Grammy-nominated R&B singer Gallant was a few months shy of turning 2 when Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” became a music-video milk carton for the MTV generation, helping locate 21 of the 36 missing children featured in the Tony Kaye-helmed clip.
But as Gallant became exposed to the song and its video growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, he knew firsthand the difference a revamped version could make in the YouTube age. “It’s a shame we only hear about missing kids when it’s overly sensationalized and, more often than not, focused on one demographic,” he says, noting that Soul Asylum’s original video shined a crucial light on missing kids from varying backgrounds. “I knew it was a much wider issue, and important that kids get recognition who might not have the benefit of being, let’s say, a blonde girl from a wealthy family.”
Keeping that authentic commitment to the causes he gets behind helped Gallant become one of three artists to lend their voices and on-camera time to a 2019 remake, “Runaway Train 25,” which also features British singer-songwriter Jamie N Commons and U.S. pop artist Skylar Grey. The updated song and music video doubles as a campaign for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and the Jake Scott-directed clip is produced by ad agency M/H VCCP, in recognition of National Children’s Day (May 25.) More information on the campaign and the children featured is available at https://runawaytrain25.com/
Not only does Commons, Grey & Gallant’s version update the song’s sound by fusing all three artists’ unique musical styles into one genre-blind mix, the music video uses a unique geo-location technology to spotlight missing children based on the zipcode of the IP address where each viewer is streaming.
“It’s a massive statistical advantage when it comes to finding some of these people,” says Commons, who was the first artist to sign onto the project. Once Commons familiarized himself with Soul Asylum’s original, he enlisted his frequent collaborator Jayson DeZuzio (Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder”) as the song’s producer and a sounding board to help add two other artists to the track. “Skylar was the first person they called up next, and she really knew her way around it and put her 2019 pop-smash touch to it. ”We were looking for a third person, and KIDinaKORNER’s Zach Sinick suggested Gallant, which we thought could be a perfect element to feature us all doing our own thing.”
Gallant, who recorded his parts remotely, credits the campaign’s greater cause for bringing all the disparate elements together. “It takes a lot for the balance to be struck in a good way, and I was really impressed that Murphy’s Law didn’t take place. I think it was because there was a giant umbrella of peace on top of everybody’s heads, so there wasn’t too much to worry about.”
As the song and video begin to reach more audiences, time will tell if the modern “Runaway Train” will have as high a success rate as its predecessor. But until then, Gallant adds, “I’m excited to see how many lives are positively impacted from what we were able to do.”
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV.