Music has long been a powerful tool in the dissemination of religious propaganda and the recruitment of followers and worshippers. As true as this is for the hymns in the big church so it's been for the fringe dwellers of religious freedom—the cult leader. It's appropriate that some individuals with God/prophet complexes have such ego-driven aspirations as rock stardom—rock and roll being the real cult of youth since The Beatles.
But not all were as successful creating quality jams as they were in brainwashing and sex crimes. Here is a look at the varying quality of some of the most successful American cults since the 60s, from worst to best.
5. David Koresh
David Koresh and the Branch Davidians gained enough attention from the mainstream media in 1993 that the feds were called into their Waco, Texas compound and shot-up and burned the place to hell. 76 people died under circumstances that are still unclear. What is clear is that Koresh saw himself as not only the Final Prophet and the manifestation of Christ, but also quite the folk singer. He self-released the album, Songs For Grandpa, a dismal collection of folk rock drudgery that includes a cover of "The Rivers Of Babylon". YouTube evidence of a much more 80s classic rock inspired style of rock music that Koresh had been dabbling is reminiscent of Bryan Adams with more muted harmonics and glam rock flourishes. Truly horrific.
4. Jim Jones and the People's Temple Choir
When digging through the rubble of Jonestown in Guyana where 918 people (including 304 minors) drank the poisoned Kool-Aid (perhaps at gun point), the FBI recovered hundreds of tape recordings. While details of Jones' contribution to the music itself has not been recorded, the music was produced incorporating his teachings and philosophies. The album He's Able seems to have been widely available before the massacre—a sort of watered down gospel music that is mostly unremarkable, but if there's anything scarier than the People's Temples kid's choir singing Welcome in an alternative reality Sesame Street style, then I don't wanna hear it.
3. Charles Manson
Manson's rock star aspirations were so all-consuming that a well worn theory suggests that his rejection from the music establishment led directly to the Tate murders. Record producer Terry Melcher was a previous resident of Sharon Tate's house and had previously dashed Manson's hopes of rock stardom, it has been theorised that he was the intended target of the attack. Manson did get close to making his dreams come true—Neil Young was a fan and had pitched his music to record labels, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys famously spent a lot of time with Charlie, introducing him to Melcher and ultimately carrying great guilt for the Tate murders. There's another story about Manson approaching Mike Love in the shower at an orgy—for another time. Wilson even convinced the Beach Boys to record a Manson song, "Never Learn Not To Love". It's not the last time rock and roll royalty would take on a Manson song, Guns N Roses performing a version of "Look At Your Game Girl" for their abomination of punk rock covers The Spaghetti Incident. The song is a semi-interesting folk rock anomaly, although obviously one that would have disappeared into oblivion if not for its author.
2. Father Yod
Father Jim Yod's philosophy was based on Western mystery traditions, or Western esotericism. His evolving band project The Spirit of '76/The Ya Ho Wha 13/Sons of the Ya Ho Wha/Yodship/Fire, Water, Air with himself as the lead singer, released a series of incredible albums which he sold from his Sunset Strip restaurant in limited pressings in true DIY fashion. The band recorded far out, loose, psychedelic jam sessions with Yod himself as vocalist. The original vinyl records themselves are serious collector's items and interest in the group has continued to grow, with Drag City releasing a compilation in 2008 of remastered unreleased practice recordings of the group. Despite the usual cult leader misogynist bullshit Father Yod had the decency not to murder anyone in his lifetime—his own death was the result of jumping from a cliff wearing a hang glider despite never having used one before.
1. L Ron Hubbard
Modern history's most successful cult leader, sci-fi novelist L Ron Hubbard was also quite the aspiring musician. His role has been more of a Kanye West type figure overseeing various musical projects over the course of scientology – employing often incredibly high-profile musicians to collaborate on some very weird and very interesting projects. One of his earliest projects was The Apollo Stars, who released an excellent free-jazz album Power of Source. While some of the musicians involved in the project later expressed embarrassment at the release, it holds up well in a historical context and clearly involved some talented players. Hubbard is featured on the back of the album sitting at the recording console, desperately wanting to be seen as the captain of the recordings. But his greatest musical accomplishment is the 1982 album Space—a soundtrack to his novel Battlefield Earth—the basis of scientology. As well as L Ron himself, the album featured notable jazz musicians Gayle Moran, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Nicky Hopkins. The album also utilised a very early appearance of the original Fairlight CMI synthesizer and sampler released in 1979 for a cost of around 30,000 pounds. Hear the Fairlight in action on the incomprehensibly weird track, and today's winner of best Cult Track from a Cult Leader "Windsplitter".