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.
Del Shannon re-recorded it in 1967 as "Runaway '67". This version was issued as a single but failed to make the Hot 100.
The song is sung from the point of view of a man whose female lover has left him. She is mostly referred to in the third person, but she is briefly addressed in the second person in the lyric "wishin' you were here by me".
In December 1971, a version by Huddersfield Transit Authority was recorded at Olympic Studios, Barnes, U.K. Sir Tim Rice was lead vocalist and co-producer. It was released in the U.K as a single in 1972 on Polydor 2001-284. It failed to make the charts. Decca released it in the U.S. (Decca 32956).
1972, a medley - "Runaway / Happy Together" (The Turtles song) was recorded by Tony Orlando and Dawn, and released as a single in the U.S.A. (# 79 Billboard). The single was due to be released in the U.K., early in 1972, but Bell records made a mistake and released "I Play and Sing" instead. It was included on their "Tuneweaving" album (Bell 1112 - 1973 U.S. - # 30 Billboard) / "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" (1973 U.K.). In 2013 "No Games" by Ron Browz sampled the intro to Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Runaway / Happy Together"
In 1974, Dave a Dutch Francophone singer released with Vanina a French adaption.
In 1975, Charlie Kulis, a schoolteacher from New York, reached #46 on the U.S. Hot 100 with his cover version, released on Playboy Records. Promotion for the single included an appearance on American Bandstand.
The song is referenced in Genesis's 1974 song "In the Cage" from their album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The lyrics run "And I watched him turn again and leave the cage... My little runaway" with the phrase "My Little Runaway" sung to the original song's notes.
^ abcRice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 58. ISBN0-85112-250-7.