Treasured Track: Del Shannon – “Runaway”

Our favorite songs are timeless. Even with years separating us from the last time we heard them, these songs call us back to a bygone era in our lives. Some of them helped us through heart wrenching breakups while others remind us of late nights spent with best friends. In this feature I reflect on the tracks that I’ve obsessed over in the past and always welcome back to my headphones in the present.

Just like with movies, some songs simply age better than others. Watching American Graffiti right now will trigger memories of your own high school experience, even though it was released in 1973. And “Runaway” by Del Shannon will still help heal a breakup 59 years after its original release.

The term “ghosted” is fairly recent, but Shannon may as well have written “Runaway” specifically for the experience of being dumped by someone and being given no rhyme or reason for it. The song begins with a snappy guitar introduction and Shannon singing: “As I walk along, I wonder / What went wrong with our love, / A love that was so strong.” There aren’t many more lyrics to the song, so Shannon stretches them out in a creative way. The chorus is memorable because of the way Shannon wavers his tone like a wah pedal.

“And I wonder…
I wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder
Why
A-wah-wah-wah-wah-why
She ran awaaay,”
And I wonder where she will stay-yay,
My little runaway.”

Lack of closure is what “Runaway” is all about. There’s the pain of missing someone, surely, but not knowing what went wrong and where your loved one is staying now (and who they’re staying with) is worse. I always liked “Runaway,” but it wasn’t until I was unceremoniously ghosted (this was years ago, thankfully) that I thought, “Man, this song is perfect.” It still is, and a big part of that is the keyboard solo before the final chorus. Keyboardist Max Crook feeds off of Shannon’s urgency, dancing across the keys and hitting an erratic high tone that sounds like it was pulled from a horror B-movie set in a theme park. The sound mirrors the narrator’s bouncing, dejected thoughts, and it adds so much flavor to the song. Like many popular songs of the era, “Runaway” is a shorty; it clocks in at less than two and a half minutes. It’s short enough that if you’re going to hear it once, you may as well play it twice.

Sadly, Shannon was unable to overcome his demons later in life and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1990. In his honor you should watch Del Shannon play “Runaway” on Letterman. He’s clearly enjoying himself during the performance, and he sounds as good as ever.

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