This is a popular instrumental track with a continuous surf rhythm. The only vocal is the occasional phrase "Wipe Out."
The Surfaris were a band of teenagers with less than enough pocket money to record their work. The group was actually composed of the following young artists: Jim Fuller (lead guitar), Robert Berryhill (rhythm guitar), Ron Wilson (drums), Jim Pash (saxophone) and Pat Connolly (bass). Pash, however, did not take part in the initial recording. The breakthrough belongs to Wilson, who did such an excellent job on the long drum solos that it became one of the most famous drum solo breaks played and recorded.
Jim Pash told Dan Forte of Vintage Guitar magazine that "the format of 'Wipe Out' was inspired by Preston Epps' "Bongo Rock," as suggested by Bob Berryhill." In fact, Drummer Ron Wilson was the head drummer in the Charter High School Marching Band at the time and, according to Pash, "the 'Wipe Out' solo is actually a drum cadence they'd use to march the band onto the football field at halftime." Wilson would later set the world record for continuous drum soloing at 104 1/2 hours! He died of a brain aneurysm in 1989.
The group gathered money from their parents while scouting for a place to carry out their rehearsals and came across Dale Smallin. Owner of a small studio in Cucamonga, California, Smallin later became the Surfaris' manager. At Samllin's studio, they record a song called "Surfer Joe." When the engineer reminded the group that it takes two songs to make a single, the Surfaris recorded "Wipe Out," which they considered the throwaway B-side - they certainly didn't consider themselves an instrumental band. Smallin pressed 100 copies of the single, which are rare collector's items today and about 10 seconds longer than the commercially released version. He released the song on his DFS record label, and also allowed the Princess label to put out the song. One of the Princess copies made its way to Dot records, a major label which purchased the master tapes, edited off the 10 seconds at the end, and released the single with "Wipe Out" as the A-side and "Surfer Joe" as the flip. In this release, "Wipe Out" became a huge hit and a surf classic. "Surfer Joe" charted at #61 a few months later.
After thinking about calling this song "Stiletto" (with the sound of a switchblade knife opening the song), The Surfaris decided to crack a half-broken 2-by-4 over the microphone and call the song "Wipe Out." It was the group's producer/manager Dale Smallin who performed the famous Witch Laugh at the beginning of the song, which he added just for fun, as no one expected the song to be more than just a throwaway B-side.
"Wipe Out" charted again in 1966 when it was re-released, this time hitting #16. It was released again in 1970, but didn't chart.
The story of The Surfaris is a little sticky, and there's some dispute over who played on their album and who owns the publishing rights. Apparently, "Wipe Out" and "Surfer Joe" are the only songs The Surfaris actually played on the album Wipe Out
. The others were performed by another surf-rock group called The Challengers. Over the years, The Surfaris occasionally reformed, and even re-recorded "Wipe Out" for a K-Tel album in the '70s. According to The Billboard Book Of One-Hit Wonders
, Berryhill and Pash are now both born-again Christians, Fuller became a guitarist for the Punk band The Seeds for a short time, and Pash also invented and manufactured an instrument called The Gitsitar. (Thanks to Kent Kotal at Forgotten Hits
for help researching this.)
This song makes a great instrumental backdrop and radio stations often use it as a "bed," which can be background music for commercials or provide disc jockeys with a beat to talk over. The song has also been used in a number of movies, including Back To The Beach, Meet The Parents, Runaway Bride and Wayne's World 2.
Sha-Na-Na played this at the Woodstock festival in 1969. Notable bands who have covered the song include The Beach Boys, The Ventures and Johnny Thunders. In 1987, the comedy Rap trio The Fat Boys recorded it with The Beach Boys. This version charted in the US at #12.