Original v. Cover — #75 in a Series

Running Away From Home Pictures, Images and Photos

To those who have supported this series during its nearly eighteen months since it began, please accept my sincere thanks. The give and take discussions with those of you who commented on these essays contributed immeasurably to the energy this writer needed to continue with this project for as long as he did. Other priorities and obligations beckon, although hope remains that it may be possible to submit a few more essays in the future, only on a less frequent and consistent basis than in the past.

So, on with the final weekly Original v. Cover essay…

Fifty years ago, this week’s selection occupied the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for four weeks from April 24-May 22, 1961 on its way to becoming an international hit. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at #466 on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.  

Some of us may remember the song with a sense of nostalgia; yet others reading this account may have parents who weren’t even born yet in 1961.  Whatever the case may be, this week’s selection has had incredible staying power, and continues to be performed frequently through the present day.

This song was written by then little known singer-guitarist Charles Westover and keyboard player Max Crook, who had performed together as member of a group known as Charlie Johnson and the Big Little Show Band, based in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Crook had invented his own clavioline-based electric keyboard called a Musitron and adopted the stage name of “Maximilian.”  

Crook’s creation was a heavily-modified clavioline, a three-octave electronic keyboard instrument that was first invented in 1947. This was undoubtedly the first U. S. hit to feature such an instrument, which was a precursor to the analog synthesizer.  The best-known songs to later use the clavioline were the 1962 instrumental hit, “Telstar”, which went to #1 and the Beatles’ 1967 hit, “Baby, You’re a Rich Man”, which was the flip side of their #1 hit, “All You Need is Love.”  Although “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” only peaked at #34, the song serves as part of the background near the conclusion of the Hollywood blockbuster from 2010, “The Social Network.”  

After the initial recording session for Big Top Records in New York ended in failure, the group’s manager Ollie McLaughlin persuaded them to rewrite and re-record an earlier song they had written to highlight Crook’s unique instrumental sound.  The song was released in February, 1961 and by April of that year, earned the group an appearance on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”, which was credited with helping to catapult the song to a #1 ranking for four weeks beginning on April 24, 1961. Two months later, the song reached #1 on the U.K. charts and also rose to #3 on the R&B charts.  

Without further ado, this week’s selection is the #1 hit from 1961 by Del Shannon (formerly Charles Westover) entitled “Runaway.”  

Although Shannon’s version of the song became a hit in 1961, here is some live footage from a syndicated television series entitled, “Hollywood A Go-Go.”  The person posting the video opined that this performance took place on August 28, 1965. The Musitron takes center stage during the instrumental bridge. This version sounds enough like the studio recording that it was decided to use this version to afford a telling glimpse into the past…

Gary Lewis & the Playboys recorded this cover version in 1965…

The Swedish group Ola & Janglers placed their own unique spin on this song in 1967…

The Small Faces are likely best known for their 1968 hit, “Itchycoo Park”, which peaked at #16. This cover version was recorded in May, 1967…

Elvis Presley took a turn at this song in June, 1970, backed by the Sweet Inspirations and the Imperials Quartet…

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band performed this version in the U.K. in 1976, which was included in their album, “The Penthouse Tapes” that same year…

Bonnie Raitt turned in a great interpretation of “Runaway”, the first in this sequence in which the blues harp played a prominent role, during this live performance from 1977. Ms. Raitt included her interpretation of this song on her album, “Sweet Forgiveness” also released that same year. Her version was also released at a single and reached #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts…

Although he is billed as a country artist, Narvel Felts’ cover version of “Runaway” in 1978 does not immediately sound like a country song.  He took it to #30 on the Hot Country Songs charts. Although it is not embeddable, you can hear a 30-second clip here.

The German (?) based group, The Bates, turned in this gritty, edgy version in 1989…

The Traveling Wilburys released their cover version as the B-side of their single, “She’s My Baby.”  Lead Wilbury Tom Petty also referenced this song on his 1989 hit, “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, describing himself as singing along with Shannnon as he drives down the highway, listening to the radio.  This performance took place on November 5, 1990…

The Cox Family takes this song in yet another direction, with just a touch of bluegrass, country and great vocal harmonies in this cover version from 1996…

Country artist Gary Allan’s cover version reached #74 on the Hot Country songs

chart in 2000, despite not being officially released as a single…

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes performed a punk-rock version in 2001, complete with heavy guitar distortion, in this unique interpretation…

The Misfits included their cover version of “Runaway” on their 2003 album entitled “Project 1950.”  You can judge for yourself if they look the part in this performance from 2003…

The Zutons recorded this acoustic, folkish version in September, 2007…

Queen and Paul Rodgers released a version of this song as an iTunes-exclusive download for their “The Cosmos Rocks” album, the debut studio album for this combination of talents.  The album was released on September 15, 2008 in Europe and October 28, 2008 in North America. This was the first studio album of new material from Brian May and Roger Taylor, both members of Queen since their “Made in Heaven” album in 1995 and remains the only studio collaboration with Paul Rodgers to date. The album reached #5 in the United Kingdom and #1 in Estonia, where it remained for ten weeks.

The ukelele, melodica and glockenspiel make for an unusual combination, but it works better than anticipated – Posted November 8, 2008…

The Plain White T’s recorded a live version at Horseshack studios on February 9, 2009. It is available for free on their website, Daytrotter.  Although it is not embeddable, you can listen to it here.

Rhythms del Mundo recorded a Latin version with the vocals sung by The Zutons on their July, 2009 fundraiser album “Rhythms del Mundo Classics.”  Where’s Ricky Ricardo?

Sonata Arctica performed this acoustic version in Milan, Italy on February 27, 2011…

Is the Pony/Pie/Hide rating system too cutsie?

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3 comments

  1. an informative series.  I have often read it, but because of time constraints (it bumps up with my Popular Culture series and I am often very busy answering comments over at the big orange), have rarely if ever taken the opportunity to express my thoughts as comments here.  I should have do so.

    Interestingly, the site administrators here have chosen the aforementioned Popular Culture series to fill the position that your series has held.  Please note that I did not use the term “replace”, because my series can not possibly replace yours.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful series, and I hope to see you around these parts often.

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

  2. …I had just turned 10 years old when that song came out, and I remember it well.

    Love the video–the sheer exuberant sexuality of the dancers is a good metaphor for the whole music scene of that era. Really liberating for a conservative East Texas middle-class boy. Such a beautiful, promising time.

    50 years later so much seems to have gone wrong, so much pain, loss and hopelessness–here just before what may be the ultimate economic crash triggered by teabagger budget craziness.  I hope that when the time comes to rebuild, songs and videos of that time will remind us that moralitarian corporatist neofeudalism is not our only option.

    “Pony”

    • Atticus on April 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I have enjoyed this series very much and look forward to more from you.

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