This is about a guy whose girl leaves him, and he is left to wonder what went wrong. A lot of Shannon's songs were about broken relationships. He once said he wrote the words to this about himself because he was forever running away from relationships.
Shannon and his keyboard player, Max Crook, came up with this while they were playing a club in their hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan. Crook played a keyboard called a "Musitron" on the song.
Jeff - Boston, MA
Del Shannon (from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh): "We were on stage and Max (Crook) hit an A minor and a G and I said, 'Max, play that again, it's a great change.'" The drummer, Dick Parker, followed them and after 15 minutes, the manager of the club shouted, 'Knock it off, play something else.'" The next day Shannon wrote some lyrics: "That night I went back to the club and I told Max to play an instrumental on his musitron for the middle part, and when he played that solo, we had 'Runaway.'"
In the UK, this was the biggest-selling single of 1961.
Shannon re-recorded this for the Michael Mann TV series Crime Story, which ran from 1986-1988.
This was Shannon's biggest hit. His career trailed off a few years later, and he killed himself in 1990.
Tom Petty makes reference to this in "Runnin' Down A Dream." The line is, "It was a beautiful day, me and Del were singing, a little runaway."
This was used in the movie American Graffiti, a film that used many 1950s and '60s American pop, rock and doo-wop songs to create a jukebox-style soundtrack. As the film is set in 1962 ("Where Were You in '62?" was the tagline), Shannon's "Runaway" is an appropriate period song.
The B-side for the first run of the "Runaway" single was a song titled "Jody." Shannon stated that "Jody," not "Runaway," was his favorite song he ever recorded.
The famous musitron bridge was used pretty much note for note in the instrumental bridge to the 1982 song "Goodbye To You" by Scandal (with lead singer Patty Smyth).
Caren - Detroit area, MI
The song has been covered many times. Queen and Paul Rodgers produced a version during The Cosmos Rocks sessions, with Brian May playing the musitron bridge solo section on guitar in his distinctive style. The song was an iTunes exclusive bonus track when the album was released in 2008.
The rock group Avenged Sevenfold covered this
in 2017 as a virtual bonus track for their album The Stage
. Their version features A7X guitarist Zacky Vengeance on lead vocals for the first time while the Vandals' axeman Warren Fitzgerald guests.
"When we decided to expand the album and add new tracks, everyone in the band chose a song that would be interesting to cover," said Avenged Sevenfold vocalist M. Shadows. "Zacky came up with the idea of doing a punk rock version of the Del Shannon classic. While in the studio, (AS guitarist) Synyster brought up our old friend Warren Fitzgerald, saying it'd be great to have him play on the track and give the song the kind of reckless abandon he's known for with the Vandals."
"I've always loved 'Runaway' and the dark undertone hidden behind the upbeat doo-wop track," said Vengeance of his choice to cover the song. "You can hear sincere anguish in his voice. I raised my hand to add a little punk rock flair to the vocals, have some fun, and give the fans a little something to talk about."
The 11th episode of the third season of Quantum Leap (1991) is titled Runaway and featured this song. In the story, main character Dr. Sam Beckett "quantum leaps" into the body of a 13-year-old boy named Butchie Rickett. It's July 4, 1964, and his mission (along with his holographic pal Al) is to keep Buchie's mother from abandoning the family.
Most of the story takes place during a family road trip, and "Runaway" comes on the car radio just as Butchie's mother runs off from a highway pullout and into the woods. Butchie's dad quips that mom always runs away from her problems, making her the clear "runaway" of the show.
The episode deals a lot with feminism as Butchie's mother is reading The Feminine Mystique, which was a landmark feminist text published in late 1963. Butchie ends up succeeding; the family stays together, with mom nearly dying but then getting her PhD and becoming the family breadwinner.