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The Story Behind the Song – “Runaround Sue” (1961)

“Runaround Sue” the rock classic that topped the charts in 1961, was Dion’s only #1 song (despite having 32 other records hit the charts) and has since gone on to become an enduring classic of the genre had its birth as a song Dion improvised at a friend’s birthday party.

The friend was named Ellen and at her birthday party in late 1960, the partygoers had turned off the record player and begun to make up songs on their own. When it came time for Dion, he basically invented the invented the doo-wop stuff you hear as back-up on the record – the “hey-hey-wom-de-heydy-hedy” part. He made up some lyrics about Ellen that he later confesses were pretty forgettable. But after leaving the party, he couldn’t get that catchy little doo-wop riff.

The next morning, he went down to the offices of his record label, Laurie Records in midtown Manhattan, and grabbed a rehearsal room. He called his friend Ernie Maresca to join him and see if they could pound Dion’s germ of a song into a full-fledged hit. By the time Maresca arrived, Dion had already decided to make the song about a girl who dated all kinds of boys and broke their hearts. He says he based it on an actual girl he knew, but to protect himself from unfavorable repercussions, he and Maresca didn’t use her real name. Instead, they picked the name Sue after a gorgeous girl they knew, but had been afraid to approach.

Dion actually found his backing group on the street, literally. He heard a group of guys harmonizing, liked what he heard and invited them to join the recording session. (Dion had already split from the Belmonts at this point.

Of course, the song became an immediate sensation and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002,

The original partygoers? When Dion played the recording for them, they were underwhelmed. They thought it had all sounded much better when he was just making it up at the party!

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