It must have been disappointing to be a Belmont in 1961. Lead singer Dion (the only one in the group who anyone knows the name of) bunks off and cuts his own record with The Del-Satins on backup, saying he needs singers who can rock. Not only is it a pretty good record, but it hits #1. While The Belmonts had a nice run of singles, they never managed to hit the top of the charts.
Most importantly, though, is the sound of the record. “Runaround Sue” borrows a great deal from “Quarter to Three” (including a suspiciously similar melody) and throws in a little “Mack the Knife“-style rock swing. What’s notable, though, is what it doesn’t sound like: doo-wop. Sure, there are a few touches here and there – the nearly a cappella intro, the “hey! hey! hum-ba-diddy-diddy” backing vox, Dion’s soaring lead vocals – but, honestly, this isn’t too different from what Elvis or someone else more schooled in straight-up rock and roll would perform. 1961 had been a pretty good year for doo-wop, including a #1 for The Marcels’ “Blue Moon.” But a canny performer like Dion was bound to notice a change was coming: black doo-wop groups were morphing into soul groups, while the charts were becoming increasingly dominated by solo teen idol-types. “Runaround Sue” sounds like Dion testing the waters, seeing if he could survive on his own but retaining just enough of the trappings of doo-wop so that he could retreat back to The Belmonts if necessary. He needn’t have worried – he had enough talent, as well as the right balance of sophistication and swagger, to carry on making hits for the rest of the decade. As for the rest of The Belmonts – well, they weren’t as lucky. 7
Hit #1 on October 23, 1961; total of 2 weeks at #1
60 of 969 #1’s reviewed; 6.19% through the Hot 100