“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 24, 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, 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 charts where it remained for four weeks. Two months later, it also reached number one in the UK. On the R&B charts, “Runaway” peaked at number three. The song was #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart in 1961. Appearing on David Letterman in 1986, Shannon reprised his hit backed by Paul Schaeffer and the band. He was introduced as having sold as much as 80,000 singles of ‘Runaway’ per day, at its height.
Del Shannon re-recorded it in 1967 as “Runaway ’67”. This version was issued as a single but failed to make the Hot 100.