Manolo says, for the past several days, the Manolo has been obsessed with Del Shannon and his 1961 super smash hit, Runaway, the song the Manolo considers one of the three or four greatest rock and roll songs of all time.
The opening guitar chords and electronic “musitron” interlude of Runaway are still utterly compelling at the distance of nearly fifty years, however, for the Manolo, it the intense and defiant vulnerability in Del Shannon’s voice as he sings his own plaintive lyrics that make this song more than the sum of its parts.
But judge for yourself. Here is the relatively early video of Del Shannon singing Runaway.
And here is the best of the later versions, from 1982 (it begins about one minute in).
Prone to depression and plagued by alcoholism, and ultimately to take his own life in 1990, few rock singers have ever been as emotionally vulnerable as Del Shannon. Only the magnificent Roy Orbison, who essentially made the career out of his pain, comes close. But unlike Orbison, who wore his vulnerability as the badge of honor, Del Shannon unsuccessfully tried to conceal his neediness under the typically defiant rock star facade. (Consider how unconvincing he is when he attempts the nastiest song in all of rock n’ roll, Under My Thumb.)
And thus, what makes Runaway so much better than Orbison’s Crying (which the Manolo admits to loving) is that Del Shannon’s vulnerability hides in plain sight beneath the false bravado of the guitar and the electronic organ.
Of the course, it is natural that we might miss this, as Runaway is that rarest of things, the up-tempo break-up song. Which is why so few of the many hundreds of attempts to cover this song are successful. Even Elvis Presley fails to comprehend that this is the peppy little song with “misery” at it’s core. (Elvis committed two sins in his version, he laughs halfway through, and chickens out on the falsetto, passing that duty off to his backup singers.)
And this is why Del Shannon’s version will always and forever remain the unapproachable version. Because when he sings about misery, he knows of what he speaks, and the pain at the core of the song is real and speaks to us, but only if we pay attention to it.0