Never Learn Not to Love
|"Never Learn Not to Love"|
|Single by the Beach Boys|
|from the album 20/20|
|A-side||"Bluebirds over the Mountain"|
|Released||December 2, 1968|
|Recorded||September 11, 16–18, 1968|
|Studio||Beach Boys Studio, Los Angeles, California|
|Length||2:08 (single version) |
2:31 (album version)
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
"Never Learn Not to Love" is a song recorded by the American rock band the Beach Boys, credited to Dennis Wilson, and released as the B-side to the group's "Bluebirds over the Mountain" single on December 2, 1968. The song was actually an altered version of "Cease to Exist", written by cult leader Charles Manson, at the time an ex-convict who was seeking a career as a singer-songwriter. Musically, Wilson deviated from Manson's structure and added a bridge section. Two months after its release, it was included on the Beach Boys' 15th studio album 20/20.
Manson exchanged his writing credit for a sum of cash and a motorcycle, but was incensed when he learned that Wilson had changed some of the original lyrics. In August 1969, about a year after the Beach Boys recorded his song, Manson and his cult of followers committed several murders and were apprehended three months later. A recording of Manson's original version of "Cease to Exist" appeared on his debut album Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, released in March 1970.
As a result of a chance encounter in late spring 1968, according to some accounts, drummer Dennis Wilson was driving through Malibu when he picked up two hitchhiking women of the Manson Family, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey, and brought them to his house in Pacific Palisades for a few hours. Returning home in the morning of the following day from a night time recording session with the Beach Boys, Wilson was unexpectedly greeted in the driveway of the residence by the Family's leader, Charles Manson. The two struck a friendship and, over the next few months, members of the Manson Family – mostly women who were treated as servants – were housed at Wilson's Sunset Boulevard household, reportedly costing him approximately $100,000 (equivalent to $720,000 in 2018).
At the time, Manson was an ex-convict seeking a career as a singer-songwriter, and Wilson, convinced of his talents, was interested in signing him as an artist on the band's Brother Records label. Consequence of Sound's Dan Caffrey commented that "it’s understandable to see why Wilson felt a musical kinship with Manson", and while using Wilson's recent "Little Bird" and "Be Still" as examples, explained that Manson and Wilson shared a similar unprofessional approach and interest in "fraying the edges of traditional forms".
Manson discussed and presented Wilson some of his self-penned material, and in exchange, Wilson paid for studio time to record songs performed by Manson. Wilson also introduced him to his acquaintances in the music industry, including Gregg Jakobson, Terry Melcher, and Rudi Altobelli. That summer, Manson booked a session at Brian Wilson's home studio for several tracks that were co-produced by Brian and Carl Wilson. Much of the recordings were not demos, but rather polished studio productions of songs, including perhaps "Cease to Exist", which was re-recorded for Manson's only officially released album, Lie: The Love and Terror Cult (1970). These recordings remain unheard to the public; music historian Andrew Doe stated that the tapes exist, but that they have "not a hope in hell" of being released.
The Beach Boys recording
According to biographer Peter Ames Carlin, Manson penned "Cease to Exist" specifically for the Beach Boys to record, and biographer Steven Gaines said that Manson "reportedly" wrote the song to help ease tensions within the group. Bandmember Mike Love recalled that he was not aware of the song's author, and assumed that Dennis had written it. In exchange for the publishing rights to "Cease to Exist", Manson received a sum of cash and a BSA motorcycle which he later gave to Family member "Little" Paul Watkins. When Wilson acquired the song from him, for the most part, he abided Manson's original specifications. However, in an attempt to better accommodate the group's vocal harmonies, Wilson reworked the song's bluesy structure and added another bridge. In addition, "Cease to Exist"'s lyrics were partially altered (the opening lyric "Cease to exist" modified to "Cease to resist"), and the title of the song was changed to "Never Learn Not to Love", much to Manson's indignation. The Beach Boys recorded the track at Brian Wilson's home studio on September 11 and 16–18, 1968.
"Never Learn Not to Love" was released as the B-side to "Bluebirds over the Mountain" on December 2, 1968. Only on the single version, there was an added intro that originated from "The Gong" sessions which was also recorded earlier in that year by the Beach Boys.  The A-side reached number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 33 on the UK Singles Chart. The song was later featured on the Beach Boys' album 20/20 on February 10, 1969. In 1971, when asked why he did not credit Manson, Dennis answered: "He didn't want that. He wanted money instead. I gave him about a hundred thousand dollars' worth of stuff." Manson threatened Dennis with murder when he discovered that the lyrics were changed. Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks recalled "One day, Charles Manson brought a bullet out and showed it to Dennis, who asked, 'What's this?' And 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'". Wilson confronted Manson about the incident, realizing Manson's growing erratic behavior, and ended their friendship soon after.
Music critic Bruce Eder, in a review for the AllMusic website, wrote the Beach Boys "brush up against the dark side of the '60s, in the form of 'Never Learn Not to Love'". In his assessment of the song, Richie Unterberger commented "Never Learn Not to Love" is far more notorious for its relation to Manson, not the music itself which he describes as "average". Colin Larkin, in The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, wrote the track "had the ironic distinction of putting Charles Manson in the charts". Journalist Nathan Jolly called the song "softer but still eerie", also noting how fans of the Beach Boys who listened to the song over the years "had no idea of the inherent evil of its actual composer".
During Manson's trial for the conspiracy-murders of seven people, he released his debut studio album, Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, on March 6, 1970. Consisting of 13 tracks recorded between 1967 and 1968, it included Manson's original arrangement of "Cease to Exist". Approximately 2,000 copies of Lie were distributed, but only 300 albums were reportedly sold.
In an AllMusic review of Manson's album, his rendition of "Cease to Exist" was regarded by Theodor Grenier as "one of Manson's signature performances, and has justifiably invited comparison with Jim Croce and José Feliciano". Critic Michael Little considers Manson's version superior to the Beach Boys', having praise especially for Manson's vocals: "you expect a tattered, raw, and raggedy voice, with a touch of lunatic rage, but what you get is a smooth-voiced folk singer". He also wrote that Manson's raw, stripped-down take "gives the song an impressive lo-fi immediacy that is a million miles away from the Beach Boys' treatment".
- 1994: Sean MacReavy, Dumb Angel
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