runaway with john and lew to the tell it like it was a-go-go

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

AS NOTED IN A PREVIOUS POST, I have been busy of late. With John Ross and Lew Shiner, I launched Tell It Like It Was, a music pub­li­ca­tion on Medium. Part of the pub­li­ca­tion is a list of every record to make it to #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart from the be­gin­ning of 1960 through the end of 1969. Each title is linked to a recording of that song on YouTube. For each entry, we went about com­menting on the record, the artist, the times, and, even­tu­ally, one an­oth­er’s comments.

It was fun, but it was also a lot of work: at this time, the ten ar­ti­cles have passed 80,000 words and fea­ture more than 200 im­ages and 500 hy­per­links. That’s a lot of work for us—granted, we had fun doing it—and it’s also a lot of reading for someone to take on.

Of course, we’re pretty cer­tain that once you start reading, you’ll have fun, too!

And to get you reading, here is a sample of our ef­forts, al­most 800 words on a record that many “se­rious” rock fans dis­miss without a second thought.

The ques­tion “But do you like it?” fol­lows each entry. There, we use a 3-star system to ex­press our opin­ions. Ac­tu­ally, a star-shape wasn’t avail­able to us, so we used a di­a­mond (♦). We are not grading the record ala All Music Guide, we are simply stating how much we like a given record. There are ex­cel­lent records that none of us par­tic­u­larly care for, and there are “crappy” records we love.

All of this makes a hel­luva lot more sense if you take a few min­utes and read the “In­tro­duc­tion to The Top­per­most of the Pop­per­most.”



Medium 45 1961 DelShannon Runaway 600 1

April 22–April 29

Del Shannon
Big Top 45–3067

(3 weeks)

“Run­away” was one of the most un­usual sounding chart-toppers of its time, due both to Shannon’s amazing voice and his partner’s amazing key­board in­stru­ment. Ac­cording to Del Shannon, “We were on stage and Max hit an A minor and a G and I said, ‘Max, play that again, it’s a great change.’”

The next day Shannon wrote lyrics to the music: “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’.”

After two weeks at #1, “Run­away” was bumped out of the top spot and then re­turned to #1 on May 20, 1961, for a third week as the nation’s best-selling record.

Lew: The un­earthly key­board sound on this record is cour­tesy of the Musitron, in­vented by Max Crook, a member of Shannon’s band. The Musitron is a hy­brid syn­the­sizer, mod­i­fied from some­thing called a Clavi­o­line, an elec­tronic key­board de­vel­oped in France in the 1940s. Its eerie wail helped make this record a hit.

John: The won­drous thing is that Shannon’s voice was ac­tu­ally a match for the Musitron. Since a guy in his own band in­vented the in­stru­ment (news to me, thanks Lew!) I wonder who in­spired who? I mean, I can imagine hearing Del Shannon for the first time and feeling the need to in­vent something.

Neal: This was one of the great rock & roll hits of the early ’60s. Del Shannon con­tinued to make great records for years but none would come close to top­ping the charts. He was the first Amer­ican artist to record a Lennon-McCartney song as a po­ten­tial hit single when he re­leased “From Me to You” in June 1963, a few weeks after Vee-Jay re­leased the Bea­tles own ver­sion in the US.

Shannon’s ver­sion reached #67, beating out the orig­inal ver­sion, which failed to even reach the Top 100. So it was that Del’s record made “From Me to You” the first Lennon–McCartney com­po­si­tion to reach the Amer­ican charts.

John: Shannon was in­ter­viewed on Bob Costas’s old late-night show (where Costas just sat with a guest for half-an-hour and asked in­tel­li­gent ques­tions — what a con­cept!). He told the story of hearing “From Me to You” while touring with the Bea­tles in Eng­land (where they were al­ready a big deal).

I don’t re­member all the de­tails, but ap­par­ently, Del re­ceived some sort of per­mis­sion to cover this while he was playing a show in Eng­land with the lads and John, later re­al­izing it prob­ably meant he was going to re­lease a com­peting ver­sion, tried to do some fur­ther ne­go­ti­ating. At which point Del cupped his hand to his ear and said, “Eh, what’s that you say?”

A lot of Amer­ican acts saw the Bea­tles in Eu­rope throughout the early ’60s. So far as I know, Brenda Lee was the only one who ac­tu­ally tried to con­vince her record com­pany to sign them. “But what do they sound like?” the suits kept asking. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “The songs will be worth a fortune.”

They po­litely re­fused to listen. Just re­member, the suits run every­thing. That’s why things are the way they are.

Neal: Shannon came right back with an­other Top 10 hit with his follow-up song, “Hats Off to Larry.” He en­joyed a few other sig­nif­i­cant hits (“Little Town Flirt” in 1962 and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” in ’64. After that, he found it tough get­ting the AM radio sta­tions to play his records. He was a much bigger star in the UK, where he scored seven Top 10 hits.

Fi­nally, Elvis made “Run­away” a reg­ular part of his set in Vegas in 1969–1970 and is­sued a ver­sion on the On Stage — Feb­ruary 1970 album. His reading is so good that it that could have been is­sued as a single in 1970.

John: The great blogger Sheila O’Malley likes to oc­ca­sion­ally cel­e­brate a sub-genre of records where the singer ex­presses a kind of pure, ven­omous ha­tred for the person who just broke up with them and stomped on their heart. Few records have ever caught that idea more per­fectly than “Hats Off to Larry,” where the poison-pill lyric is force-multiplied by Shannon’s in­sane vocal by a factor of infinity.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (4 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Unknown
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ♦ ♦ ♦
Lew : 
♦ ♦ ♦
♦ ♦ ♦


BerlinWall 1961 construction 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: In the early part of the decade, po­lit­ical re­la­tions be­tween the East and the West wors­ened and so USSR pre­mier Nikita Khrushchev re­sponded to the West’s failure to follow his de­mands for them to leave Berlin by building a wall. On Au­gust 13, 1961, a barbed-wire fence was erected along the border be­tween East and West Berlin.

Con­struc­tion of a brick wall began in No­vember, with lookout towers and armed guards who had or­ders to shoot anyone trying to cross into the Western sector. The Wall be­came a symbol of com­mu­nist op­pres­sion and the most vis­ible re­minder of the dis­trust be­tween East and West.


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