“Runaway” is a number-one Billboard Hot 100 song made famous by Del Shannon in 1961. It was written by Shannon and keyboardist Max Crook, and became a major international hit. It is No. 472 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, compiled in 2010.
Singer-guitarist Charles Westover and keyboard player Max Crook performed together as members of “Charlie Johnson and the Big Little Show Band” in Battle Creek, Michigan, before their group won a recording contract in 1960. Westover took the new stage name “Del Shannon”, and Crook, who had invented his own clavioline-based electric keyboard called a Musitron, became “Maximilian”.
After their first recording session for Big Top Records in New York City had ended in failure, their manager Ollie McLaughlin persuaded them to rewrite and re-record an earlier song they had written, “Little Runaway”, to highlight Crook’s unique instrumental sound. On January 21, 1961, they recorded “Runaway” at the Bell Sound recording studios, with Harry Balk as producer, Fred Weinberg as audio engineer and also session musician on several sections: session musician Al Caiola on guitar, Moe Wechsler on piano, and Crook playing the central Musitron break. Other musicians on the record included Al Casamenti and Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Milt Hinton on bass, and Joe Marshall on drums. Bill Ramall, who was the arranger for the session, also played baritone sax. After recording in A minor, producer Balk sped up the recording to pitch just below a B-flat minor. “Runaway” was released in February 1961 and was immediately successful. On April 10 of that year, Shannon appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, helping to catapult it to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for four weeks. Two months later, it reached number one on the UK’s Record Retailer chart, spending three weeks in that position. On Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides, “Runaway” peaked at number three.
The song was ranked No. 5 on Billboard’s end of year “Hot 100 for 1961 – Top Sides of the Year” and No. 9 on Cash Box’s “Top 100 Chart Hits of 1961”.
Del Shannon re-recorded it in 1967. This version was issued as a single, and reached No. 122 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under the Hot 100.
Appearing on Late Night With David Letterman on February 10, 1987, Shannon reprised his hit backed by Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band. Letterman introduced Shannon as having sold as many as 80,000 singles of “Runaway” per day at its height.
Del Shannon re-recorded the song in 1986, as the theme for the NBC television series Crime Story starring Dennis Farina, which was set in the early 1960s.
The best-known original version is in mono. However, in subsequent compilations a different take from the same recording sessions is available in stereo.
The song is sung from the point of view of a man whose female lover has left him. She is mostly referred to in the third person, but she is briefly addressed in the second person in the lyric “wishin’ you were here by me”.