The Helicopter Song
When I was 4 or 5 my parents had some friends over for a barbecue. Everyone was milling around in fine barbecue fashion, and then the radio played a song I’d never heard before. It was amazing! There was somebody laughing and then helicopter sounds, but it didn’t have any lyrics.
I planned to ask Mom and Dad what the song was, but they were busy doing things and I forgot.
A couple of days later Mom was putting something on the record player, and I remembered the barbecue and said, “Play The Helicopter Song!”
“The what?” Mom said.
“The Helicopter Song! There was a guy laughing and helicopters! And there weren’t any words!” Mom had no idea what I meant. I did, but I couldn’t describe it well enough. I gave up, frustrated.
A couple days later we were driving somewhere and the helicopter song came on the radio.
“That’s The Helicopter Song! That’s The Helicopter Song!” I yelled.
“That’s the song you meant?” Mom asked.
“Yeah! It’s The Helicopter Song!”
And it turned out that the helicopter song was… (drum roll])1
“Wipeout,” by The Surfaris.
Lemme ‘splain: When I was a kid in the early 1960s, we lived in Topeka, KS, about 7 miles north of Forbes Air Force Base. Aircraft often flew right over us coming to and from Forbes; usually heavier cargo aircraft; once everyone in Topeka got to watch a brand-new Air Force One land at Forbes for the first stop in its inaugural test flight, fuel up, and take off again.
This was much earlier, though; maybe 1967 or ’68. The war in Vietnam was raging along full blast, and we often heard large choppers flying thumping along overhead: long-range special-ops copters like the Sikorsky MH-53, aka the Jolly Green Giant, or Boeing CH-47 Chinook dual-rotor heavy cargo helicopters.
It happened often enough that I didn’t consciously listen to them, but they still made a hell of a lot of noise.
And so it happened that when I heard “Wipeout,” the long drum breaks, heavy on the bass and toms, reminded me of all the big choppers flying overhead.
I didn’t know how to explain this when I was so young. So years later, when I was in my early 20s, a friend of mine was showing me how to play “Wipeout” on guitar, and I suddenly remembered: THE HELICOPTER SONG!
I told Mom and Dad about it, but they didn’t remember any of this.
So either I’m hallucinating or The Surfaris tricked me.