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The Story Behind the Song: Wipe Out (1963)

Perhaps the most famous instrumental in rock history and certainly its most famous drum solo is the surf rock classic, “Wipe Out,” composed and performed by the Surfaris.

Recorded in late 1962, the band virtually made up the song on the spot at Pat Recording Studio in Cucamonga, California. The band was there recording “Surfer Joe,” a vocal piece they intended as the A-side of their first single. They had forgotten to think about a B-side for the single. So, Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller, and Ron Wilson quickly recorded a simple 12-bar blues instrumental with that rather flashy drum solo by Wilson.

The title, of course, came from southern California surfer slang for falling off your surfboard, especially in a spectacular fashion. A band member, now lost to time, suggested starting the song with the crackling sound of a surfboard breaking up. The group‘s manager, Dale Smalin, provided the maniacal “Ha-ha-ha Wipe out!” cry that kicks off the record.

It may have been that cry that put a kink in the Surfaris’ plans. Because deejays in those wilder, less restrictive times, bypassed “Surfer Joe” and started playing the B-Side. During the summer of 1963, “Wipe Out” actually made it all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (held out of the top spot by Stevie Wonder’s debut recording, “Fingertips”).

The song was re-released in 1966 and got to #16 the second time around. The original recording or covers by other artists have been featured in more than 20 movies and TV shows, appearing in at least one per decade. And its drum solo became the hallmark by which any garage band drummer of the 1960s was judged.

While the Surfaris never duplicated the success of “Wipe Out,” the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2020.

And Pat Recording Studio? It was eventually purchased by a young employee they hired who was eager to learn about the recording business. Some SoCal kid named Frank Zappa.

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