from the music community as a whole, caused Manson to lash out by proxy of his family members.

The official theory put forth by the prosecutor in the Tate–LaBianca murders, Vincent Bugliosi, was Manson’s obsession with starting a race war as part of his end-of-the-world scenario. At any rate, Wilson was forever shaken by his connection to Manson.

Mark Dillon, author of Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story, credits Wilson’s brush with Manson as a key factor in his drug and alcohol abuse escalating drastically. His alcoholism would ultimately be the cause of his death in 1983. After drinking all day, Wilson drowned in Marina del Rey.

There you go…a deeply disturbing story behind a classic, blithe Beach Boys track.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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