One of the most identifiable hits from the 60’s was the smash hit Wipeout. It put Surf Music in the center stage for the radio listener.

For as long as I can recall I have been a fan of mysteries. It matters not what the subject is, they are just fun to explore. The Kennedy Assassination, Amelia Earhart, the list goes on and on. Of course these lofty cases are far beyond my capabilities to make a change. Instead I play with smaller mysteries, mysteries that I feel I can solve to my own satisfaction. I love music, and the music world is full of mysteries.

My favorite period for music mysteries is the 1960’s and 1970’s. Mysteries abound! What appeals to me is that they fall into the category of ‘living mysteries’, many of the protagonists are still playing. Better still, after four or five decades they are willing to talk about what really happened.

In the early 60’s two at first seemly unconnected bands The Impacts and The Surfaris. Both used the the name Wipeout.The Impacts released an album using the name Wipe Out, and on it was a track by the same name. Wipeout became a bit of a battle. Who really was the creator of this tune that we all know?

Here are two versions, the first by Merrell Fankhauser (The Impacts) which actually was recorded in 2010 in his old stomping ground of Pismo Beach.

The second version is from the Surfaris. It obviously not an original from the 60’s .

Even to my untrained ear these are the same song.

As if this was not complex enough, there is a third version floating around. The Ventures wanted a piece of the Wipeout pie.

So what is the real story behind Wipeout?

It is indeed a curious and winding road. Merrell explains that he wrote the song in 1961. The original title was Kickout, but he changed the title after a surfing mishap. It was a quiet day, the ocean off Pismo Beach was pretty calm and he missed the fact that a rogue wave was headed his way. The wave picked him up and deposited him in a dirty heap on the beach.

This is a situation that alas I am familiar with. You can catch my tale of woe here and here. OK I wasn’t experienced, and Merrell probably had better equipment.

Merrell suffered in much the same way I did. At least I was obviously inept, and the cheers from the crowd were in support of an ‘old guy’ doing something right out of Jackass. Merrell on the other hand was somewhat more concerned. A fellow surfer walked by and said “Boy you wiped out”. As if this was not bad enough, the young ladies on the beach were giggling! Merrell packed up his stuff and left! But on the journey home he came up with the idea that the song should not be Kickout, but Wipeout.

The Impacts played the song for almost a year, small town band, small town audience. They did manage to get the song recorded, and indeed, it did quite well. So well that it caught the attention of an LA based talent scout.

There was a hit in the making, but there was one problem, not enough drums in the song….

‘Lets take it into the studio and lay down a new version’. The young and obviously excited Merrell and the rest of the band headed for LA.  The band was not convinced that drums were the answer, but the youngsters went for it.

I feel rather like a writer for a soap opera. I am not going to share the rest of the story yet, you will have to tune in to part two. What happened when they hit LA and recorded a new version? Who heard it? What happened next? Was there a drummer with plans of his own?

If you cannot wait for the written version, you can listen to some of the story here.

More soon

Simon Barrett


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