Song Stories - "Never Learn Not To Love" (1968)

In honor of the re-release of the late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s solo album Pacific Ocean Blue, this addition of Song Stories is going to focus on a Dennis sung tune. Luckily Dennis had one heck of an interesting social life which subsequently spilled over into his art. The song I’m about to cover may not sound familiar, but if I add the sub caption of ‘How Charles Manson wrote a Beach Boys song,’ hopefully you’ll stay interested enough to read on.

The Beach Boys - "Never Learn Not To Love" (1968)
From the album

Dennis Wilson was the all too often forgotten drummer of The Beach Boys. Though he was the only member of the band that actually partook in the sport of surfing, he rarely got a chance to truly show his skills as a musician and songwriter. He was featured on lead vocals on only a handful of Beach Boy songs.

The most well documented part of Dennis’ life was without a doubt his shortcomings. Dennis was a heavy drinker and drug user, a habit that would eventually lead to his untimely death. He also had a suspect taste in friends, namely the infamous involvement he had with another musician that went by the name Charles Manson.

I could go into deep detail about Manson, his crimes, and his relationship with Dennis Wilson; but no matter how interesting it is, I just don’t have the time for that. Instead I’ll say that in the late ‘60s Dennis took Manson in, allowed him and his followers to live under his roof and even helped book Manson studio time to record his music.

Once it came time for The Beach Boys to record material for their 20/20 album in 1968, Dennis decided to use one of Manson’s songs, the creepy “Cease to Exist.” Why Wilson thought to use this song rather than one of Manson’s brighter more pop oriented numbers is beyond me, but never the less Manson was pleased to have one of his songs used on a Beach Boys album. The only stipulation was that Dennis was not to alter the lyrics of the song in anyway.

Once the more psychedelic version of the song hit the airwaves as the b-side of “Blue Birds Over The Mountain” in December of 1968, Manson found out a number of upsetting facts about his song. First the name of the song had changed to “Never Learn Not To Love,” secondly the songs lyrics had been altered against his wishes, and thirdly the song writing was credited to Dennis and Dennis alone. Now Dennis may have had good reason to forbid writing credits to Manson, such as the fact that he and his ‘family’ had cost Wilson a huge sum of money while they were staying with him. By not allowing Manson a chance at song royalties may have seemed to Dennis like a way to get some of his money back. No matter what the reasons were, the series of events surrounding “Never Learn Not To Love” had apparently infuriated Manson enough to threaten Dennis with murder.

The following series of events have been speculated upon, and no one knows for sure if they are true or not; but, if a friend's story is true, it’s an interesting one. According to one of The Beach Boy’s co-writers Van Dyke Parks, one day Charles Manson set out to make good on his threat. As the story goes, once Manson made it to Dennis’ house, Dennis proceeded to “beat him up.” The image of Dennis Wilson kicking Charles Manson’s ass is one that I am currently reveling in.

While the album that Dennis helped Manson record ended up hitting the market in 1974, years after Manson had already been imprisoned for orchestrating a number of brutal murders; The Beach Boy’s “Never Learn Not To Love” is the most visible reminder in pop culture of Manson’s song writing abilities. Though the song inevitably was given The Beach Boys treatment, such as the full harmonies by the other members of the band; the song did obtain the stirringly creepy nature that “Cease to Exist” had originally contained. When Dennis Wilson emotionally cries out “Come in now, closer… closer… closer…” as the gothic style backing music swirls to a crescendo, it’s hard not to get a chill.

Other installments in the Song Stories series:
"Maybellene" (1955)
"Who Are You" (1978)

Tyler Barlass • Editor

Tyler is passionate about Music, Sports, Beer, Comic Books, Food, Cocktails and other seemingly unrelated things.


New Reviews