The Book-Only Material In California Dreaming

The observant among you will have noticed that the California Dreaming series of essays is nearing its conclusion: the book’s subtitle is “The LA Pop Music Scene Of The 60s”, and the most recent essay dealt with a track released in December 1969.

I’ll actually be covering 1970 in the book, but that still only leaves six songs to be covered on the blog — Sharleena by Frank Zappa, Helpless by CSNY, Song To The Siren by Tim Buckley, How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live? by Ry Cooder, and Willin’ by Little Feat.

Once those are done, which I hope will be by the end of next week, I’ll take a week or so away from the blog to finish up the book. I’ll do my usual revisions and so on, but I’ll also be adding a further nine essays. These will be:

Muscle Bustle by Donna Loren
I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher
River Deep Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner
The Monterey Pop Festival
Once I Was by Tim Buckley
I Walk On Guilded Splinters by Dr John The Night Tripper
Love Story by Randy Newman
Hot Burrito #1 by The Flying Burrito Brothers
Ladies Of The Canyon by Joni Mitchell

There are various reasons why these haven’t appeared on the blog. In some cases they’re essential parts of the story but I got blocked when writing them and so left them to come back to. In others, like the Joni Mitchell, they’re not very closely tied to the main narrative, but still deserve some recognition in the book. In a couple of cases, I accidentally pasted titles into the wrong place when I put the chapter list together, and only later noticed that, for example, a song from 1964 was in the 1968 part.

There will also be a roughly twenty-page “Where are they now?” section, with very brief (two or three sentence) summaries of the lives of the main players between 1971 and today.

The full contents of the book are:
Moon Dawg
Heart And Soul
Golden Gridiron Boy
Surf City
Memories Of El Monte
Be My Baby
Hey Little Cobra
Dead Man’s Curve
Don’t Worry Baby
Muscle Bustle
Little Honda
Mr. Tambourine Man
Guess I’m Dumb
It Ain’t Me Babe
I Got You Babe
Eve of Destruction
California Dreamin’
This Could Be The Night
Barbara Ann
Diddy Wah Diddy
My Little Red Book
Eight Miles High
Take A Giant Step
God Only Knows
Hungry Freaks Daddy
Along Comes Mary
Last Train To Clarksville
Good Vibrations
It Happens Every Time
Plastic People
She Comes In Colors
River Deep Mountain High
For What It’s Worth
So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Happy Together
Creeque Alley
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
My World Fell Down
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Heroes & Villains
Lonely Little Girl
Once I Was
Dierent Drum
I Think It’s Going To Rain Today
You Set The Scene
Expecting To Fly
Vine Street
You Know I’ve Found A Way
I Walk On Guilded Splinters
Hickory Wind
On The Road Again
Daddy’s Song
Laurel And Hardy
Love Story (You And Me)
Do It Again
Everybody’s Talkin’
To Claudia on Thursday
Wichita Lineman
The Old Laughing Lady
You And I
Hot Burrito 1
The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes
Never Learn Not To Love
Ladies Of The Canyon
Song To The Siren
How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?
A Very Important Note
Where Are They Now?

Hugo Blogging: Best Novel

Bet you thought I’d forgotten about these, didn’t you?
No, it’s just that the thought of reading any more John C Wright stuff made me feel physically ill, so I gave up on the novellas several times. I did my best, though…
The novels are a slightly better bunch. Thanks to two of the Puppy slate nominees dropping out, there is actually a decent selection of books in this category, for almost the only time these awards. As always, I’ll look at these in the order in which I’m ranking them.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu is precisely my sort of thing. It’s a semi-hard SF story, about ideas, and very reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s work, both in the way that it looks at how world events affect low-level characters’ plans, in a story taking place over decades in a non-linear fashion, and in the way it has an implicit right-wing political stance (although how different left and right are in China — Liu’s home country — to the UK or US I don’t know) without making me give up on the book in disgust.
I have only two problems with the book. The first is that there are no characters worthy of the name — everyone stands for one or another social or political stance. The other is so bad that were the book not so good, and were this another year, I would rank this below No Award — this isn’t a full novel. It’s the first third of a trilogy, and when the book finishes, we’ve only got all the pieces in place, nothing has resolved.
But if, unlike me, you don’t think that being asked to buy a third of a book is an insult, this is very highly recommended. It’s the kind of novel that has enough ideas in it for five good ones, and I do look forward to parts two and three.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is almost the opposite. This is a book entirely about character, and almost devoid of ideas.
It is, in short, exactly the kind of thing I *dis*like, and the fact that I am ranking it second should show how good the actual writing is. The book is, essentially, a story of intrigue at court, with a cast of thousands all with interchangeable names (there is a list of characters and places at the back, full of stuff like “Belvesena XI (dec.): Belvesena Zhas, the 125th Emperor of the Elflands; son of Belmaliven IV; brother of Belmaliven VI” or “Drazhar, Maia: only child of Chenelo Drazharan and Varenechibel IV (fourth son of the emperor); relegated by his father first to Isvaroë (with Chenelo Drazharan) and then to Edonomee (with Setheris Nelar); see also Edrehasivar VII”). These characters are given almost no physical description, and are all engaging in extremely subtle plotting and hints which only make sense if you can keep all these names straight in your head.
On top of this, there’s the fact that this isn’t really a fantasy novel. Yes, the title character is a goblin in a world of elves, but you could do a find-and-replace for the words “goblin” and “elf”, change them for “African” and “European”, change a handful of references to ears raising to make them about eyebrows, and make the tiny bit of handwavey magic (no more than a page and a half in the text, total) used in the murder investigation that drives the plot into a normal detective investigation, and the book would read as a standard 19th-century novel of manners. There’s nothing fantastic here.
Yet… despite all this, I remained gripped, and finished it in a day. The standard of writing and storytelling overcomes all these flaws, and my personal lack of interest in this kind of story. Three-Body deserves to win, but this wouldn’t be a bad winner.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie I just bounced off, I’m afraid, possibly because I still haven’t given Ancillary Justice the second chance I know it deserves — but either way, it should stand up without the earlier book. Ranking it above No Award because I know there’s a difference between my own preferences and objective quality, and it seems like something I *could* come to enjoy in the future.

The other two books obtained their place because of an unethical vote-rigging exercise carried out by neofascists to advance moral, political, artistic, and financial agendas I consider inimical to human civilisation. They would go below No Award for that alone. Happily, they also deserve it on their own merits.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher is merely not very good. I actually picked up the first of the Dresden Files novels last year, because I’d seen in several places that Butcher’s work was similar to the Laundry novels by Charles Stross (which I enjoy a lot) and the Rivers Of London series by Ben Aaronovitch (which are much less good, but which I find curiously addictive).
Butcher’s work has clear resemblances to those books, but is much more masculine, American, and conservative, to the extent that I couldn’t finish the first of the books (though I did think “so that’s where Larry Correia got his ideas from!”). This is the sixteenth in the series, and in the part in the Hugo packet (I didn’t pay for the full thing) is more of the same. It’s a competent enough action adventure story of its type, but no more deserves to win a literary award than a random episode of CSI deserves to win a dramatic one.

And The Dark Beneath The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson…
Those of you who’ve read anything I’ve said about SFF will note my distaste for continuing series as opposed to standalone novels, and in particular for “sagas”. This is book one of a trilogy, “The Saga of Shadows”, that is in itself the sequel to a seven-book series called “The Saga of Seven Suns”.
This means that much of the early chunk of the book is infodumping. And the rest… well…
Kevin Anderson boasts that he typically writes his novels in six weeks, with little or no redrafting — he goes for long walks, dictates the books into a voice recorder, and then gets them typed up. This seems to work for him financially — he’s published over 120 novels, of which fifty or so have been bestsellers, although it’s worth noting that the ones that sold well have been the ones with “Star Wars” or “Dune” in the titles, written in someone else’s world.
But on a basic prose-writing level, this doesn’t even rise to amateur status. I’ll choose a page at random — the start of Chapter 6 (and this is truly at random, I just clicked randomly in Calibre):

In uncharted, empty space, the ship floated among the mysterious globules. Two days of unthreatening quiet gave Garrison and Seth freedom to just relax. They played games, and Garrison told him about Roamer history and other planets they would someday see. It was the sort of family life he’d hoped to have with Elisa.
They had plenty of fuel and supplies, but he knew he and Seth couldn’t stay here forever.

OK, so let’s try to track the subjects of these sentences. There are two people here — “Garrison” and “Seth”, introduced in the second sentence. In the third sentence, we have “Garrison told him…”. There’s no antecedent to this “him”, but from context we can assume it’s Seth, as no-one else has been mentioned.
Fourth sentence “It was the sort of family life he’d hoped to have with Elisa.” — we can assume this is Seth again, as there’s no indication the referent has changed.
Fifth sentence, though “but he knew he and Seth couldn’t stay here forever” — here “he” clearly can’t mean Seth, so somewhere the subject of the passage has changed.
This is the sort of bad writing that a GCSE English teacher would point out.
And a page later those “globules” have become “nodules”. A globule means either a small round drop, or in the case of astronomy a dark cloud against a light background. A nodule, on the other hand, is a lump or mass, usually a lump of cells, but sometimes of minerals. The two words have distinct meanings, but then things like the meanings of words don’t matter when you’re a bestselling author.
The only good thing I can say about this book is that at least it wasn’t written by John C Wright — but even Wright at least seems to take some care over the words he uses. This is not, in any meaningful sense of the word, writing.

California Dreaming: Doggone

“Once I had a singing group, singing group done gone/Now I got another group, didn’t take too long…”

Love had split, but they still owed one more record to Elektra, and Arthur Lee, as the group’s leader, was responsible for delivering that record. He needed a band, and fast.

The solution was obvious — take someone else’s band as a package deal, and make them into a new Love. The band he chose were the Nooney Rickett IV, a band led by the eponymous Rickett who were a popular club draw, and had made a few TV appearances, but who were nothing like as popular as Love.

Frank Fayad, Rickett’s bass player, was easily persuadable, but George Suranovich, the drummer, took more work — eventually it took Lee allowing Suranovich to live in one of the two houses that Lee owned before he would agree to join the band, as he had another offer from Joe South.

Gary Rowles, Rickett’s guitarist, however, remained recalcitrant — he’d been offered a job in New Buffalo Springfield, the band being put together by Dewey Martin — and so Lee had to find another guitarist. The player he chose, Jay Donnellan, had an immediate advantage, as he’d been in a band with Snoopy Pfisterer and Tjay Cantrelli, and knew Love’s music.

When Donnellan turned up to his first rehearsal, acoustic guitar in hand, though, he was in for a surprise. This band wasn’t going to do anything like Forever Changes any more — Fayad and Suranovich thought that wasn’t heavy enough. Instead, they were going to be doing Hendrix-style hard rock, with plenty of drum solos for Suranovich.

The new band had to record a lot, and quickly. Not only did Love still owe an album to Elektra, but Lee had signed the new Love to Blue Thumb, a new label owned by Bob Krasnow, and they needed to deliver a double album to him.

The solution was to go into the studio and record twenty-seven new tracks. Elektra were given their pick of the best ten, and the rest were to become the new Blue Thumb album.

The Elektra album, Four Sail, was a good but uninspiring collection, with several very good songs, but with little of the eccentricity and inspiration of Love’s earlier records. It was a massive flop, and Bob Krasnow, worried about the album he was going to get, persuaded Lee to reform the earlier version of Love, although without Bryan Maclean.

Unfortunately, several of the other band members were still heroin addicts, and their one reunion show went horribly. Lee went back to his new lineup, although by now Jay Donnellan had been fired after a row with Lee, and Gary Rowles had joined to play on the last song to be recorded for the new double album, Out Here. It turned out that Dewey Martin had not actually had the rights to perform using the Buffalo Springfield name, and he had been sued by the other members. So Donnellan was out, and Rowles was in.

The resulting album, when released, was a far more mixed album than Four Sail. It varied wildly in quality, and in style, sometimes even in the same song. The songs ranged from the uptempo country number Abalony (chorus “No, I don’t care if you’re from Abalony, that’s baloney just the same”) to the gorgeous ballad Listen To My Song, one of Lee’s greatest ballads.

But too often, the music was half thought-out, and the arrangements had none of the subtlety of even the rockiest earlier Love records. Donnellan does his best to play imaginatively, but the thudding rawkisms of the band keep the album from ever truly lifting off.

Nowhere is this better shown than in Doggone, the song that takes up most of side two. The song starts off as a delicate, beautiful, almost nursery-rhyme style ballad, in which Lee sings over an acoustic backing, giving one of his loveliest vocal performances ever. In three verses he laments the loss of a pretty girl, a shaggy dog, and a singing group, with a simple “dee dee dee” and “sha la la” chorus. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, and it’s clearly the same man who made Forever Changes.

And then comes the drum solo.

The eight minute long drum solo.

The eight minute long drum solo that has nothing to do with anything else in the song. The gentle acoustic ballad just suddenly breaks into eight minutes of Ginger Baker-isms, before going back into an outro that Is once again the original song.

Unsurprisingly, the album was a commercial failure — people who wanted hard rock didn’t want country songs about baloney, and people who wanted more Forever Changes didn’t want eight-minute drum solos — although it rather amazingly managed to make the top thirty in the UK.

But then, commercial suicide was hardly new for Lee (or “Arthurly” as he was now briefly styling himself — if Buckminster Fuller seemed to be a verb, Arthurly was, for a while at least, an adjective). Donnellan remembered hearing Lee’s side of a phone conversation towards the end of his time in the band, in which Lee said to an agent “Naw, fuck it. I don’t want to go to New York for one gig!”

The one gig in question had been Woodstock.

One more Love album would follow by this lineup — a dismal effort aptly entitled False Start, before Lee fired these musicians too, and Love became just a label for Lee to slap on solo albums. Love was no more.

Arthur Lee
Line-up: Arthur Lee (guitar, vocal), Jay Donnellan (guitar), Frank Fayad (bass), George Suranovich (drums)
Original release: Out Here, Love, Blue Thumb BTS9000
Currently available on: The Blue Thumb Recordings, Hip-O CD

California Dreaming: Lady-O

White Whale were unhappy with the Turtles, and the feeling was mutual.

The Turtles were White Whale records’ only successful act, but their most recent album, Turtle Soup, had been a massive flop. The band had brought in Ray Davies of the Kinks and recorded an album that was equal parts the LA sunshine pop that had made the band’s name and the thoughtful, orchestral, pastoral music that Davies had recently been using on The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Turtle Soup was the first Turtles album to consist entirely of the band’s own songs, and they were justly proud of it, but the singles didn’t do well, and the album completely flopped.

This led to a divergence of opinion between the Turtles and White Whale. White Whale wanted the band to work with country-soul producer Chips Moman, who was then spearheading Elvis Presley’s comeback. Or, rather, they wanted Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman to work with Moman — the idea was that Moman would record backing tracks for the two vocalists to sing over, and that those tracks would be released under the Turtles’ name.

Given that the Turtles had always prided themselves on being one of the few LA bands to play their own instruments on all their hits, this suggestion did not go down well, and the band instead started working on their next album, to be called Shell Shock. This album, produced by Jerry Yester (who had helped with the band’s orchestral arrangements as far back as Happy Together) was a very mixed bag, with Kaylan’s anti-war song We Ain’t Gonna Party No More sitting uneasily next to a cover of the pre-Jan & Dean Jan Berry song Gas Money, but it was the album the band wanted to make, and they thought it had the potential to be their best.

White Whale disagreed. They didn’t hear a hit, and so they insisted that the band record a dreadful country song, Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret?, easily the worst thing the band had ever been involved in. It was released as a single with We Ain’t Gonna Party No More on the B-side, and flopped, as the band knew it would. After the single’s failure, the band returned to the studio to finish the album, only to find the studio padlocked, with their equipment still inside.

Relations between the band and White Whale had never been good, but now they’d finally reached breaking point. They eventually got White Whale to agree to let them record one final single, as a proper way to end the band’s career. And for their last single, they had the perfect song.

Judee Sill was a woman of deep contradictions. She’d been in and out of reform school and later prison, and was a heroin addict who had supported her and her husband’s addictions with sex work, forgery, and gas station robberies. But she was also a devoutly religious, deeply musical person, who wrote some of the most beautiful songs ever written by a human being. Even at her dullest and most conventional, Sill was a writer the equal of Carole King. At her best, though, she was something far, far more than anyone else writing at the time, with a sense of melody only comparable to Bach.

She had been discovered by Jim Pons, the latest bass player in the band, when in his previous band the Leaves, who had covered a song she wrote in prison. When she got out of prison she had been homeless and living in a car, and the Turtles had signed her to their publishing company, Blimp Music, to write songs at a salary of $35 a week. One of those songs, Lady-O, was the obvious choice for the band’s last single.

Sill was bisexual, and a very religious Christian, and the best of her songs often almost seem to be hymns to a feminine aspect of God, while also being addressed to real people (her most well-known song, Jesus Was A Crossmaker, combines Jesus with the singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, with whom she was briefly romantically involved). The ambiguity in Sill’s rendition of the song (available on her first, eponymous, album), and certainly the non-heteronormativity, is absent in Howard Kaylan’s performance, but Kaylan still gives his most sensitive performance ever.

The song itself bears out a statement that Sill once made, that her only influences ever had been Ray Charles, Bach, and Pythagoras. It’s a perfectly structured piece of mathematically pure beauty, and bears a passing resemblance to some of Ray Davies’ songs for the Kinks in the way it combines baroque music with vernacular English, but where most “baroque pop” shows little more understanding of baroque music than “let’s stick a harpsichord on it”, Lady-O has a melody to rival Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and hearing Kaylan sing “I’ll see you in my holiest dreams, Lady-O” over Sill’s guitar and a restrained string backing is as close as one can get to musical heaven. (Volman and Al Nichol, the only two other Turtles to appear on the track, do so only at the end, providing wordless interlaced backing vocals reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows).

Lady-O was released by White Whale, but by then the band had discovered that they were owed at least two million dollars in unpaid royalties, and were suing the label, so without promotion it only limped to number seventy-eight in the charts. It was an ignominious fate for what is, by a long way, the best thing the Turtles ever did.

Yet the worst was still to come — White Whale countersued the Turtles, and they discovered that because of the contract they’d signed, not only could they not continue to perform as the Turtles without White Whale’s permission, Volman and Kaylan were not even allowed to use their own names. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan were property of White Whale. And so the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie were born…


Composer: Judee Sill

Line-up: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman, and Al Nichol (vocals), Judee Sill (guitar), unknown strings

Original release:
Lady-O/Somewhere Friday Night, The Turtles, White Whale WW 334

Currently available on:
Turtle Soup Flo & Eddie, Inc CD

California Dreaming: Frownland

The Magic Band had effectively split up. One at a time, every member who had played on the band’s first two albums had left, except for John French. And the reason for this was simple. Captain Beefheart himself.

Don Van Vliet had turned into a cult leader, insisting on twelve-hour rehearsal sessions, and then picking members at random to berate and humiliate in front of the rest of the group, sometimes going as far as physical violence. One by one, the original members reached breaking point, and were replaced by members of John French’s earlier band, Blues In A Bottle, until finally the Magic Band consisted of Blues In A Bottle’s two guitarists (Jeff Cotton and Bill Harkleroad), bass player (Mark Boston), and drummer (French) all backing Van Vliet. The one member not in Blues In A Bottle was Vliet’s cousin Victor Hayden, who allegedly “played” bass clarinet, though he mostly just made atonal squawks which upset the rest of the band (though they do add to the music).

Each of these members had been a fan of Beefheart’s before they joined the band, and they were all eager to be in what was clearly the most exciting band in LA, making the most adventurous music. What they didn’t bargain for was that Vliet wanted younger, more easily-manipulable musicians (and Harkleroad in particular had just walked out of one cult) to come and live in a commune, eating little but rice, and obeying his every whim.

Vliet gave his band members new names — French became Drumbo, Cotton Antennae Jimmy Semens, Harkleroad Zoot Horn Rollo, Boston Rockette Morton, and Hayden The Mascara Snake — and new responsibilities. Cotton was to follow Vliet around, take dictation, and collect the random scraps of paper on which he wrote down his poetry. French was to take musical dictation.

Vliet had just bought a piano, but not learned to play it. He would sit at the piano with French at his side, and work out a tiny fragment of music, which French would note down and teach to the band. These tiny fragments were put together and structured into full songs by French, at Vliet’s direction, with band members playing in different time signatures, keys, and tempos, and French as drummer (and the only one whose parts weren’t written by Vliet on the piano) coming up with his own parts that attempted to split the difference between these and make some rhythmic sense of the music. Over these songs, Vliet would then lay his previously-written poetry.

The process was time-consuming and abusive, with the band members being constantly subjected to a stream of verbal and physical abuse from Vliet, yet the musical results were extraordinary. What resulted was a mixture of the timbres of the Chicago blues Vliet loved, all spiky, snarling, slide guitar, with the rhythms and tonalities of free jazz, with Vliet’s Howlin’ Wolf style voice shouting beat poetry over the top. It was difficult, both to play and to listen to, but it was the most astonishingly different music being made in the world at that time.

Frownland, which opens the album that came from this process, Trout Mask Replica, is a typical example. Vliet’s lyrics (“My smile is stuck, I cannot go back to your frown land”) are joyous, but conceal a darker undertone; in his description of a utopia “Where a man can stand by another man without an ego flyin’”, Vliet was attacking French, who he perceived as still having too big an ego. The music, meanwhile, is clangorous and violent, with Semens’ stabbed slide guitar going against the rhythmic grain of Harkleroad’s melodic picked figures to create music that demands the listener’s attention. There are no background parts here — every part is its own separate thing, and works against, rather than reinforcing, the others.

For this album, the Magic Band had been signed to Frank Zappa’s new label, Straight, and Zappa wanted to produce the album as a field recording at the band’s shared house, and brought recording equipment to do so. Vliet, however, had other ideas, insisting that Zappa only wanted to do this to be cheap, and to get out of recording the band in a proper studio. He also believed that Zappa was more interested in presenting him as a freak than as a serious artist.

The backing tracks were eventually recorded in four and a half hours in a professional studio, although comparison with the “field recordings” shows little difference — the band were so tight and had played this music so much that they could run through it in their sleep. Vliet recorded his vocals separately, refusing to wear headphones (he sang so hard that his ears had pressure problems when he was singing), and so only hearing leakage from the control room, with his vocals drifting in and out of sync with the backing tracks.

But the whole thing works, and works astonishingly. Trout Mask Replica is an album that has no precedent anywhere. Its constituent elements are easily identifiable, but the combination of them created something new under the sun. Of all the music discussed in these essays, Trout Mask may be the only truly original album.

John French, who had acted as the band’s musical director and deserves as much of the credit as Vliet for its success, didn’t even get sleeve credit. Between the recording and the album’s release, Vliet literally threw him out of the band, throwing him down half a flight of stairs. But French would return a year later, for the band’s next album, Lick My Decals Off, Baby, and the two would remain in an on/off dysfunctional friendship and collaboration until Vliet retired in 1981.


Composer: Don Van Vliet

Line-up: Captain Beefheart [Don Van Vliet] (vocals, woodwinds), Drumbo [John French] (drums, percussion), Antennae Jimmy Semens [Jeff Cotton] (guitar), Zoot Horn Rollo [Bill Harkleroad] (guitar), Rockette Morton [Mark Boston] (bass), The Mascara Snake [Victor Hayden] (bass clarinet)

Original release:
Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Straight STS 1053

Currently available on: Trout Mask Replica, Zappa Records CD

California Dreaming: Never Learn Not To Love

(Content note — murder)

Fear is nothing but awareness. I was only frightened as a child because I did not understand fear – the dark, being lost, what was under the bed! It came from within. Sometimes the Wizard frightens me. The Wizard is Charlie Manson, who is another friend of mine who says he is God and the Devil! He sings, plays and writes poetry, and may be another artist for Brother Records.

Dennis Wilson and hitchhiking were a bad combination.

Ella Jo Bailey and Patricia Krenwinkel were hitching a lift, and Dennis saw the possibility of a threesome, so instead of taking them back to their communal home, he offered to take them to his own place. They agreed, and afterwards he left them there while he went off to record.

When he got back that night, his two new acquaintances had brought a lot more women round, and with them one man, Charles Manson.

Manson was an aspiring songwriter, who had been in and out of prison most of his life, and who had come up with his own mystical system, based around the idea that there was a coming race war. His mystical teachings, and access to a large amount of drugs, managed to get him a lot of willing female followers. And Dennis Wilson, who had been spiritually seeking for a while (he had recently been the first of the Beach Boys to meet the Maharishi, although the other members were more impressed with the guru in the long run), almost immediately became a follower — the combination of spiritual enlightenment, willing women, and drugs, was a potent one for him.

And while Manson could offer Wilson a lot, there was also a lot in it for Manson. Manson and his family got to move in, rent-free, to Wilson’s mansion, and got introduced to Wilson’s friends. And most importantly for Manson, his music career looked like it was going to take off.

Manson’s songs were strange, freeform things, with lyrics like “if you see the children with ‘x’s on their head/If you dare to look at them you will soon be dead”, but he had an unformed musical talent. Dennis Wilson tried to get him signed to the Beach Boys’ new record label, Brother Records, but a session recorded by the band’s regular engineer Steve Desper proved unusable. And both Dennis Wilson and his friend Neil Young (who met Manson and was impressed by his songwriting, saying Manson was “kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating”) tried separately to persuade Terry Melcher, who was at the time working for Reprise records, to sign Manson.

In the end, the only musical fruit of the Dennis Wilson/Charles Manson partnership [FOOTNOTE That we know of — there are persistent rumours that some of Wilson’s other songs around this time had Manson contributions] was a song originally titled Cease to Exist. Wilson took Manson’s song, changed the title line to “cease to resist” (which if anything made the song far creepier), and renamed it Never Learn Not To Love. Manson didn’t want credit for the song, insisting on Wilson buying it off him outright, but later became outraged at Wilson’s lyrical changes. The track, with lyrics like “submission is a gift, give it to your lover”, “I’m your kind, I’m your kind, and I see”, and “give up your world, come on and be with me” is creepy enough even without the knowledge of who wrote it.

Wilson and Manson soon fell out — according to Van Dyke Parks, Manson once showed up with a bullet and told Wilson “Every time you look at it, I want you to think how nice it is your kids are still safe”, at which Wilson beat him up — but before that happened, Wilson had introduced Manson to someone else. Wilson had been hitchhiking himself, as the Manson “family” had destroyed his car, and had been picked up by someone called “Tex” Watson, who he thought would get on well with Manson.

Manson and Wilson had more or less parted ways by the end of summer 1968, but Never Learn Not To Love was still considered worth releasing, and it was put out on the B-side of the band’s latest single, a cover of the old Ersel Hickey song Bluebirds Over The Mountain (which only reached number 61 in the US, the band’s career having gone downhill that quickly there, but which made the top forty in the UK and the top ten in the Netherlands). They even performed the song on TV, on the Mike Douglas show, and it was included on their 1969 album 20/20, their last for Capitol records, a contractual-obligation mix of recent singles and unreleased tracks.

20/20 was released in February 1969. By March, Charles Manson had become obsessed with the house where Terry Melcher had lived when he turned Manson down (now occupied by the actor Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski), entering it uninvited repeatedly, and claiming when challenged to be looking for Melcher. Even though as late as May 1969 Melcher was showing a small amount of interest in recording Manson, Manson saw Melcher’s old house as a reminder of his lack of success in the music industry.

At the end of July, Manson instructed Bobby Beausoleil, a “family” member, to kill Gary Hinman, an acquaintance. Beausoleil was arrested in the first week of August, and a few days later, Manson instructed Tex Watson to “go to that house where Melcher used to live…take a couple of the girls I’ll send with you and go down there . . . and totally destroy everyone in that house, as gruesome as you can. Make it a real nice murder, just as bad as you’ve ever seen.”

Watson, accompanied by Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel, did just that.

Never Learn Not To Love

Composer: Dennis Wilson (Charles Manson uncredited)

Line-up: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston (no session data is available yet about this track other than band membership)

Original release: Bluebirds Over The Mountain/Never Learn Not To Love The Beach Boys, Capitol 2360

Currently available on: Friends/2020 Capitol CD

(Podcast version will be up tomorrow — this took a lot longer than usual to write as my RSI is killing me).