2018-12-17 19:29:42 UTC
Del Shannon – “Runaway”
HIT #1: April 24, 1961
STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks
Rock ‘n’ roll was music for teenagers. That’s what was magic about it. The best of those ’50s and early ’60s singles are the ones that treat teenage concerns — life-altering crushes, soul-obliterating breakups, knife-edge first-date nerves — as the intense and apocalyptic things that, at least in the moment, they are. Del Shannon wasn’t a teenager; he was a 26-year-old bandleader, a former Army serviceman and truck driver and carpet salesman from Michigan. But on “Runaway,” his greatest enduring contribution to the pop-music canon, Shannon made getting dumped sound all-the-way operatic.
If you wanted to reach — like really, really reach — you could call “Runaway” the first synthpop song to reach #1. It is, quite literally, a pop song with a synth on it. Max Cook, the keyboard player in Shannon’s band, played a Musitron, a sort of early-synth electric piano contraption that Cook had invented himself. On “Runaway,” it sounded grand and dramatic and otherworldly, an across-the-stars response to Shannon’s heartbreak.
Shannon himself sings with real grit in his voice, at least until he hits the wailing-baby falsetto of the chorus. He sounds bitter and contemplative and resolute, and then all of a sudden he’s making this ridiculous wah-wah-wah noise. The band behind him plays hard R&B, with a clapclap-clap beat and menacing baritone-sax burps and a guitar line that could be called folkie if it had been played at half-speed. “Runaway” is a strange, feral piece of pop music. It commits.