My song today is ‘Runaway’. This was a number-one ‘Billboard Hot 100’ song made famous by Del Shannon in 1961. It was written by Shannon and keyboardist Max Crook. It became a major international hit. It is Number 472 on Rolling Stone’s list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’, compiled in 2010.
In June of 1961, it reached number one on the UK's ‘Record Retailer’ chart, spending three weeks in that position, while on ‘Billboards Hot R&B Sides’ On ‘Runaway’ peaked at Number 3. The song was ranked Number 5 on ‘Billboard’s End of Year Hot 100 for 1961-Top Sides’ chart and Number 9 on Cash Box’s ‘Top 100 Chart Hits of 1961’. The song also reached Number 1 in Australia: Canada: Chile: New Zealand: UK: US: as well as making the top five songs in Belgium: Ireland: Netherlands and Norway.
The song is sung from the point of view of a man whose girlfriend has left him.
I was twenty years old when this song was first released but can remember it well. I must confess that I had better luck during my romantic teens than as a married man when it came to being dumped by the lady in my life.
I have long been acquainted with the term, ‘Runaway’ as my mother would frequently use it during the years when I was growing up, and especially during my wild and romantic teenage years when I would fall in love weekly.
The first time I heard the term’ Runaway’ was at the age of 5 years. It was on the very first day that I started the youngest class in ‘St Patrick’s Roman Catholic School’ in Heckmondwike. The school was three miles away from our council house in Hightown, Liversedge, and, being my first day at school, my mother naturally escorted me. I seemingly did not take kindly to being deposited in the cloakroom and then have my mother desert me. After mum had left, I apparently had a paddywhack and went into a fuming rage and tantrum mode.
At break time that morning, after having drunk my free bottle of school milk, I left the playground and started my three-mile walk home. I managed to walk a mile (in the right direction I would add) before a policeman in a patrol car picked me up after having received an ‘all-point’s bulletin’ which had been issued between the Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton police stations. The police car dropped me off home. The following day, I ran away from school again. Only on day three did I experience my first full day at school, and that was only because I’d been placed on a 7-hour escape watch, having some teacher’s beady eyes on me all day long.
I had grown into a romantic teenager before the term ‘runaway’ was used with any regularity again in my presence. During my mid-teens, after I had regained the use of my legs (an accident at the age of 11 years had left me unable to walk for three years) I returned to frequenting the dance halls as often as I could. Dance halls were the hunting grounds where a good-looking young man (like me), who could bop, fight and kiss with the best of them, could track down the best young women in town. In fact, I once read that between the 1930s and the 1960s, the quickest way of getting a woman was by 'learning to dance', and that the best place for finding a spouse was at the local 'dance hall'. I also read that over 70 % of wives and husbands born between 1930-60 first met on the dance floor.
I had grown into a romantic teenager before the term ‘runaway’ was used with any regularity again in my presence. During my mid-teens, after I had regained the use of my legs, I returned to frequenting the dance halls as often as I could. Dance halls were the hunting grounds where a good-looking young man (like me), who could bop, fight and kiss with the best of them, could track down the best young women in town. In fact, I once read that between the 1930s and the 1960s, the quickest way of getting a woman was learning to dance, and the best place for finding a spouse was at the local dance hall. I also read that over 70 % of wives and husbands born between 1930-60 first met on the dance floor.
I was a polite, handsome, and very presentable young man in my late teens; someone whom any young woman‘s mother anywhere in England would have been more than glad to call me ‘son-in-law. I hadn’t the least trouble ever attracting beautiful young women to either date or dance with. I always 'looked the part' when I went out socially.
My dating wardrobe consisted of clean white shirt and tie (Winsor knots denoted young men who were clearly going to make their mark on the world, while the other type of knot was the first sign of becoming a loser), a smart suit of the latest cut with a clean cotton handkerchief in the top pocket that was folded like a miniature serviette. Finally, a good pair of black shoes with leather uppers and leather soles. My shoes would always be polished so shiny that they acted as a mirror whenever the wearer looked downwards. No young man’s wardrobe was finished off properly unless one’s sock were without holes in them and had never been darned, It was also considered obligatory that one’s underpants were white, unstained and smelled as fresh as a newly baked loaf out of the oven. This was called ‘getting dolled up’, and all serious daters who planned on ‘making out’ if they got lucky, made sure they were properly dressed for the occasion.
All a teenager ‘on the pull’ carried on him during the 1960s was a bit of money in his trouser pockets and a comb in his top pocket which he handled with the same degree of frequency that a teenager will use their mobile phone today.
I never went out on a night of fun and dancing without my mother always giving me some Irish-spun pearls of wisdom as she dispensed her motherly advice about the man-traps I should avoid in my search for fresh game on the dance floor. Mum would usually wait until I got to the front door and opened it, ready to leave, to 'buttonhole' me. Before I could run off, she would be there brushing down my jacket, giving me a clean triangular-shaped handkerchief that she’d just ironed, and a kiss. Mum always insisted on kissing me every time I went out the door, just in case a fatal accident prevented me from ever coming back through it again at the end of the day.
Mum’s advice never needed to be heard for me to know what it was, as it was always the same message; always the same warning. Looking lovingly at me she would say, “Have a good time, Billy, and whatever you get up to, do nothing to bring shame upon the family name. And stay away from those ‘run-around girls’. They’ll do anything to bring down a good man!”
I never quite knew what these girls my mum disparagingly referred to as ‘run-around’ did that was so bad, or what they were ‘running away from’.
What I did know was that the majority of these ‘run-around’ were most likely to live in either Heckmondwike or Cleckheaton, according to the way mum spoke. These two places were spoken of as though all their orchards had rotten apples on their trees. Perhaps my mother was once badmouthed by a Heckmondwike hussy she'd accidentally bumped into as they passed each other on the pathway or had been short-changed by a Cleckheaton bus conductress?
When I asked mum what these girls were running away from that made them ‘run-around’, my mother replied something like, “Everything, Billy! They run away from anything in their lives that smells like hard work and a bit of responsibility. They run away from doing the right thing! They run away from their family responsibilities, their schools, their jobs, even their very respectability! They never settle down with an honest man as no decent man would risk marrying them. They run from man to man and from rabbit hole to rabbit hole, bolting and scurrying for fresh cover once they get found out yet again. They’re nothing but ‘run-around’ and ‘runaways’, Billy, and they’ll drag you down with them the first chance they get!” (These are my words as I cannot remember mum’s precise words; only mum’s meaning).
Unfortunately for me, I should have listened more carefully to my mother’s message and advice, especially where it concerned young women from Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton of whom one should beware. On the very night I met my first wife, it was at a Working Man’s Club, half a mile from where I lived in Hightown, but when I took her home at the end of the night, I discovered that she had been born in Heckmondwike and now lived in the centre of Cleckheaton.
If only I had taken note of my mother’s warnings to run a mile from any female from Heckmondwike or Cleckheaton before getting entangled in their deadly snares and mantraps? Being the first-born of seven children, and a mother who was to have seven children of her own, made my mum an Irish mother who was blessed with second sight!
No wonder my first marriage was fraught with its difficulties that we were never able to resolve, because of my first wife’s inability to face our problems! Mum had probably always secretly considered my first wife as being a ‘runaway’ while remaining too polite to let her feelings be known.
Love and peace Bill xxx